Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Fyodor Sologub's Bad Dreams

I did not finish Fyodor Sologub's Bad Dreams so I won't write very much about the book.  I only write to try to record a few fleeting impressions of his tone or style. The tone or style are particularly important insofar as the book contains descriptions and dialogue but little action, and few plot points.  Sologub was a turn-of-the-century writer, a product (or producer) of the Silver Age, and a Symbolist par excellence.  Today, at least in the English language, he seems primarily remembered as the author of The Petty Demon.  At any rate, the tone of Bad Dreams might be described as gloomy, melancholy, or depressive, if not also alienated and estranged.  The characters speak to one another, but don't seem overly hopeful that they will be understood by one another.  Individuals are isolated.  Login, the protagonist, "was enveloped in longstanding melancholy, the coldness of a life that was self-centered and dominated by chance.." The author's style is mysterious, or elliptical.  Indeed, Solugub reminds me of Platonov, although Platonov was not a part of the same literary school.  Solugub seems peculiarly modern insofar as he makes little effort to explain his meaning, or the meaning of his characters' conversations.  If the prose can be described as symbolist, it is because the author probably believes a conversation has a symbolic rather than purely logical or rational meaning.  The entire atmosphere might be characterized as dreamlike, or magical, and filled with "prophetic dreams, bells, candles, house-sprites, the evil eye..." The goal of life, if there is any goal, is to appreciate this magic.  In Login's dream a woman tell him this:  "Dear one," answered another voice," from the horrors of life there is one salvation--our love.  Do you hear?  The stars are laughing.  Do you see?  The blue waves are breaking on the silver starts. The waves are my heart, the stars are your eyes." The mystical nature of wisdom in Bad Dreams is beautiful, but also morbid.  As one character says:  "It would be sweet to die.  I have no no need of happiness.  Love, death--it's all one and the same.  To melt away quietly blissfully, to forget the phantoms of life--that is the heartfelt rapture of dying!"

Quotations From Fydor Sologub's Bad Dreams

Life seemed menacing;  premonitions oppressed him;  misfortunes lay in wait for him.

The housekeeper's sullen face, cratered with pock-marks, increased his melancholy. 

"Tell me," Login spoke up again after a brief silence, "what color does life seem to you, and how does it taste?"

"But why is life frightening?"
"It's too dead!  We don't live as  much as we play at living." 

The ancient elms bent down their branches as though they wanted to eavesdrop on this strange conversation.  But they were not listening and did not hear.  They had their own affairs.

"People, as they always were, are ready to gobble up each other.  But all of them are personally as flexible as willow switches.  Their man at least dares to be openly cruel."

"I looked intently into myself, and within I found the same ardent but impotent audacity of all human beings, and that same dreary question about the fate of our country..."

"Speaking frankly, old friend, our society still, thank God, is not ready for such things.  We have no use for communism and anarchy."

Andozersky waxed candid:  "You know, old friend, I'm getting married soon."
Login felt curious:  "To whom?"
"Right now, you see, it's still hard to say to whom exactly."

"In this nervous age no one has the strength to accomplish anything.  With the temperament of a disillusioned frog, how can we go in for adventures?"

"After all, I don't live between the covers of a book:  I've got a real flesh-and-blood body;  I'm young, high-spirited, nimble."

"..disipline is the first thing in life.  Our people couldn't get along without it."

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