"What is Truth?": Sanin, Nietzsche, and Jesus

Avram Brown, University of California, Berkeley

This is a talk on the relationship between the "Christian" poetics of Sanin and Nietzsche's critiques of Christianity.

1. Arcybashev attacks Christian/socialist "apostleship." Sanin (who in places paraphrases passages from The Anti-Christ, whether Arcybashev read it or not), is the mouthpiece of the Nietzschean position that deconstructs or psychologically problematizes the motivations of Christian "sacrifice." Arcybashev's neurotic, "self-sacrificing" Jurij and Novikov would seem to have ties to Nietzsche's "unmasking" of the "nihilistic will to power" of Paul and of all supposedly un-Christian apostles of the "lone Christian who died on the cross." Both Arcybashev and Nietzsche tie "apostleship" (and the revolutionary mindset for which it stands) to the repression of the erotic, and unmask "sacrifice" as a cover for following one's instincts. Thus this book is a landmark of heresy against the Populist and post-Populist tradition of the "revolutionary Christ."

2. Having dealt with Nietzsche's issue of bad apostleship, I will look at the Christ figures of Sanin. Nietzsche offered various theories and made sometimes contradictory pronouncements on the figure of Jesus himself. Nietzsche's various "takes" on Jesus are, it seems to me, all reflected in Arcybashev's work. The suicide Solovejchik is a Christ figure who as if illustrates Nietzsche's argument that perhaps Jesus should be seen as a suicide, a "decadent" "despiser of life"; similarly, Sanin's former role model Ivan Lande embodies a state of mind rather than a "sacrifice" for anything. These two (along with Jurij's disorganized suicide, which the narrator insists testifies to no cause) serve Arcyba&shachekev's propagandizing of Nietzsche's argument in The Anti-Christ that society has been saddled with supposedly wrong conclusions about Jesus's life and death.

3. Hopefully there will be enough time to relate these themes in Sanin to Arcybashev's apocryphon "Brat'ja Arimafejskie," in which a Sanin-like Pilate appears as Arcybashev's "positive hero," just as he is for Nietzsche (for his retort to Jesus, "What is truth?"). This story offers a succinct summation of Arcybashev's Nietzschean "Christology."