Andrei Bely

In a time of sparse words, Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev (Andrei Bely) can seem like a man of many words. In a time of reason, he can seem to test the borders of sanity. In our times of spiritual materialism, he can seem strange, for he is a man on a passionate quest towards his authentic self. He must find who he is. And in finding who he is he finds the world. And Christ. Not the human Jesus, but the spiritual being who is Love itself. The anointed one who is nameless. These are Bely's thoughts. He wrote for everyone, was never an exclusive writer. In Russia he has the status of an established literary figure, the status of Joyce, Proust, and Musil. But also Soloviev and the ecstatics. And yes he IS an ecstatic. IS on the febrile threshold of madness and sane clairvoyance.

Little of what Bely wrote is translated into English, German, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, the languages of this magazine. Richard Ramsbotham, an Englishman, has collected the following excerpts from a novel, translated into French under the title Carnets d'un Toqué (A Fool Tells, might be an English title. Or perhaps The Rantings of a Fool or A Fool's Imaginings. The fool being more the fool of Lear than a Woody Allenesque Fool). And we have brought a translation by Charlotte Douglas of a piece Bely wrote about himself.

Bely's spiritual intensity had found his master in the Austrian renaissance man Rudolf Steiner and he had gone to Switzerland to follow hundreds (yes, really) of Steiner's lecture courses on various subjects, ranging from economics, art, esoteric Christianity and many other things. Following after Steiner, Bely travelled through Germany, Norway and back to Switzerland where he was engaged as a laborer of sorts on what was to be a temple of The Word, the Johannisbau or John Building in Dornach, Switzerland. In the incipient phases of the project, the first World War broke out. In 1915, Bely embarked on his journey towards Russia. He left Russia only once after that and lived out his life beneath the murderous shadow of Stalin, with friends and loved ones disappearing daily before his eyes. A time of immense suffering for Bely. He died in 1934 in Moscow, not murdered (miraculously) but spent.

Because Steiner was a central figure in Bely's life, one cannot really understand the range of Bely's world without studying Christian esotericism and its sibling, anthroposophy. The excerpt we bring here describes the I of the story's (first person figure) mad dash towards Russia while being pursued by mysterious figures one senses are real but who also can seem part of an illusory world of paranoia. The fleeing protagonist meditates, in a kind of fever, his I , his ego, his self. To Bely this I is a real thing. A living being. And yet it is a nothing, a void. A paradox. One asks of course, what beings fill the void Bely describes. Or is it merely a void? In considering these things, one realizes that Bely has taken up a central question of humanity, that of the nature of the individual. What does it mean to be someone. What is a self. Why am I different than others. What is consciousness. What are the various layers of consciousness. What is illusion.What is sober clairvoyance. Who manages all of this in ME. I manage but what is that. What is that. Who is that. Who are its/her/his enemies. What does it mean to not to be an individual, to be part of the flock (remember we are in the time Stalin and Hitler). What are the consequences of an I-less human. Thus Bely's work evokes a questioning response.

Bely reflects on himself and his own time. It is as though the times were such as to preclude considered reflection. You thought as you raced, or fled or pursued. And strangely enough, Bely seems to be a man of our times.

If anyone would like to undertake the task of translating this novel into English, we would not complain. We thank Richard Ramsbotham for contributing to the inspiration of such a venture.

TCR edits