Andrei Bely was the greatest Russian writer of the twentieth century. Chiefly known outside of Russia as a novelist (his Petersburg is the best modern Russian novel), he was also a leading symbolist poet and profound philosophical critic. Bely was also a mystic who had an unsurpassed ability to express his visions in writing, and he often did so in the form of lyrical essays, a selection of which is offered here. Many of these essays were written as the twentieth century stood at the threshold of a new epoch. For Bely, a new religious consciousness was emerging, rooted in Vladimir Solovyov’s visions of Sophia and Nietzsche’s proclamation that a new man was on the verge of being created. A new dawn-both joyful and terrifying-was already visible on the horizon.
“The artist is the creator of the universe,” Andrei Bely declares in one of his philosophical prose poems collected in this book. Roaming fluidly between poetry and theory, between analysis and reverie, Bely transforms the material and intellectual revolution of modernity into an aesthetic revolution, and at the same time presages the revolutionary political upheaval of the twentieth century. In Boris Jakim’s capable translation, Bely’s intriguing, breathless improvisations sparkle with insight and wit.-Robert Bird, Dept. of Slavic Languages and Literature, Univ. of Chicago
Andrei Bely-poet, novelist, and thinker-was one of the central figures of early twentieth-century Russian literature. His thought, represented by the nine essays collected here, examining in depth the works of Tolstoy, Vladimir Solovyov, Nietzsche, and the Russian poets (particularly his fellow Symbolists), is remarkable both in its scope and in its form of expression. His style combines visionary exaltation with self-humor in a way uniquely his own: “Our salvation,” as he writes in the final essay, “lies in playful exuberance.” Boris Jakim succeeds at the almost impossible task of capturing that quality in his fine translations.-Richard Pevear, translator of War and Peace and The Brothers Karamazov
For Andrei Bely, every question is a religious question, every answer a religious answer. The essays included in this collection, each in its own way, figure as both question and answer. For, with Bely, all that is important in human life-art, meaning, struggle, discovery-shimmers in a metaxu whose domain is precisely that of religion as the site of revelation. These essays-apocalyptic, imaginal, gnomic-though written nearly a century ago, nevertheless provide us with new ways of seeing the implicitly poetic, integral, and eminently religious nature of both human existence and the structure of the world. Boris Jakim is to be commended for the gift of this translation, which provides the English-speaking world a much-needed alternative to the prevailing religious discourses so preoccupied with apologetics and polemics and so forgetful of poetry and mysticism.-Michael Martin, author of The Submerged Reality: Sophiology and the Turn to a Poetic Metaphysics