Friday, April 24, 2009

Bulgakov: The Seventh 'Proof' of God's Existence

Mikhail Bulgakov

Yesterday, I asked about the "seventh proof" of God's existence, a 'proof' referred to in Mikhail Bulgakov's magnum opus The Master and Margarita, and I promised to look into this proof.

Well, I did look into it, and I have nothing to report.

Just kidding. I found some speculations. This website by Jan Vanhellemont -- a Belgian man who read the novel and was so taken by it that he began to learn Russian in order to read the work in the original -- offers annotations, including one on "the seventh proof" of God's existence, introduced by the mysterious Professor Woland in chapter 3:
In this chapter Woland asserts the existence of yet a seventh proof, which is demonstrated to Berlioz minutes later when he is decapitated by a streetcar -- "At least believe that the devil exists! I no longer ask you for anything more. Mind you, there exists a seventh proof of it, the surest of all! And it is going to be presented to you right now!"

And a couple of minutes later Berlioz notices that Woland is right. The seventh proof could be called the experiential proof. Because Berlioz experiences that the devil exists, by which the seventh proof of God's existence is given.

It may be worth to mention that Bulgakov's close friend, the philosopher and literary critic Pavel Sergeevich Popov (1892-1964), was absorbed by the problem of the proofs of the existence of God.
(Parenthetical aside: Did Pavel Sergeevich Popov speak of a "seventh proof"?)

Calling this seventh proof the "experiential proof" is intriguing, but whose experience? We're not told explicitly what Berlioz experienced in death, but we do overhear this as he falls beneath the tram:
In Berlioz' brain someone cried out frantically, "Really?..." (Chapter 3, Mirra Ginsburg translation, 1967)
Whether this is Berlioz himself recognizing the truth of the devil's and thus of God's existence or some anonymous spectator expressing unfathoming horror in a voice that finds echo in Berlioz's final moments of consciousness, I don't know.

At any rate, the one who seems to 'experience' the seventh proof most powerfully is the poet Ivan Nikolayich Poniryov, better known by the pseudonym Bezdomny (i.e., "Homeless"), who pursues Woland and his two compatriots -- an unnaturally tall denizen of some foreign place and a black tomcat as large as a pig -- eventually concluding . . . well, no, not quite concluding anything supernatural (albeit perhaps subconsciously, given the icon that he pins to his chest in pursuit of Woland). Bezdomny has to be told:
"It was Satan whom you met last night at Patriarchs' Pond." (Chapter 13, Mirra Ginsburg translation, 1967)
Yet, Bezdomny remains skeptical, at least briefly. Apparently, the proof takes time to work its effect. Leslie Milne notes this delay of the proof's effect in Bulgakov: The Novelist-Playwright (Routledge, 1996), but rather than talk about an experiential proof, Milne notes the effect wrought by the accurate predition of Berlioz's death.

For more on the devil's existence as the "seventh proof" of God's existence, see "The Apocalyptic Vision of Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita," by Edward E. Ericson, Jr. (pdf), who investigates Bulgakov's debt to Russian Orthodoxy.

Personally, I wonder if there might be some obscure connection to the "seventh seal" of "The Apocalypse of John," especially given the title of this last article above. But more on this another time.

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home