PROINTELLEKT
PROINTELLEKT

The Abolition of Man or Advocatus diabolic?

Valentin Nikitin on Alexander Potemkin’s Novel

Valentin Nikitin ,  10 October at 12:56 0 689

“God attracts people with His purity of thought, whereas the devil seduces with the sweetness of comfort.” This is the ideological leitmotif that rings loud and clear throughout Alexander Potemkin’s The Outcast (Moscow, PoRog Publishers, 2003). The writer confidently posits himself as a close associate of Fyodor Dostoevsky, a inquisitive co-questioner of this world. Who knows what tricks the devil may resort to when seducing man with his conniving intrigues from above. The main character in the novel, Prince Andrei Iverov (an autobiographical character), is presented as a thinker with a restless soul concerned by world problems, the fate of mankind and Russia. It was interesting and illuminative to read about how he tries to find a certain ephemeral spiritual reality “on the seamy side of life” in his Homeland. The concept of virtual reality, which the writer consistently develops, presents, in conjunction with his economic ideas, a truly new and compelling word in literature and public thought.

When comparing Prince Andrei Iverov with the main protagonist in The Idiot, Prince Lev Myshkin, the author of the preface to the novel The Outcast, N. Smirnova, makes a subtle distinction: “Dostoevsky’s hero suffers from mental illness, while Potemkin’s is inflicted by spiritual malaise.”

“The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual,” instructs Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 15, 46). In this context, the direct link and intrinsic dependence between Iverov and Myshkin, which comes from Lermontov’s “hero of our times” Pechorin, is obvious. Time changes, and its characters change. “Today, it is not the flesh, but the spirit that is laid bare,” emphasized Fyodor Tyutchev. To be even more precise, and to paraphrase the brilliant poet, we could say, “Today it is both the flesh and the spirit that are laid bare!” But there should be a question mark instead of an exclamation mark at the end. Potemkin placed both marks, question and exclamation, in the fate of his protagonist at the turning point in his life.

The most interesting thing in The Outcast is the hero’s religious-philosophical speculations, the ideological disputes of the inmates of psychiatric hospital, ward No. 7. In contrast to Anton Chekhov, who was not particularly captivated by metaphysics and even less by mysticism and specific theological problems, Alexander Potemkin is extremely interested in them. And has penetrated into their clandestine depths. His main character even knew about the striking difference between the liturgical and ritual tradition of Holy Mount Athos and the rest of the Orthodox world: on Athos there is a different criterion of posthumous holiness, not incorruptibility, but vice versa, the sooner the body of a deceased person decomposes, the more holy he is…

Prince Andrei Iverov asks the Almighty searching questions typical of a person who has lost faith in the meaning of life, who finds himself in extreme circumstances but still feels a pull toward the Absolute. Just a little more and he will defy the Creator, give Him back the ticket to paradise (just as Aleksei Karamazov did)—if the whole world “is under the control of the evil one” and the divine promises are not being fulfilled in it. For example, Potemkin draws a very emotional and expressive picture of the temptations of the human soul in borderline states, which aesthetics call “seductions of the devil” and come from an infernal source of evil. Satan has seduced Iverov with both suicide and power over the world, as well as with escape into virtual reality. But the devil comes up against the protagonist’s overwhelming groping for the Truth, that is, Christ.

Potemkin declared The Outcast as the first part of a trilogy called “The Thorns of Spirit.” It would be nice to think that in the subsequent parts of the trilogy the restless protagonist finds light and peace in Christian revelation and in understanding that the Holy Spirit is not a mythopoeic “virtuality of the world” he has invented, but the perfect origin of life and existence, the supernatural world-inspiring divine Power that is Love, to which man can and should be privy. As Venerable Seraphim of Sarov counseled landowner Nikolai Motovilov, the true aim of our Christian life is acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. This acquisition also sets man free. For genuine freedom is in following God. It is precisely in this meaning that the customary phrase “servant of God” signifies a free person, the ideal toward which the outcast strives. There is a glimmer of hope that Alexander Potemkin will be able to write in keeping with Christian tradition, avoiding those misinterpretations that Mikhail Bulgakov was unable to avoid; following Christ’s saving commandment: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6, 33), and recalling the apostolic behest: “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 4, 21).

***

It is a great pity that Alexander Potemkin did not continue his declared trilogy. One after the other, new works appeared—The Table (2004), I (2004), Mania (2005), but they were written in an entirely different tone. The writer discovered new facets of his creative talent, the gift of an outstanding satiric, a direct successor of Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin. But his thoughts have become increasingly immersed in certain infernal spheres. Some pages, particularly in Mania, are simply shocking, they seem to send off billows of sulfur… The characters of these works are not only the victims of strong temptations, they willingly hand them out, and lapse into savage temptations, sins, transgressions, and vices. The author looks through his characters’ eyes into the abyss, and the abyss begins to reverberate in his soul: the abyss calls to the abyss…Yes, the protagonists have the power to carry not only their readers with them!

To be honest, this is when I began to fear for the author. It was difficult to refrain from reprimanding him for losing control over his unbelieving characters, who clanked with flagrant materialism, defied the Heavens, and shortsightedly, although sincerely, flaunted this defiance.

Of course, it was not this sincerity, but the hopelessly oppressive nihilism that aroused my involuntary reaction of repulsion. I was forced to remember there is such a word as penance. If I were a priest who possessed the charismatic gift of enfettering and releasing, and the writer were a member of my congregation, I would definitely place a strict penance on him. Of course, only as a “spiritual palliative,” and not as punishment, of which I impartially informed Potemkin. “Be frank and speak your mind boldly,” says the Russian proverb. Or from the depths of time: “Amicus Plato, sed magis arnica veritas”…

But our best judge is our own conscience, from its depths is born repentance. Repentance leads us to the purification or catharsis that every human soul seeks, and the stronger it is, the deeper its immersion in matter. I would like to believe that we will pass this point and the pendulum will swing back in the other direction…

***

And here we have Alexander Potemkin’s latest creation, the novel The Abolition of Man.[1]

Well-known Christian apologist C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), the author of a treatise of the same name, The Abolition of Man, cautioned against progress separated from religion: he described that “process when man surrenders object after object, and finally himself, to Nature in return for power” a magician’s bargain… But, to snub Lewis?, Potemkin brings up opposite ideas in his novel. I will discuss this below.

As we know, during the canonization process of the Roman Catholic Church, it is the job of the so-called Devil’s Advocate (advocates Diaboli) to take a skeptical view, look for holes in the evidence, and argue that any miracles attributed to the candidate were fraudulent in order to testify against his canonization. He is opposed by God’s advocate (advocates Dei), whose task is to argue in favor of canonization and of the candidate’s virtues, merits, and saintliness. But both of them are necessary and, we can say, equally important figures during the court proceedings. For as the Latin saying goes, audi alteram partem, hear the other side.

I would like for us to hear both sides too, pro et contra. Both of them—for and against man—are presented in Potemkin’s new novel, The Abolition of Man. Although, alas, far from to an equal degree. But is that not how it is meant to be, according to the objective course and content of the very litigation that overpowers the spirit with sparring about the virtue or non-virtue of man. The devil, as we know, “is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44), but the logic of the proceedings demands that the advocate: speaks the truth, only the truth, and nothing but the truth. Such is the a priori internal and extremely contradictory logic and dialectics of this work. So such should be its zeal—the zeal of the groper for the truth.

In an old art gallery in Munich, there is a stunning painting by 15th-century artist Michael Pacher called “Saint Wolfgang and the Devil” which depicts the devil in an ultramodern helmet such as an alien who has just stepped down from a UFO might wear. Was it not perhaps this painting that inspired the genius Goethe when he had Mephistopheles utter the following description of himself: “I am part of that force which would do evil evermore, and yet creates the good.” (Faust, transl. by Walter Kaufmann).

In terms of its volume and scope, Potemkin’s novel is reminiscent of a medieval treatise. It is a vast mine of information, to be more precise, a compendium of information, a kind of encyclopedia of pertinent, mind-grabbing projects. The writer rivets his attention on global issues, from the creation of the world and its biological evolution to the future socio-engineering structure of the world, and on the problems that contemporary science and technological progress pose us (in particular, genetic engineering, artificial conception and cloning, “transplantation of intellect onto a hard disc,” and so on). He is a master at using his characters to convey the most interesting, audacious, and risky ideas and incorporating them into a particular system of coordinates. He presents, for example, an apology for euthanasia, which will be legalized everywhere at the beginning of the 22nd century. And we see with our own eyes how striking the flagrant gap and contrast between the high level of scientific knowledge and the low level of ethics is in our day and age. What disaster it could lead to and is leading to…

But would it not be appropriate at this point to recall the wisdom of the ancients, which says that there is also unnecessary knowledge that passes through our minds like water through a sieve? Potemkin’s novel goes clearly overboard both with “water” and with vodka (“fire water”). That’s how it might seem to those who are not interested in the author’s economic extrapolations, who get tired of dry figures and statistical information, as well as to those who grow weary from excursions into ancient history, geographical glosses, and geopolitical concoctions, even given all their witticism and topical interest; none of this seems at all relevant to the artistic fabric of the novel.

However, something else is relevant—the author’s gift for coming up with creative names. Potemkin has a very satisfying knack for giving his characters figurative and expressive names that have a concealed and metaphysical meaning. For example, the name Chudetskaya Anastasia means “woman who resurrects” in the translation from the Greek, and the echo of “chudo” (Russian for miracle – trans. note) can be heard in the very sound of her last name. And such names as Trepov, Lapsky, Kirpichnikov, Chubrinin, Dygalo are worth their weight in gold in the context of the novel!

The author prefaces the novel with two eye-catching epigraphs:

“For one needs a great deal of morality to be immoral in this subtle way” (Friedrich Nietzsche).

2) “Do not judge the Russian people by the abominations they so often commit, but by those great and sacred things for which, even in the abominations, they constantly yearn” (Fyodor Dostoevsky).

An epigraph should be like a good tuning fork, it immediately sets the right tone. Both aphorisms, which are paradoxical in themselves and, moreover, paralogical (even ambiguous), seem very auspicious when applied to the novel, since they well reflect its duality and contradictoriness, in short, ambiguity.

The novel’s plot is marked by a barely perceptible dotted line. Like a rivulet running through the sand in a desert, you lose sight of it as you read this extremely protracted work. Lengthy (and extremely strange) internal monologues follow one after the other, a solid stream of consciousness that is superior in its incandescence to the works of authors of the “neo-novel” and the plays of “the theater of the absurd.” The storyline is intentionally deliberate, the action of the novel unfolds in some virtual space created entirely from the writer’s imagination, beginning with the first pages, when pensioner Semyon Khimushkin looks at himself in the mirror. The author gives a brilliant description of the familiar physiognomy in the mirror, it is a blend of surrealism and critical realism and even, if you like, mystical realism. Here the author acts as an innovator in the role we are familiar with of “Argonaut of the virtual world,” as S. Semyonova, the most profound interpreter of Potemkin’s creative work, so propitiously put it.[2] In general, the novel has many vibrant pages that do the author credit as an artist of the written word. It is a delight to read the stunning metaphor when Khimushkin, after turning into a grain of wheat, falls into a bunker and rides to the grain elevator, sensing with every fiber of his being that he is an insignificant particle in the filament of the wheat. I will note that repetitive metamorphosis is one of the author’s favorite (and not at all banal) techniques:

“Being in one aspect, he was capable of feeling joy, of loving and enjoying; while in another, he felt hate and malice, denial of everything he encountered, and his bilious scoffing at a person’s behavior and thoughts, at the way life was structured, was endless. If at times he tried to possess the world, at others he rejected and despised it. He was now a malevolent critic of everything that existed, now the fanatic of a far-fetched idea, no it was an idea that actually existed in his mind.”

The stream of this consciousness now flows in one intrinsic channel, now whimsically and strangely divides and breaks into fragments. The thoughts (primarily excursions into the field of political economics, political science, cultural studies, and history) are interesting, and the analysis of the latest, post-Yeltsin situation in Russia seems topical and daring. And it is. The intrepid surgeon who skillfully opens up an abscess with his scalpel and in a masterly fashion operates on the patient must be given his due.

But let’s not delude ourselves, for all of this is only virtual reality: “One only wishes to orchestrate a big scandal in one’s own head, only stir up oneself with severe criticism of the regime,” sums up werewolf Khimushkin, who “transforms” into oligarch Gusiatnikov.

The language of these and of other characters is average, “average statistical,” if we can put it that way. Is this not why they look like puppets on strings? All the same, I must admit that the author skillfully guides them. The author does not individualize his characters’ speech, which may seem like a significant artistic shortcoming, but it is a technique he uses to show the averaging and advanced entropy of today’s world. I would call this phenomenon of collective consciousness and similar language “mosaic consciousness.” The most notable feature of this mosaic, however, is its inclination to pick a fight. Yes, the novel’s main spirit and leitmotif is precisely in having a quarrel, which the characters do not tire of talking about: “Incidentally, wouldn’t it be nice to quarrel some more, what topic could I choose, who or what could I really throw a fit with?”; “Publically I keep my mouth shut, but inside I’m fit to burst”; “I am a creative person, inclined to picking fights in my own mind”; “Our lot in life is to preserve within ourselves the ability to have a spiritual quarrel, an elevated way of thinking and pugnacity in designs”; “A person who is without pretense, without an imaginary or real struggle, without grandiose disputes in his mind is an utterly doomed creature”; and so on and so forth.

The delirious obsession with the idea of quarrelling seems to show the characters’ mental illness and deserves our compassionate participation. The author (we will not mix up the characters and the author), who is extremely inclined toward scandalous behavior, confidently conducts the many-voiced chorus of his brawlers, and although his own voice is hard to distinguish, it, oh yes, there you go, can be heard amidst this polyphonic uproar: “For it often happens that you think one thing but talk about something very different with yourself. Evidently, this is a special quirk of lonely brawlers”… Lonely and odious! we add. Nomina sunt odiosa.

The behavioral leitmotif of the novel’s characters, their life credo is expressed in the following auto-suggestion: no humanism! bow down to idols like your ancestors! Banish the legitimate, Christian, traditional, age-old with everything you’ve got!

This is why Khimushkin exclaims with obvious mockery, clearly parodying someone: “I, gentlemen, am a Russian!... If I make no fatal mistakes, I am not a person, I am not Russian! If I have no malice in me, if I do not feel torment every day, if I do not experience nighttime suffering and daytime adversity and fear, what sort of a life do I have?... The Lord Himself forbids the Russians from enjoying life! … Our lot in life is to preserve within ourselves the ability to pick a spiritual fight, an elevated way of thinking and pugnacity in designs.”

Oligarch Gusiatnikov reasons in the same way (and here it is increasingly difficult for us to distinguish the author’s thoughts from the thoughts of his character, they are, as the saying goes, like hand in glove):

“The Russian is not capable of living a middle class life, of abiding by the law. The games of an inflamed mind do not permit him to lead the lifestyle of a European person of average means. We need extremes, great passions. We must be engulfed by all-encompassing love and all-absorbing hate or Russian roulette will constantly tempt us with its fatal pull of the trigger: to be or not to be…!”

It would seem that these thoughts are along the usual “Karamazov” lines; but is the author not reaching a level of greater and important historiosophic generalizations here? However, it is important for us to clarify something else: is the novel searching for the “Russian idea” at the new stage of national self-consciousness that Russia is currently experiencing? Or, on the contrary, is the author debunking this idea?..

At first glance, both elements feature in the novel; its ideological multidimensionality and polyphony are obvious. There can be no arguing that Potemkin is very familiar with and navigates magnificently in the reality of Russian and European life, freely relies on their value categories, and acts as an independent, not engaged, thinker. It is no accident that the novel is occasionally peppered with phrases in different foreign languages. And it is not macaronic verse, but intrinsic impregnations of foreign language into new language motivated and justified by the context. And the novel is not about Germans or Georgians, but about Russians. It is they (with rare exceptions like Frenchman Michel) who are the main characters. But it would be a mistake to believe that the novel is about abolition of the Russian; it is about abolition of man in general, residents of planet Earth, the descendents of Adam and Eve.

In this ideological respect, we should not ignore, underestimate, or distort the Biblical teaching about God’s creation of the ancestral fathers with its deep theological implication, which is restricted to mention of the fact that some wise man called man Adam, which when translated from the ancient Jewish means “red clay.” This gives one of the novel’s characters, Viktor Dygalo, reason for irony and sarcasm: is it really possible to create something worthy from such a lowdown material that sticks to the shoes? While Khimushkin generalizes: “How can it be possible that a mind of such extraordinary power as the Creator’s was capable of stooping so low, even falling, to fashion a wretched little man on a tiny planet forsaken in a metagalaxy? Why did he stoop so low? And why did he need such an inefficient product?”

Gusiatnikov recognizes himself as a “misanthrope of the highest guild,” who “with a feeling of rapture” not only sneers at people, but hates and despises “everything that is of Adam” in himself. As though in counterbalance to the Creator, who created man free in his divine image, Gusiatnikov hatches a different plan—to create a feudal estate in Orlovshchin, in which he would be the landlord-petty tyrant, with complete and unpunished control over the lives of his feudal servants, humiliating and offending them, mocking and scoffing at them. And he creates such an estate. In it are both Russians and natives of Central Asia, people of different classes and professions, a universal rabble is what they could be called, following the logic of the novel. Gusiatnikov gives this estate the diminutive affectionate name of “Romushkino,” parodying the idea of the so-called Third Rome, which Moscow could have become but never did. When describing Romushkino, Potemkin has no need for credibility, he casts aside all convention, he builds his own world, persistently moving huge tectonic slabs, taking parody to the extremes of the sarcastic grotesque.

Romushkino is an test site consisting of several barracks where the reserves of the metal durability and human limits of the people living there are tested using various temptations, defects, and sins (murder, debauchery, extreme toadying, and so on). The dualism of their contradictory animal nature is tested, which is divided between the animal, even bestial, pole and the human pole (which tends toward the angels, although the writer does not want to admit this). Like in Gavrila Derzhavin:

“It seems that I repose in nature’s
Critical center where you started
With the creation of corporeal beasts,
And ended with the heav’nly spirits:
Through me, you fused the chain of life.”

However, in the novel, this chain does not have its bearings in God, so it proves to be rotten...

The ontological grandeur of man, like false gold, is deceptive, because it is false; in the biological respect the closest species to man are not even primates, but rats and pigs!... Modern man has degenerated, he does not justify his high predestination, his song has been sung, he has been abolished!—such is the main idea of the novel. This is the source of all the sarcastic scoffing at the old-fashioned dignity of man. You cannot deny the writer his ability to turn human defects inside out and show their animal nature crippled by sin! And the arguments he finds are frankly murderous. For example, Ivan Gusiatnikov’s thoughts, before which all of Rodion Raskolnikov’s arguments pale:


            “An animal kills by instinct, while a person does it deliberately. This means that murder is characteristic of human nature. I am preoccupied with this question again. Am I capable of murder? There is something mysterious and intimate in this question. If many people can, if even well-known and talented people commit murder? What about me? Could I? And not simply kill sneakily behind someone’s back, but while looking the victim in the eye? Kill with the cold-bloodedness of a well-brought-up man, with feeling and enthusiasm… Go up to him, smile, look him in the eye, and say: ‘Farewell, friend!’ and hit him over the head with a rock? And I want it to be a rock! he mumbled to himself. A rock over the head. So that he sputters and foams at the mouth!”

As we see further, Potemkin’s protagonist, another Jack the Ripper, easily passes the test of cruelty, he is ready, smiling, to hit a passerby over the head with a rock…

But man not only has an animal and bestial origin, he has an angelic, divine origin too! Is this unnatural experiment really necessary?! Has there not already been an abundance of “natural” experiments in the history of the human race? Let’s recall the seizure of Leningrad, during which, alas, there were instances of cannibalism. But there were also so many amazing stories of self-sacrifice, courage, and heroism! Let us recall Ravensbrueck and Auschwitz. There was cowardice and meanness there too. But how can we forget how people voluntarily went to the gas chamber to save other people (mother Maria Kyzmina-Karavaeva, archbishop Grigory Peradze)?... How many saints the history of the human race has given us! Saints and heroes, ascetics and martyrs, who have gone through all the realms of hell on earth but retained their conscience, honor, and dignity, despite the suffering and torment they endured…

Man is abolished in Potemkin’s novel—idle and depraved, under man (Untermensch). Man settles down—predatory and aggressive superman (Uebermensch). But is genuine Man affirmed? that’s the question. It is as though the author of the novel cannot envision, does not see point-blank Man with a capital letter…

Why does the happy thought not occur to him that it is not at all necessary to “construct” something more perfect that man, a being on the ladder of imaginary evolution, if there is the spiritual world with its angels and archangels, Seraphim and Cherubim?!.. This construction reminds us of searches for intelligent life on other planets in science fiction. They are naïve sub specie aeternitatis (“from the perspective of eternity”).

Man is abolished, so what is he replaced with?! What are we offered “in favor,” what is the alternative?

The novel suggests in all seriousness “promoting selection in every way possible, stimulating the appearance of a superman,” without stopping “at the most extreme measures of selection,” right down to complete and ultimate extermination of “the pernicious type,” of those who do not succumb to “genetic correction.”

Who will define the characteristics of this “pernicious type” and how? Will ideas borrowed from eugenics really acquire the misanthropic and predatory grin of neo-Nazism?! Will history be directly repeated?!

The unfortunate thing is that there are no precise moral (=religious) criteria in the novel. This is why “man is abolished.” This is inevitable. Man is abolished, but the superman that abolishes him clings with all his might to the “kingdom of shadows,” to mankind of the future!... This is how Viktor Dygalo ponders in the 9th chapter of the novel, dreaming about a “workshop of human resurrections” like one of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s lyrical characters (in the poem “Pro Eto” [About That]):

“Perhaps at some time, in the distant future, members of the new generation, by way of recompense, will raise me from the grave and resurrect me to present me to their wise community and produce significant proof that I, at one time in the distant past, was right. And will let me live and take joy in their wonderful world. Yes, yes, they will definitely give me that opportunity. But, in the meantime, I must act, although not in thoughts or on canvas or on paper, but in practice, guided by a rebellious mind inspired by the power of the daredevil who has decided to raise his hand against his own species. What audacity! To raise his hand against his own tribe! But perhaps my seditious affairs will stir up others? For that my deeds must be loud, they must shake the foundations of society, bring them down, reduce them to ruins.”

Such is this, oh, oh, oh, thundering mixture of eugenics and Fyodorov-like anarchic ideas!

Dygalo, the main anti-hero of the novel, feels his hate for people “like a detonator of the global geodynamic process.” At the end of the tale, he initiates an act of suicide in order to destroy our planet, turn it into the “corpse of civilization.” A misanthrope marked by the fatal stamp of “superman,” he turns from the devil’s advocate into his direct tool (and weapon). Such is the new horrific metamorphosis. There is no place for a fanatic who wishes to activate natural mutations (and a biological explosion from the Earth’s tectonic awakening) on the blue planet.

In the novel this maniac is opposed by Anastasia Chudetskaya. I think she is the only character who gives arguments “in favor” of Man. “Try to lovingly open up to everyone,” she persuades her opponent. “Understand in a Christian way, which means study each person in a profound and friendly way. There is no other way. For if we destroy everyone, what will the new species emerge from? Man is evolution’s only intelligent tool! Before Man appeared, evolution progressed spontaneously, under the momentum of ascension. But when Man appeared, a new stage in evolution began—a conscious stage. Active and targeted. Man takes the steering wheel of evolution in his own hands and with the help of planetary consciousness steers it into the noosphere. That is, into the sphere of absolute reason!”

At first it seems that Chudetskaya is preaching Orthodoxy, but then it transpires that this, at best, is the neo-Christianity of Nikolai Fyodorov, complicated (“improved”) by the ideas of contemporary, so-called trans-humanists, electron engineers who want to surpass homo sapiens relying on state-of-the-art nano technology. Chudetskaya does not know Christian ascetics, does not appeal to the pillars of Orthodoxy. When arguing with Dygalo, she does not recall a single word of Saint Isaac of Syria with his teaching on “the pardoning heart” which becomes enflamed with love for every living creature…

And Dygalo remains steadfast, after all he has an original idea-fixe that has cost him a great deal of suffering: God is Time: “If you want to meet God, turn to Time! What cannot be stopped? What cannot be frightened? What cannot be neglected? What cannot be possessed? What cannot be outlived? What is stronger than anything? What forgives or punishes everyone?... What is heavier or lighter than everyone, what is Omnipresent? What is the Omnipotent Creator? TIME! TIME! So I am convinced that GOD is nothing other than Time!”

So the fatal replacement is made: time is replaced with eternity, the length of the transient states of matter is made absolute; eternity does not embody God, but is His absence. Dygalo confidently answers the main question: why is man mortal? as follows: because he is imperfect. But when man reaches perfection, reason will not allow him to remain in the current fragile “poorly suited biological sheath,” and then people will live as long as Time exists… A witty passage, but extremely superficial and ignoring the immortality of the soul.

It is worth noting that in the verbal duel between Dygalo and Chudetskaya, the arguments change places, as though persecuted foils…their viewpoints move toward each other, so skillfully does the author manipulate them, revealing his own point of view; we will describe it provisionally in one word—neo-Nietzsche-ism. For it was Friedrich Nietzsche who declared “God is dead” and, consequently, the abolition of man. It is interesting to note that the German philosopher overcame Dostoevsky’s strong influence. Just as Alexander Potemkin, judging by his last novel, has overcome it.

The manic obsession with wealth creates in his characters the illusion of their own exclusiveness and impunity. If there is no God, people are free to do as they wish, is how Dostoevsky puts it. If you are incredibly wealthy, you can do as you wish, is how Potemkin puts it. This gives rise to the motto: “Man is allowed to do absolutely everything he wishes.”

In The Outcast, Potemkin used a garish neologism he invented, the word “chicary,” the etymology of which is very transparent, from the word “chic,” “to be chic.” He became very fond of this word, and he shows it off in his new novel, generously pedaling it, in Russian and in Ukrainian, repeating it where it fits and where it does not fit: “Was the world of wealth and chicary Semyon Semyonovich’s real habitat?”; “What was noteworthy and characteristic of Moscow chicary in this metropolitan evening?”; “Perhaps national chicary looks so unusual and unfamiliar today that you can’t recognize Russians in it?”; “It will do absolutely nothing but arouse in me a sense of consumer arrogance and the ambitions of the upper crust of chicary”; “I invite you onto the carousel of chicary, jump onto the revolving wheel, my beauties”; “We will wait, after all I picked this time especially to have a serious look at chicary”; “It is still rather empty in the restaurant, but in and of itself it is the epitome of chicary”; “How much money does a person need to join your chicary?”; “What is the latest fashion among chic socialites?” and so on and so forth.

You get absolutely sick and tired of this imposing, trite, and vulgar “chicary”… If the writer wanted to create this effect, he certainly succeeded! Devaluation of values is self-evident here, and it reflects the spirit of the times. The cult of things has come to replace the cult of people and ideas, idols of the market want to reign supreme and are trying to establish their dictatorship. Is the author really acting as their mouthpiece, consequently, false prophet? You get the impression that it is deliberate, it pursues the reader. After all, almost all of the characters in the book, with rare exception, are not heroes, but anti-heroes; they are adventurists, villains, and nouveau riche who arouse an instinctive feeling of loathing and indignation.

Becoming acquainted with these maniacs and swindlers, bandits, prostitutes, and murderers, you involuntarily shudder. Truly, world literature has not known such an accumulation of scoundrels and villains. Here everything is taken by the collar and turned inside out, it is a world of turncoats, an essentially infernal world. Is the author really becoming its medium? For a novel’s protagonists, no matter how much you separate them from the author, are till the writer’s mouthpiece. Take for example, Panegirik Khimushkin, named in honor of the “tyrant of all tyrants” who possesses the combined power of Carl the Great and Ghengis Khan, Ivan the Terrible and Napoleon, Stalin and Hitler—is he not an apology of the Anti-Christ?... Or what about the idea of a “new species” as the result of trans-genetic engineering and genetic mutations—is this not the road leading to accession of the Anti-Christ to the throne?

Dostoevsky was horrified when he warned: Without God…? After all, that would mean that now all things are lawful, that one may to anything one likes. Potemkin does not seem to be horrified at all, rather he revels in this assertion, or, to be more precise, denial. It is clear that the writer-thinker is acting here as an apologist of being able to do anything one likes. Sometimes he embodies this idea in a subtle way, sometimes brazenly…always differently, but equally insolently, as though in keeping with some innate intuition. However not every gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, but only the good and perfect, as we learn from the Scriptures (James 1:17). This is why “genius and villainy are two incompatible things!”… Incidentally, the question of the author’s talent is secondary against the background of the dreadful phantasmagoria, permissiveness, and cacophony of his new novel.

The lack of fear of God, however, could perhaps be a conniving intrigue from above. But whereas Dostoevsky urged: “be humble, you proud man!”, the author of the novel The Abolition of Man is urging an uninhibited outburst of human will, passions, and even animal instincts. So, Potemkin is the antipode of Dostoevsky?! Is this not where the apology of Nietzsche-ism turns into a clear cesspit? Khimushkin and the other characters simply stink! Some pages of the novel (for example, the description of “orgies” in a train carriage) are impossible to read…

This permissiveness seems to go beyond all the limits and boundaries of the real world, stretches somewhere out of bounds… Or does the writer not have any fear of God at all? Or is he an inveterate and convicted atheist? Or is this just another methodological technique—reductio ad absurdum? And the reader does not have to be snared by it?... In order not to smash the mirror if your face is dirty and your tousled hair is emitting fumes (like the “kerosene lamp on your shoulders”), as the black man does in Yesenin’s poem. After all, it would be better to wash your face and comb your hair. And then there would be no need to “abolish” man!..

Indeed, Russian literature has long been without a writer of such prophetic zeal. Where does he get it from? He exposes and unmasks, opening up abscesses, mercilessly baring wounds and sprinkling course salt on them… But by reading “pages of malice and vice” (let us recall Lermontov’s poem “The Prophet”) in front of people can he really be declaring the pure teachings “of truth and love”? So this is the zeal of a false prophet?.. After all, are Potemkin’s heroes, or to be more precise, anti-heroes really people?!—they are downright swine, devils, and she-devils!..

Dostoevsky cast about his entire life between utopia and anti-utopia. Potemkin’s creative work is anti-utopia coded “virtual reality.”

Fear of communism (in George Orwell, for example, and several other anti-utopists) has grown today into fear of the catastrophic consequences of the scientific-technical revolution and uncontrollable progress, which is like a genie that has been let out of the bottle; and, finally, into fear of a nuclear apocalypse. In Potemkin, it is as though this fear is totally missing, his characters declare their intrepidity. But alas it is rooted not in the Christian hope of a “new heaven and new earth,” but in defamation of the sacred and in demonic nihilism.

Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) also cautioned about the danger of overpopulation of the Earth, since the planet’s population is growing exponentially, while our means of existence are growing only arithmetically. Only strict regulation of marriages and regulation of the birthrate can save the world from “absolute overpopulation,”—“virtual marriages” or “the virtualization of existence,” according to Potemkin, who in this mode, to tell the absolute truth, is playing the devil’s advocate.

Democrat-liberal-Christian, these concepts stand side by side in the novel, not significantly differing from each other. Christians’ sacramental hatred of Satanists is equal to poor people’s hatred of the rich, communists’ hatred of capitalists, democrats’ hatred of Fascists, white people’s hatred of black people, Japanese hatred of Chinese, Greeks’ hatred of Turks, and so on. In this way, Good and Evil are mutually annihilated, eliminated; for Good’s irreconcilable hatred of evil does not differ in any principal way from class, racial, and national hatred. This is why, although there are many mentions of Christ in the novel, they are all in vain, for they have no confession of belief in Christ as the Son of God, the God-Man, the Savior. It is as though this book was written in the pre-Christian era. And if Christianity is mentioned in it, it is only as one of the world religions, and nothing more.

So, regrettably, we must sum up that the novel is based on materialism and atheism, godlessness and theomachy. The writer’s God-seeking has evaporated. The searching for God, which was so attractive in his “outcast,” has been cut short, there is no trace left of the former sweet-smelling fragrances. The devil, as we know, fears incense. The new characters, encouraging gluttony and even rapaciousness, breathe something stinking into the reader’s face, the smell of singed meat, feces, and sperm, mould and mustiness, in short—the cloying smell of decay…

It would be appropriate to use the epithet “most” in reference to Potemkin: the most erudite, the most sincere, the most merciless (“brutal talent!” as was written about Dostoevsky), and so on.  Is it not time to call him the most odious?!... The range of his problems is almost endless, the amplitude of fluctuations extremely high, and his imagination inexhaustible! It is clearly not enough to call this novel pessimistic. It is essentially misanthropic. For it presents humanism in any form as anachronism and simply sweeps it aside. Nietzsche, with his relatively timid anti-Christianity, simply pales before the demonism laid bare in the depths of Potemkin’s soul…

And we are afraid. Afraid for the writer who has reached the edge of the abyss, looked into it and, seeing all the vileness there, does not shudder. Or did he shudder?! Is this not what caused the convulsions or spasms in the minds and words of his characters? After all, taking all this on, suffering through it all, and experiencing it first-hand is stretching human capabilities to their limit! Here two extremes are exposed, two abysses look into each other—misanthropy and self-flagellation! Between these extremes is a vast amplitude and the pendulum sways in powerful jerks, reaching both poles…

So do we have the right to accuse Alexander Potemkin of dehumanizing and demonizing literature? It would be nice to think there is an endless distance, by the grace of God, between such a serious and merciless accusation in the readers’ court and the Last Judgment. Providing, of course, that the accused wants this grace, or at least is seeking it, looking for it, hoping for it. After all, to cite the words of a great poet, “he is his own foe who seeks not a friend when afflicted” (Shota Rustaveli). Otherwise, this distance could dwindle to nothing, and in the twinkling of an eye!... It is our duty to remind you not only of the high mission and responsibility of the artist, but also of the fact that every person will have to answer to Christ at the Last Judgment. Regardless of whether he acknowledges the existence of God and His punishing-forgiving right hand…

In 1901, the Holy Synod excommunicated world-renowned writer of the Russian land for his blasphemy and profanity, or, to be more correct, declared his defection from the Tree of Salvation. Is Potemkin not threatened with a similar fate?!

In any case, we should stop here: “many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Matthew 19, 30). The church did not anathematize Lev Tolstoy at that time, that is, damn him, as many erroneously believe. For it is forbidden for Christians to damn even their enemies and persecutors: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12, 14), preached the Holy Apostle Paul. And the text of a century ago of the Synod resolution ended on a conciliatory note: “…in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2, 25). We pray, merciful Lord, you will not want the death of the sinful, hear and forgive and convert them to Your Holy Church.”

Who knows, perhaps the novel under review is justified and is even a banner of the times, if it is treated as admonishing anti-utopia. Yes, the characters of this new human tragicomedy are of the same minds in their profound nihilism, disdain of people and the human race. We do not have the heart to repeat the arguments and epithets to which they resort in order to convince us that “man is being abolished”… But it is not man that is being abolished, rather he is abolishing himself, for he is vile in his depraved anti-human essence, which we can in no way accept as “human, too human.” This would be spiritual capitulation on our part. And on the part of the writer himself, who is the “flesh of flesh” of a single human family, no matter what elect or outcast clan he belongs to, and no matter what he thinks about himself.

So we must conclude that in his novel The Abolition of Man, the writer-satirist is giving the whole of mankind a slap in the face. But is this not just to bring him to his proper senses?! Only in that event does this “shock therapy” make any sense, only in this way is it saved from becoming an act of flagrant literary vandalism and reckless misanthropy.

It seems to us that Alexander Potemkin (following in the footsteps of Vasily Rozanov) is acting as a latter-day “provocateur of Christianity.” And not only of Christianity, but also of other world religions. And it must be admitted that he “succeeded” in this provocation (we put quotes around this word only because no provocation “to the glory of” or “for the glory of” can be successful). Like a sensitive seismograph (nervous, on the verge of a breakdown!), the writer is warning us of an imminent anthropological disaster. Forcing us to recall the prophetic correctness of archpriest Sergius Bulgakov, a great theologian of the 20th century:

“Why is it such a tragedy, why do these burials of God invariably turn into burials of the people who are doing the burying? Because by burying God in their minds, they also have to bury the divine in their souls, and the divine is the true, real nature of the human soul.”[3]

 

 

Published in leading business Russian Newspaper “Kommersant” 21.10.2009

 

[1] PoRog Publishing House, Moscow, 2007.

[2] See: S. Semyonova, “The Flesh and Spirit, Physics and Metaphysics of Alexander Potemkin’s Prose,” in: The Metaphysics of Russian Literature, Vol. 2, Moscow, 2004, pp. 415-457 (in Russian).

[3] Archpriest Sergius Bulgakov, “On the Contradictoriness of the Contemporary Non-Religious World Outlook. The Intelligentsia and Religion” (in Russian).

COMMENTS