Дата публикации: 09 ноября 2022
Автор(ы): Galina YAKUSHEVA, Dr. Sc. (Philol.), Great Russian Encyclopedia Publishers
Публикатор: Научная библиотека Порталус
Источник: (c) "Science in Russia" Date:05-01-2000
Номер публикации: №1667955133

Galina YAKUSHEVA, Dr. Sc. (Philol.), Great Russian Encyclopedia Publishers, (c)

Today, with so much rhetoric about Russia's "entry" into world civilization, I would like to say this: my country has never been out of it, we have always been part and parcel of human civilization, in its mainstream-now running ahead, now falling behind; now borrowing from it, now imparting some of our uniqueness. Human problems are part of our fiber. The Russian perception of Goethe's universal phenomenon is proof positive of that. Johann Wolfgang Goethe and his Faust in Russia...

The great German thinker and poet found fertile ground in our country still in his lifetime, in the early nineteenth century, and the interest has never waned with the successive generations of Russians. Now this fact: in 1979 a Goethe Research Commission was set up under the aegis of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. The aim was to undertake in-depth studies into the Goethe heritage and contemporaneous culture. So the relay is with our generation. Prominent Russian scholars-the late Alexander Anikst and Sergei Turayev- stood at the cradle of this movement. It involves veteran scholars, college graduates and undergraduates, even secondary school "greenhorns"! That goes to show that "all ages are in love" with the German genius (who has come to us "from hazy Germany", to quote Pushkin). The Goethe Commission is a cynosure for people of multifarious interests and professions who share one common passion-Goethe. They step in to learn and air their views in reports, communications and what not. Literati and culturologists, philosophers and musicologists, artists and composers, natural scientists and whom we call "technics", that is engineers and kindred trades-all of them flock in droves. Professional Goethe scholars and amateurs alike!.. All of them strive for our own, Russian vision of the European and world genius, his multifaceted talent, his philosophy and artistic credo.

Everything is important here, everything counts. But there are some specific points to our perception of Goethe: say, we would put much emphasis on moral-ethical and social values, on the substantive part of the Goethe heritage, its content and spirit rather than on pure form and aesthetic frills. And we look first at how the Goethe phenomenon is transmuted in Russian culture.

That is why our Goethe Readings (Nauka Publishers have issued five volumes-in 1986, 1991, 1994, 1997 and 1999) give prominence to how Goethe has impacted the works of Alexander Pushkin, Leo Tolstoy and other leading lights of classical Russian literature. In fact, Goethe images people our contemporary literature too, first and foremost,

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that of Doctor Faust, a symbol of the indomitable human aspiration to learning and progress.


Transplanted onto Russian soil, Doctor Faust wore many countenances. For instance, that of an intellectual pragmatist and egotist: he was a German hero of the first water, and so was his love, Gretchen; a hero alien to Russia, as the Russian critic Sergei Solovyov contended in his treatise Goethe and Christianity in 1916. On the other hand, Faust was hailed as a Nietzschean Ubermensch, an all-conquering superman, "the chosen one of the earth" (Konstantin Balmont, a Russian symbolist poet). But the young Maxim Gorky took a skeptical view-he scoffed at Faust as an individualist taking pains to change the world single-handedly. Yet in his mature years Maxim Gorky spoke of Doctor Faust as "the quintessence of the might of the popular masses". Anatoly Lunacharsky, a Bolshevik revolutionary and writer, portrayed the Goethe hero as an "activist", and leader, towering high above the rabble, but ready in the long run to fall for an idyll of people's power (Lunacharsky's drama Faust and the City, 1916).

This Faust, striding boldly over the October Revolution, rises again in the hero of Boris Pasternak's sentimental-mystical Faust Cycle of the early 1920s, with the arrogant Mephistopheles as the most striking figure, "in stockings like blood... and with a pair of bows on", as an epitome of the dark and unknowable ever present in the world-that's what Goethe meant when he said, "The sum total of our being is never divisible by intelligence without remainder, there is always some odd fraction left over."

Here we can detect a note of the subsequent Russian reincarnations of the Goethe hero. As the philosopher Sergei Bulgakov saw it, Goethe's Faust is destructive for the Russian mind, unlike the new, Russian Faust in the person of Ivan Karamazov from Dostoyevsky's epic novel The Brothers Karamazov, with his truly Hamletian hesitations and meditations about the ethical price of a deed. Other Russian philosophers and writers subscribed to this verdict, among them Lev Shestov, Nikolai Berdyayev, Konstantin Leontyev, Leonid Andreyev, Fyodor Sologub and Dmitry Merezhkovsky who sought to marry individualism and Christianity in Doctor Faust. That's where we discern the first hint of the metamorphosis of the "Faustean myth" in our literature. Thus late in the 1920s, with the onset of the crisis of the European enlightenment era, "the Faust of the heart" was ousting "the Faust of the mind" in Russian literature; the maxim "man is kind" was supplanting that of man as an intelligent being ("man is reasonable"); it was the word of truth, not the deed, that was believed to be capable of transfiguring the suffering and wicked humankind gone astray. This vision is embodied in the hero of Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita (1940) in which the author ventures a polemic projection on

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Goethe's Faust and on the Christ of the gospels. Unlike Faust, the Bulgakov hero is not worthy of "light" or "apotheosis" in the final count-what he deserves is but "quiescence", that is, an essentially anti-Faustean "karma". The Moscovian Faust cannot accommodate, he is a misfit-it is the "sentimental devil" Wand and the enterprising Margarita who make up for his passivity.

In 1942 the dramatist Samson Alyoshin, staying in the war-torn Stalingrad, wrote his melodrama Mephisto. The author was least of all concerned with Faust the superman and with human improvement in general-he cherished the idea of real human existence as the chief value, the be-all and end-all of being. "It is not Mephisto who can tempt Faust, it is Faust who has something to tempt Mephisto with", says Alyoshin in the preface. "Instead of the infinite existence and chasing after empty symbols, there is, albeit finite, a human life, filled not only with joys, but with passions and compassions as well. And Faust makes a gift of this life to Mephisto, not lends it with usury"

The classical bet kind of changes its implication: the old Faust dies to give place to a new-born earthling, Mephisto, made human through his compassion and love for Margarita, and casting off his fiendish scales and power. He renounces immortality, even so.


The scientific and technological revolution with its plethora of problems and hazards to life on our planet (which has become all too small for wars and risky experiments) has brought to the fore the old Faustean dilemma between knowledge and morality At least such is the emphasis in our present-day literature. Faust the savant, the scientist- rather than Faust the man and the universal "daredevil"-is now in the focus. Our Soviet mentality prods us to wed scientific search to altruistic morals without fail.

The former leader of literary constructivism, Ilya Selvinsky, was the forerunner of this new Faustean wave: in 1947 he published his philosophical drama Reading Faust (second print, 1956) dealing with the collapse of the German Reich in 1945. The hero of this piece is a nazi "Faust", Dr. Norden, who is working with abandon to develop a new Wunderwqffen, a weapon that could wreak great destruction. He knows no joys but a bold play of imagination. There is something diabolic, fiendish in his obsession- a devil incarnate indeed. So, the images of Faust and Mephisto arc here essentially kindred in spirit: the evil spirit is personified in the flesh as a living devil. This motif was pervasive in the mid-century world literature-recall, for example, Klaus Mann and his Mephistopheles, the devil in the human flesh. True, it was delineated already in Goethe's Faust, but with a different implication: man and devil complement each other, but stay apart as two opposite entities. Now back to Selvinsky's drama:

Doctor Norden, deaf to the frantic

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appeals of the righteous man, communist Wemer (the mouthpiece of the author's ideas)-" Faust!", "People!", "Labor!"-forfeits the sense of his life ("soul"): his A-bomb blueprints are tossed into fire. And yet Wemer recovers the peace atom blueprints locked in the safe and turns them over to the jubilant crowds.

The idea of "two Fausts"-that is of a Faust who is both self-assertive and self-fulfilling for other people's sake, of an individualist and an altruist alike-permeates the philosophical tragedy Faust and Death created by Alexander Levanda, a Ukrainian playwright (1960). In genre this piece is akin to Selvinsky's: it offers the same clear- cut, "bipolar" cast of the roles, the same collisions of the life credos; the same alliance of technocratic soulless-ness and cynicism (Vadim, the engineer) with the diabolical (Mekhantrop, alias Satan), with religious obscurantism (Monk, a misanthrop dead set against any token of human willpower, who questions the might of the "transcendental"); the selfsame opposition of "predestination", fate, and of the fatal, beastly "number" (Selvinsky calls it "electron") to the pulse and beat of life and living science (as we see it in the noble image ofYaroslav, the astrophysicist: although the soulless Vadim lets him perish, his death gives birth to an issue of new intrepid and lofty Fausts).


The above works were the last fling of neo-enlightenment in Soviet literature; stilted and declarative, they were the last flicker of the hope for good fruits of human intelligence. Human meddling, be it Nature or convention, had become glaringly disastrous in its aftermath. And so as of the mid-1970s we see another Faust on the Russian stage, one stripped of a hero's aura. Such was the Russian Faust of the "stagnation age"-neither a polemicist nor a revolutionary, nor a preacher; neither was he a mere advocate of common earthly being, like Sergei Alyoshin's personages. This Faust is relegated to a "second-order" protagonist meant to test the human metal (which used to be the domain of Goethe's Mephistopheles) and the metal of human civilization, and show up the fatal predestination of being. He prods us to the ineluctable conclusion: that man is but nothing (Ilya Varshavsky's The Soul on Hire, 1971), that human civilization is perilous and suicidal {The Congress by Boris Lapin) and that any changes are always for the worse (the short stories A Trip to Penfield by Ilya Varshavsky, or A Side Effect by Konstantin Sergienko).

Such kind of fiction complemented the critical realistic literature of the day (what is known here as the "urban" and "country" prose that lamented pervasive consumerism, estrangement among people, their alienation from the state, Nature and other good things). Our Faustian became an analog of this literature-

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in its content and message, not in aesthetic terms.

The hero of Varshavsky's short story The Soul on Hire is a "pen-pusher Teterin who thinks too much of himself. To reverse his creative impotence he invokes fiendish powers and pawns his soul in exchange for magic phials with "artistic mixtures" running the gamut of inspiring scents culled from King Lear, Hamlet, Othello... Yet Teterin had no chance of feeding on Shakespearean talents-the next morning the hapless drudge was found stone dead on the floor, his throat bitten through and his dog licking the gory paws just next to a cracked phial with a Lady Macbeth label on. The bet with the devil did not come off-the stakes were devilishly unequal. The scribbler's soul was all too puny, and he had to part with his dear life rather than prey upon the fount of inspiration that did not belong to him. The tragedy of a pseudo Faust ending in a farce.

And what concerns the metal of human civilization, here the evil spirit dons a different attire and safeguards Nature against the slap-happy human imps out to slaughter it, with suicidal hubris strong upon them.

Boris Lapin has brought every stripe of devils, goblins, brownies and other spirits to a world congress which here and there turns into a parody of the Walpurgisnacht (Walpurgis Night)-a witches' sabbath, diabolical revelry; in places it is a rerun of the black art session in Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. Here's just one scene: during a break in the session the genii scatter pell-mell, shouting, "The beer is in!", "Grab mohair kerchiefs, quick!", "Line up and save a place for me!"- as if that was the only thing to make them come to the congress from all parts of the world. Yet the real aim of the congress was different: the fiendish tribe was to see what could be done about countering the buffets and blows dealt by the humankind at Nature and about ensuring security for themselves. The wood-goblins grieve over the forests being cut down everywhere, the water-sprites lament the shrinking wetlands, and the brownies- the well-knit patriarchal family of the golden age.

The site of this congress is the village of Baklushi, or "Twiddledom"-one of the many places beset by environmental hardships. And so the anxieties of the brownie Lopotusha ("Mumbo Jumbo") are well understood by the outlandish demon Herr Stuck (who looks like a black puppy and is naturally related to the German Mephistopheles) attending the congress as a guest...

The problem of human adaptation or adjustment to Nature-much in the limelight today-is ridiculed in a slapstick comedy by Nikolai Yelin and Vladimir Kashayev (Mephisto's Mistake, 1981). Its protagonist, the sixty-year-old Professor Ivan Haustov (alias Faust}, in charge of a "clinic of non-contagious diseases", is actually a quack doctor whom his colleagues have blackballed in favor of a younger medic, Wagin {Wagner). Browbeatened and disillusioned, the professor attempts to

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take his own life. But here a modem-style Mephisto pops in-with horns and a hoof under the right leg of his trousers, as it belongs-and hands his certificate ("the bearer of this document, citizen Mephisto, is certified therewith as the spirit of negation and evil") and a printed contract whereby he pledges to give back Haustov his youth, love, glory and power, and fulfil every wish of his, all that in exchange for his soul that is promised to the nether regions, the Underworld.

And so Haustov gets an emancipated Margarita engrossed in sundry dissertations; he becomes a champion soccer-player (that brings him fame and makes him an easy prey to temptations of the flesh) and gains power as the manager of a factory that turns out garments no one will buy Mephisto, who has obviously underrated the life complexities under "developed socialism", has trouble granting even simple requests of his partner (say, finding a baby-sitter). And he cannot grant Haustov's last wish: to do a bit of advertizing and put on a coat manufactured at the garment factory managed by the former professor (a heavy, elongated coat, inky in color, with crude tucks and pleats, and odd sleeves). Thereupon Haustov cancels his deal with the devil (now just Tim, no longer Mephisto) who, duped this way and fearing punishment upon his return to the "place of register" (i.e. his domicile in hell), makes a clean break with his dark past and becomes a soccer team coach responsible for the morale of the players.

There have been attempts to reverse the satirical trend in the portrayal of the Faustean conflict with its opposition of good and evil. In his novel Danilov the Viola Player that won broad readership in the early 1980s Vladimir Orlov asserts, in the mainstream of Russian "Faustism", that, when free from the shackles of evil and diabolical dependence, a talented person gains demiurgic powers. This vision is a departure from Thomas Mann who interprets genius as an excess of "normal" abilities and as a "disease" of one who has to sell his soul to the devil for the sake of its creative powers; but the soul is ultimately destroyed. Such is the purport of Doktor Faustus. But Orlov depicts a different scenario: his hero, the son of a demon and a common peasant woman from Yaroslavl, antagonizes the evil forces by his sympathy for earthly creatures and by his sin of earthly love. And so the "supreme council" of the evil ones deprives Danilov of his creative gift in the form of an ancient magic viola, Albani, it had bestowed on him. But the musician can now dispense with the instrument, he can make do with a commonplace viola and strike magic concords of sound by dint of his talent elevated by love. He needs no technical gadgets any longer.

This novel was perhaps the last attempt to rehabilitate the Faustean motif in present- day Russian literature. The naive artificiality of the ending and its "Christmas-story" moral cannot lift the pervasive sentiment of universal

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human solitude versus the beyond, "the other world", so hostile to humankind.

It was one of our most astute philosophers and lyric poets, Yuri Levitansky, who cast a hard, tragic balance of the bold attempts of the 20th century Russian Faust to break the vicious circle of the enlightment era ever since the eighteenth century with its abiding faith in the ability of man to change the world and his own self. In his cycle Letters to Catherine, or Walks with Faust (1981) that includes poems written in different years and on different subjects, diary sketches and excerpts from other authors (all that in various genres and tonalities), the poet muses about the life he has lived and, together with Faust, journeys to the past and peers into the future; he has a deft hand in shuffling times and spaces, dreams and real things, literary reminiscences, recollections, polemic dialogues and so forth, trying to find himself within various strata of being, and all that in order to answer the dominant question of Goethe's Faust, and look into the essence of the bet between the Lord and Mephistopheles: is it not in vain that the Creator has invoked man from the darkness ofnon-existenoe?

But while Goethe's Faust eventually lives to see his moment ofbliss and glory in an act of willpower and in deed ("Zum Augenblicke durft'ich sagen: Verweile doch, du bist so schdnf"), Levitansky's hero sees in the end just one truth after his soul's wanderings: that human nature is immutable in the treadmill of life, and that "progress" is incapable of resolving the vital issues of human existence. Levitansky is static, he does not oppose Faust to Mephisto, Heaven to Earth. His cosmos is "domesticated", and his Faust accompanies his hero as a Mephisto of sorts; everything is routine and vapid-no intrigue, no suspense, no fear. Even Catherine-the Gretchen of the weary Faust-is no more than a timid hope for a "sweet soul" of the future that could read the letters about the peregrinations of the disappointed soul with understanding and forgiveness.

Unlike the Goethe-model Fausts who embody the daring flights of the human soul in its aspirations, Levitansky's hero epitomizes the soul tamed and brought low-such is the impasse of enlightment. Both the author and his hero are life-weary and sick at heart. But this is a perverse scheme of things, is it not? And yet Faust's odyssey on the Russian stage is not at an end yet. Our men of letters would rather turn to Goethe as a fount of the vigor and might of the human soul, as we see it in Yuri Nagibin's story You, My Last Love (1981); in Nikolai Shmelev's A Show in Honor of Mr. Minister (1988); and in Vyacheslav Pyetsukh's Night Vigils with Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1996). So the Faust is going to endure on our stage as a symbol of lifelong human quests.

Опубликовано на Порталусе 09 ноября 2022 года

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