The Russians with Attitude podcast released to their subscribers a feature this week on the Russian writer and mystic, Mikhail Bulgakov. Bulgakov made his way from a medical student in Kiev through the Civil War in Russia and Ukraine to a difficult life as a writer for newspapers, theatre and novels in the 1920s and 1930s. He wrote a great account of the Civil War in The White Guard, and, of course, the masterpiece for which he earned posthumous fame, The Master and Margarita.
Bulgakov was an anti-Soviet writer, and as such set against his times, his elites and his society. He sympathised with the White Army, and longed for most of his life to escape the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and join the White Russian emigrant community in the capitals of Central and Western Europe. It was not to be. For some reason, Stalin favoured his work, and was reported to have watched his play The Days of the Turbins dozens of times. He protected Bulgakov from retribution by his fellow theatre writers, but could not protect him from the haunting feeling of abandonment and ostracism cultivated by a culture of censorship. The manuscript for Master and Margarita, which Bulgakov completed in the late 1930s was not published until the 1960s.
The Russians with Attitude hosts say that Bulgakov always felt like a relic from another time and another world. He never made a practical peace with the Soviet world of soulless social engineering that he satirised in his writing. Today, I feel like Bulgakov, at least in being a relic of another world, if not the author of any work that will survive me. Like Bulgakov, here I am cast out from decent society – not woke, not a wearer of masks, not a stander with Ukraine, not belonging pretty much anywhere, not with any kind of following on social media that is worth reporting, not supporting the latest thing, not trying to bend the arc of history towards progress, not even knowing what that is. Yet I press on, and give my mind to the infinite conversation in which I hope all this restless work of the mind will be redeemed.
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