Don't Count Your Chickens before They Hatch: Propaganda and Transformation in Bulgakov's Fatal Eggs

Eric Laursen, University of Utah

Bulgakov's Fatal Eggs (1925) was attacked by proletarian critics as a veiled allegory for the Russian revolution. Indeed, Persikov's detached experiments with life can be equated with Marx's theories (the eggs that are subjected by Fejt to this experiment are in containers labelled with warnings in German). Fejt (Rokk), who is dressed in typical Bolshevik style, directs the red ray, which the press claims will cause "a world revolution in animal husbandry" at subjects that are inappropriate, just as the citizens of Russia are inappropriate for the "ray" of Marxism. But several details in the story point to a much different reading. First of all, the novella is set three years in the future (1928), which encourages us to view the story not as an allegory of past events but as a prediction of future ones. Secondly, there is the overwhelming presence of electricity and the press in this futuristic Russia, both instruments of "cultural revolution" in the 1920s.

In 1920 Lenin said at the Eighth Party Congress: "Communism is the Soviet government plus the electrification of the whole country." More than a powerful symbol of fighting the darkness of ignorance, electrification would bring industrialization and technology to backward Russia. And, perhaps more importantly, electricity would embody the promise of technology for improving the social condition. It would transform society. In Fatal Eggs the red ray can be obtained only with artificial light, and it is brought from the artificially lit city to the moonlit countryside, in an effort to replace the natural with the artificial, to industrialize agriculture and to "enlighten" Russia.

But the red ray is not the only instrument of enlightenment in the story. Moscow of the future is filled with bright lights and electrical "speaking" newspapers. To fill these newspapers, the press possesses its own transforming ray: when Professor Persikov is photographed, "a most dazzling violet ray" is aimed at him. Through his encounters with the press, he becomes like the vicious animals subjected to the red ray, made larger than normal and more malicious by the movie screens atop Moscow roofs. And, with each encounter, he increasingly utters animal sounds. The press has a similar effect on the townspeople, who, never having seen the monsters, are whipped into a bestial fury by the violet ray of the press and are compared to wild animals as they tear the professor apart.

The experiment takes place in the countryside, depicted in the typical pastoral manner as a place where "a man becomes better in the lap of nature." Both city and country dwellers make love in the moonlight, accompanied by the "famous music" of the local frogs. In the pastoral, the idyllic countryside is traditionally opposed to the unnatural city. Accordingly, as the unnatural red ray from Moscow is introduced into this natural setting, the "famous music" is silenced, and the unnatural creatures produced by the experiments are unleashed. In the pastoral, the shepherd-piper often stands in for the poet, here played by Rokk, the propagandist and flautist. As rumors about the experiment grow out of control, he attempts to control the countryfolk with a propaganda campaign. Similarly, in a last desperate attempt to control his creation, he plays his flute, attempting to charm a monstrous boa constrictor, which is compared to a "Moscow electric pole." Both attempts are futile; the propagandist, like the traditional "mad scientist," cannot control his unnatural creation.

In conclusion, in the proposed paper, I will explore Fatal Eggs as centered on a depiction of propaganda as a means of transformation.