A Straussian Reading of Bulgakov?
One never knows where a conversation will lead. Two days ago, I started off talking about the Korean word "janmeori" -- which means something like "clever deceptiveness" -- and was soon joined on that blog entry by the erudite Won Joon Choe, who further clarified the concept but also mentioned his own field of "philosophical hermeneutics," leading to a discussion of Leo Strauss's views on esoteric readings of familiar works, a sort of 'defamiliarization' of such works, I suppose. We were joined at this point by the ever-insightful Sperwer, who had also read Strauss, and that conversation is ongoing . . . or might surface here instead. Who knows?
Anyway, Strauss is famous (some might say 'infamous') for his 1952 work, Persecution and the Art of Writing, in which he argued that philosophers have sometimes written 'esoterically' to evade persecution. One should therefore read certain texts 'esoterically' to understand them, for they cannot be taken at face value. The 'face-value' of a text is merely its 'exoteric' form, not its inner substance, and exists to mislead the censors. The astute reader, however, will pick up on the 'contradictions' in the text -- 'contradictions' intentionally left by the writer -- and thus more closely scrutinize the text.
As for Strauss's relevance for Bulgakov, I remarked upon it to Won Joon Choe in a bit of academic biography:
[W]hen I was at Hebrew University, I met a doctoral student who was working on a thesis about Strauss's political ideas. We had some interesting conversations about Strauss's ideas on writing in a way to convey one's ideas while simultaneously obscuring them. That might be applicable to my thoughts on Bulgakov's 'orthodoxy' in The Master and Margarita, written in Stalinist times.Won Joon Choe replied:
That's fascinating and indeed right down my alley. Who was the student? If his dissertation has been published since then, I may have read it . . . . As for the Bulgakov reference, he's the one great Russian novelist I have yet to read, and your post actually cemented my decision to read him. And I am not surprised that he wrote [esoterically] -- if he wrote esoterically -- in Stalinist times, because the evasion of persecution is the first and foremost reason to write esoterically.All that I could recall of the doctoral student -- aside from the fact that he was in the same Hebrew class as I and that we had several interesting conversations about Strauss and Straussian ideas about writing -- was that his given name is "Andrew" (so, Andy, if you happen to read this, please join in).
Anyway, as noted, I had already been considering an esoteric reading of Bulgakov a few days earlier:
Bulgakov was writing in an especially repressive period of Soviet history, so we cannot expect him to have expressed his views explicitly.This was in my blog entry on "The Master and Margarita: Bulgakov's Christology," a post in which I speculated that Bulgakov may have been more Orthodox in his Christology than one might think from a cursory reading of the novel. But I left that question an open one, and still do, until I have re-read Bulgakov's novel in the more-recent translation that I've now obtained -- and also until I have the chance to read Strauss on persecution and the art of writing.
Advice is welcome.