Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Bottomless Bottle of Beer: Author's Remarks

Terrance Lindall, Artist
"Let he who is without sin
cast the first stone."

Somebody must have cast a stone at one character, for missing from the 'cast' above is Koroviev, but he's of much too tall of frame to fit into such a small frame, anyway. Too bad, too. I mean he's not only too tall, he's too bad, too! But that's neither here nor there, for today I want to post some remarks that Terrance Lindall asked me to write up as a sort of afterword to our book, something expressing my intentions in composing my tale:
Some years ago on the Milton List, I asked if any other scholars had read Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita and knew whether or not Bulgakov had ever read Paradise Lost. No one knew for sure, so I looked into the issue but found nothing substantive for a scholarly article. The thought stayed on my mind, however, and I suppose I felt that Milton's epic poem and Bulgakov's magnum opus really ought to be joined somehow, else this story would never have been written.

But I had more in mind than these two writers. I was also thinking of Goethe's Faust, and not only because Bulgakov drew upon it for his novel, for I had read Faust in German when I was about 21. Naturally, I had also Dostoevsky in mind, as is made obvious by the Latin quote under the title and the Russian quotes heading the sections. Those allusions to Dostoevsky are rather playful, but I suspect deeper subterranean connections can be found as well.

Other fiction writers alluded to are Neil Gaiman, H. P. Lovecraft, Dante Alighieri, Bram Stoker, Honoré de Balzac,Walter Mosley, Stephanie Meyer, Stephen Vincent Benét, Alexander Griboyedov, Leonard Cohen, C. S. Lewis, Charles Baudelaire, George Abbott and Douglass Wallop (with Richard Adler and Jerry Ross), John Davidson, John Donne, Alonzo Deen Cole, Lewis Carroll, Herman Melville, T. S. Eliot, Mick Jagger, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and probably others that slip my mind at the moment.

While there are irony, satire, spoof, and other literary games, my style is what might be called "playful seriousness," or serio ludere, as the Renaissance writers called it, signifying the struggle for knowledge in a paradoxical and contradictory world. As such, the story is concerned with epistemology, how we know what we know, and with the distinction between two kinds of knowledge, theoretical and experiential. What my story does that is different will likely seem unimpressive, primarily because the achievement was rather simple (and already noted): it brought together John Milton's Paradise Lost and Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. This basically took two weeks in February 2012, though I fine-tuned and retouched for another six months. Those two weeks of writing proved rather uncanny for me because the story came so easily, despite taking a vacation trip on Jeju Island (South Korea) for one of those weeks, when I spent the daytime driving, with only a little time each evening for writing. I really came to understand why ancient writers believed in and called upon the muse.

A number of nonfiction writers are also alluded to, among them, C. S. Lewis (already noted for his fiction), Hans Blumenberg, Roger Scruton, Franz Leopold Neumann, Stanley Fish, Blaise Pascal, Abraham Lincoln, and -- obliquely -- myself. There are also numerous allusions to the Bible, as one might expect, as well as to various intellectual streams, for example, fideism, scientism, and postmodernism, and an understated avowal of the value of Western Civilization.

I do not know if this story is important, but it draws upon important stories to tell its tale -- a Faustian story that borrows characters from Bulgakov and language from Milton, among other things from other tales -- so it is at least important for drawing readers' attention to these other stories. I hope that the basic story is accessible, and I think that it will be, so if readers enjoy it, they might follow up some of the allusions and immerse themselves more deeply in Western literature.

Most of all, I hope that the story offers enjoyment . . . fun.
If you purchase the book, you'll find these remarks at the end. Also, a preview of the first third of the book is available here. Have fun . . .

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