"The Devil Knows!" or Forms of Space and the Chronotope in a Novel by Mixail Bulgakov

Polina Barskova, University of California, Berkeley

In the thirty-five years since its publication, The Master and Margarita has been read largely as representing--both in plot and its very existence--the triumph of artistic power over the totalitarian state. In my paper I would like to claim that the nature of the relationship of Bulgakov's novel to the ideological environment in which it was produced is much more complicated than one of simple antagonism. My argument rests on the work of Foucault and his insightful reader D. A. Miller, who notes that "Whenever the novel censures policing power, it has already reinvented it." I also rely on the Baxtin's essay "Forms of Time and the Chronotope in the Novel." An attempt to use both Baxtin's and Bulgakov's texts (written at the same time) for the purpose of mutual illumination seems to me legitimate. Both texts have the same goal: the escape from Stalinist reality by discursive means.

A central issue in the paper is surveillance. As if following Baxtin's "literary" recipes for opening up private spaces and creating public access to them, Bulgakov's novel establishes a peculiar model of transparent space, which implies that an eavesdropper and informant is present in any private situation. Bulgakov, however, covers this generically inevitable figure by the veil of mysticism and poetry and creates the exceedingly charming literary image of Woland. The victory of justice is entrusted to a power essentially paramount to that of the Soviet state, but a close reading of The Master and Margarita shows that both Woland and the secret police are involved in doing basically the same thing. Namely, they extract information. That very knowledge which constitutes the text and moves the story forward, among other things by foreshadowing events, is based, first and foremost, on eavesdropping, peeping, denouncing, provoking and interrogating. The very structure of this text reminds us of the all-embracing investigation that the text describes; the most attractive masks that the author puts on his omniscient protagonists cannot cover up their indissoluble connection to the means and goals of the investigative agencies from which Bulgakov tried to escape into the seemingly phantasmagoric realm of his oeuvre.