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New Myth, New World

From Nietzsche to Stalinism

Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal


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New Myth, New World

From Nietzsche to Stalinism

Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal

New Myth, New World is an original and provocative reinterpretation of Nietzsche's central impact on Soviet culture. Rosenthal has read widely and deeply in primary sources running from philosophy, religion, and poetics to political ideology, architecture, and street theater. In addition, she seems to know all the relevant scholarship, not just in English and Russian but also in German and French and other languages as well. This is a model of wide-ranging, well-informed historical research.”


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The Nazis' use and misuse of Nietzsche is well known. The Superman, the "will to power," Nietzsche's equation of bourgeois democracy and decadence, and his denigration of reason were staples of Nazi propaganda. Communists also used and misused Nietzsche, but that fact is largely unknown because Soviet propagandists invoked reason and labeled Nietzsche the "philosopher of fascism," even while covertly appropriating his ideas. In this pioneering book, Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal excavates the trail of long-obscured Nietzschean ideas that took root in late Imperial Russia, intertwining with other elements in the culture to become a vital ingredient of Bolshevism and Stalinism.

Nietzsche made a difference. He furnished intellectual ammunition for a prolonged conflict about culture, society, and politics that began around the turn of the century. His first Russian admirers were poets, philosophers, and political activists. They responded to the changes transforming their society by espousing new values and seeking a new faith by which to live and work. This response resulted in new aesthetic and political amalgams, such as Symbolism, Futurism, Nietzschean Christianity, and Nietzschean Marxism. The ensuing debates between and among their partisans reverberated throughout the wider culture and therefore also into Bolshevism, becoming the subject of an uninterrupted polemic between Bolsheviks and non-Bolsheviks, and among Bolsheviks, that continued into the 1930s.

In Stalin's time, unacknowledged Nietzschean ideas were used to mobilize the masses for the great tasks of the first Five-Year Plan and the Cultural Revolution, which was intended to eradicate "bourgeois" values and attitudes from Soviet life and to construct a distinctly Socialist culture. Nietzsche's belief that people need illusions to shield them from reality underlay Socialist Realism, the official Soviet aesthetic from 1934 on. In the aftermath of de-Stalinization, the government cast Nietzsche as the personification of "bourgeois" nihilism and "bourgeois" individualism. Soviet intellectuals wishing to reappropriate their lost cultural heritage discovered the Nietzsche-influenced intellectuals of late Imperial Russia and reopened discussion on the issues they had posed.

More than an exercise in historical rediscovery, New Myth, New World offers a new interpretation of modern Russian history. By uncovering the buried influence of Nietzschean ideas on Soviet culture and politics, Rosenthal opens new avenues for understanding Soviet ideology and its influence on the twentieth century.

New Myth, New World is an original and provocative reinterpretation of Nietzsche's central impact on Soviet culture. Rosenthal has read widely and deeply in primary sources running from philosophy, religion, and poetics to political ideology, architecture, and street theater. In addition, she seems to know all the relevant scholarship, not just in English and Russian but also in German and French and other languages as well. This is a model of wide-ranging, well-informed historical research.”
New Myth, New World: From Nietzsche To Stalinism by Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal is a thoughtful and scholarly reinterpretation of Nietzsche’s lasting influence upon Soviet culture.”
“Rosenthal’s mastery of the often intricate details of Russian and Soviet political thought is truly impressive and contributes dramatically to the credibility of her thesis. Her work will force scholars to reevaluate not only Nietzsche’s influence on twentieth-century thought but also the origins of Soviet culture. Anyone who wants to understand the evolution of Marxist-Leninist thought, in all of its manifestations, would do well to read New Myth, New World.”
“In New Myth, New World: From Nietzsche to Stalinism, Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal proposes a refreshing, unconventional approach to Nietzsche’s heritage, and demonstrates how ideas have a life of their own, influencing, in arcane ways, trends that may be the opposite of what their proponents claim.

Professor Rosenthal’s book is an exercise in cultural archeology: she excavates long-forgotten or neglected themes, symbols, ideas that have permeated various trends of the Russian tradition from the populists to the Bolsheviks.”
“In her third book on Nietzsche and Russia, Rosenthal documents the persistence of Nietzsche in Russia’s history in a recondite and kaleidoscopic way. Her command of the topic shows. . . . Highly recommended.”
“Rosenthal’s exploration of the ‘psychopolitical utility to myth’ (113) in New Myth, New World serves as a timely and thought-provoking guide through a key portion of this new territory. The reader will have to work through Rosenthal’s dense prose, close reasoning, and occasional bursts of associative analogy, but the reader will not be disappointed. This is an excellent work.”
“The author’s scholarly intuition, which sometimes cuts across the work’s declared aims, notes and delineates a tendency, a set of problems which are obviously going to dictate the pattern of Nietzsche reception in Russia during the next few years.”

Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal is Professor of History at Fordham University. She is the editor of three prior books that have paved the way for this study—Nietzsche in Russia (1986), Nietzsche and Soviet Culture: Ally and Adversary (1994), and The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (1997). She is also the co-author of A Revolution of the Spirit: Crisis of Value in Russia, 1890-1924 (1990).


List of Illustrations


Works Frequently Cited


Section I: The Seed-Time: The Russification of Nietzsche, 1890–1917

1. Symbolists

2. Philosophers

3. Nietzschean Marxists

4. Futurists

Summary: The Nietzschean Agenda in 1917

Section II. Nietzsche in the Bolshevik Revolution and the Civil War, 1917–1921

5. Apocalypse Now: Bolshevik Fusions of Marx, Engels, and Nietzsche

6. Beyond Bolshevism: Visions of a Revolution of the Spirit

Section III. Nietzschean Ideas in the Period of the New Economic Policy (NEP), 1921–1927

7. Concretizing the Myth: New Cult, New Man, New Morality

8. New Forms, New Language, New Politics

Section IV. Echoes of Nietzsche in Stalin’s Time, 1928–1953

Part I: Dionysus Unleashed: The Cultural Revolution and the First Five-Year Plan

9. "Great Politics" Stalin-Style

10. Cultural Revolution in the Arts and Sciences

Part II: Art as a Lie: Nietzsche and Socialist Realism

11. Nietzsche’s Contributions to the Theory of Socialist Realism

12. The Theory Implemented

Part III: The Lie Triumphant: Nietzsche and Stalinist Political Culture

13. The Stalin Cult and Its Complements

14. Cultural Expressions of the Will to Power

Epilogue: De-Stalinization and the Reemergence of Nietzsche



The worst readers. The worst readers are those who behave like plundering troops; they take away a few things they can use, dirty and confound the remainder, and revile the whole.

HH, 2:245

All the aphorisms of Zarathustra

And the virgin soil of paradoxes.

Elegantly subtle sophistries—

All turned into blood.

—Nikolai Bukharin, "The Mad Prophet (Nietzsche)" (1937)

Some of the most powerful ideas are those that are hidden. This book excavates the long-obscured trail of ideas influenced by Nietzsche that entered into and helped shape Bolshevism and Stalinism. The excavation begins in late Imperial Russia, goes through the thickets of the revolutionary and early Soviet periods, and culminates in Stalin’s time. Throughout, Nietzsche’s thought was mediated by Russians who picked up the aspects of it that appealed to them and reconfigured them for their own purposes until they were transformed in ways that obscured their provenance. Without knowledge of Nietzsche’s thought, and Russian appropriations, modifications, and embellishments of it before the Bolshevik Revolution, the trail of Nietzschean ideas we will be following is virtually invisible, because for most of the Soviet period, either his name was unmentionable or it could be used only as a pejorative. By Nietzschean ideas, I mean ideas indebted to Nietzsche directly or at one or more removes. One did not have to read Nietzsche to be influenced by him. The pollen of his ideas hung in the atmosphere for decades, fertilizing many Russian and Soviet minds.

Nietzsche’s brilliant style and compelling images appealed to people everywhere, Russians included. His quotable aphorisms could be detached from their context and deployed in a variety of ways. "Tell me what you need," Kurt Tucholsky, a German writer, quipped, "and I will supply you with a Nietzsche citation." The bi-polar and complex nature of Nietzsche’s thought accommodates contradictory ideas and changing circumstances. Its open-endedness and ambiguity enables people to read their own meanings into such concepts as the Superman, the "will to power," and "great cultural projects." Nietzsche’s works provided intellectual ammunition for a prolonged conflict that was conducted in all areas of Russian life—culture, society, politics—a conflict over whose will, values, and ideals would prevail, in whose image the society of the future would be shaped.

The works of the "philosopher with a hammer" touched deep cultural chords, reverberating with, reinforcing, and reactivating ideas indigenous to Russia. His striking slogans and memorable images stayed with people long after they read him. Nietzsche was the spark that fused discrete, seemingly contradictory, elements into new amalgams, such as Nietzschean Marxism and Nietzschean Christianity. Some of these were unstable and transitory. Others endured and evolved, but one idea remained constant: art can create a new consciousness, a new human being, a new culture, and a new world. Nietzsche imbued radicals of various persuasions with visions of total transformation against which liberalism and evolutionary Marxism seemed pallid. Nietzsche enthusiasts seized on the eschatological and voluntarist aspects of Marxism to commandeer the existing Russian apocalypticism and to revitalize the voluntaristic and "heroic" aspects of the intelligentsia ethos.

Bolshevik intellectuals did not confine their reading to Marxist works. They knew Russian and European literature and philosophy and kept up with current trends in art and thought. Aspects of Nietzsche’s thought were either surprisingly compatible with Marxism or treated issues that Marx and Engels had neglected. Nietzsche sensitized Bolsheviks committed to reason and science to the importance of the nonrational aspects of the human psyche and to the psychopolitical utility of symbol, myth, and cult. His visions of "great politics" (grosse Politik) colored their imaginations. Politik, like the Russian word politika, means both "politics" and "policy"; "grosse" has also been translated as "grand" or "large scale." The Soviet obsession with creating a new culture stemmed primarily from Nietzsche, Wagner, and their Russian popularizers. Marx and Engels never developed a detailed theory of culture because they considered it part of the superstructure that would change to follow changes in the economic base.

Nietzsche’s influence operated below the surface of events, accelerating the repudiation of established authorities and values, nourishing a panoply of utopian doctrines, reinforcing the Promethean aspects of Marxism, and contributing (along with other factors), to an eschatological mood and a free-floating radicalism that worked to the Bolsheviks’ advantage in 1917. Nietzsche’s thought affected aspects of Stalinism that explanations based on class conflict, rationally calculating "economic man," or modernization theory cannot account for.

Focusing on culture, rather than political events or social structure, I highlight a set of issues that I call the Nietzschean agenda. This agenda was established by his Russian admirers between 1890 and 1917, when Nietzsche could be discussed openly and his thought was russified and absorbed into the culture. Responding to the changes transforming their country, Nietzsche enthusiasts espoused new values and sought a new ideal (in Nietzschean terms, a new myth) by which to live and on which to base their work and transform their world. The other items on the agenda—a quest for a "new word," a new art form, a new ideal of man (and woman), a new morality, a new politics, and a new science—were related to the quest for a new myth. Nietzsche’s popularizers shaped the wider culture, disseminating their renditions of his ideas, and raising issues that were debated by Bolsheviks and non-Bolsheviks, and among the Bolsheviks, until the mid 1930s when the Communist Party resolved these issues. For close to half a century, then, the Nietzschean agenda thus passed from one generation to another, each generation offering new answers to the same questions and issues.



For the sake of the new beauty,

We will break all laws,

We will trespass all limits. —Dmitry Merezhkovsky,

"Deti nochi"

For the symbolists, the key Nietzsche text was The Birth of

Tragedy, even though much of their imagery stemmed from

Zarathustra. They were dazzled by Nietzsche’s aesthetic justification

of the world and human existence, his celebration

of the Dionysian, and his belief that myth is essential

to the health of a culture. Their primary interests were art,

culture, and the "inner man" (the soul or the psyche).

Spiritual radicals, they interpreted the "will to power" as

creativity, detested the quotidian aspects of life (byt), and

unlike Nietzsche, held that empirical reality is but a symbol

of a higher reality that can be apprehended intuitively.

Opposed to positivism, rationalism, and materialism, they

imagined "other worlds than ours" and plumbed the depths

of the human soul. Rejecting the "slavish" kenotic values

of humility, altruism, and asceticism, they hailed Nietzsche as

a proponent of self-affirming individualism and enjoyment

of life, a trespasser of forbidden boundaries and established moral codes,

and highlighted his paeans to laughter and to dancing. Later on, however,

they denounced individualism as atomistic or decadent and restored one or

more of the kenotic values (which ones depended on the symbolist), defending

their turnabout with different quotations from Nietzsche. Their myths

featured a leap from necessity to freedom in the cosmic, rather than the

Marxist, sense, and the transfiguration of man and the world through art.

The symbolist poet would articulate the salvific "new word."

The leading symbolists were Dmitry Merezhkovsky (1865–1941), the initiator

of the movement; his wife Zinaida Gippius (1869–1945); Valery Briusov

(1873–1924); and Konstantin Bal’mont (1867–1942).1 A "second generation"

emerged around 1902—Viacheslav Ivanov (1866–1949), Andrei Bely

(Boris Bugaev, 1880–1934), and Aleksandr Blok (1880–1921). Symbolism

began as protest against realism, naturalism, the moral and socio-political

didacticism of populists and Tolstoy, and vulgar mass culture. Symbolist

works bypass the intellect to address the psyche directly and were crafted

to evoke chains of subliminal associations and a mysterious, otherworldly

mood. The poetry suggests rather than states, sometimes in arcane or vatic

language, and attempts to replicate music. The paintings depict divine and

demonic subjects, archetypal events (such as the Apocalypse), and incarnations

of the "eternal feminine." Early symbolism was vehemently apolitical

and asocial, but the aesthetic was intertwined with issues of philosophy and

religion from the start. Most symbolists became Godseekers (Bogoiskat’eli)

another movement that Merezhkovsky initiated. The Revolution of 1905

politicized the symbolists; they perceived it as the start of the Apocalypse

that would culminate in the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth.

Symbolism as a Surrogate Religion

Merezhkovsky learned about symbolism and Nietzsche in Paris. French symbolism

was more indebted to Wagner than to Nietzsche and invited introspection

and a mystical withdrawal from the world. Nietzsche’s thought

helped Merezhkovsky give Russian symbolism its fighting edge and (with

Soloviev and Fedorov) was an inspiration for the later symbolist concept of

"life-creation" (zhiznetvorchestvo).

Russian symbolism started out as a religion of art. Merezhkovsky mingled

romanticism and idealism with a Nietzschean aestheticism and accused

populists and positivists of ignoring the "eternal questions" of human existence.

Aesthetic creativity gives life meaning, he argued in the early 1890s,

and art leads to higher truths (note the plural). Only a "new idealism" could

unite the intelligentsia and the people (narod) (a populist goal).2 Yet only a

few years later, Merezhkovsky turned his back on the people and insisted

on the autonomy of art. Using Nietzsche as a battering ram to smash the

old Christian/populist "tables of values," Merezhkovsky championed an aesthetic

individualism in which self-expression and beauty were the highest

values. The artist was a hero, a warrior for a new culture, and the people

were rabble. The artist was not obligated to serve them.

Merezhkovsky’s aesthetic individualism was short-lived, because art alone

proved insufficient as a guide to life, and it failed to enable him to overcome

his inordinate fear of death. In his essay "Pushkin" (1896), Merezhkovsky

asserted that paganism (really Nietzscheanism) and Christianity were two

halves of a yet undiscovered greater truth. Paganism sanctioned self-affirmation

and worldly pleasures; it was the "truth of the earth" ("remain true to the

earth," Z, 42). Christianity preached personal immortality and love; it was

the "truth of heaven." Merezhkovsky resolved to reconcile the two truths,

so that people could enjoy the worldly pleasures prohibited to Christians

and still be assured of eternal life. In the same essay, he exalted Pushkin as

the perfect combination of Apollo and Dionysus. This essay became the subtext

of discussions about Pushkin from then on.3 Elsewhere, Merezhkovsky

praised Goethe as a pan-European writer, as Nietzsche did (TI, 102), and

discussed the Apollonian and Dionysian aspects of Goethe’s life and work,

thereby linking Goethe and Nietzsche.

In 1900, Merezhkovsky embarked on a "revaluation of all [Christian]

values," based on the assumption that "historical Christianity" (Christianity

as preached by the churches) was obsolete. Jesus Christ Himself would grant

humankind a Third Testament (Zavet, sometimes translated "revelation")

that would reconcile all dualisms: Christianity and paganism, Westernism

and Slavophilism, spirit and flesh, Russia and Europe, God-man and Man-

God, Christ and Antichrist. From then on, Merezhkovsky cast all problems

in terms of an eschatological dualism that only the Second Coming could

resolve. The distinction between institutional Christianity and Christ is an

old one but, in Merezhkovsky’s case, the distinction was informed by Tolstoy

and Nietzsche. Tolstoy attacked the state-controlled Orthodox Church and

preached a Gospel-based Christianity. Nietzsche wrote: "I shall now relate

the real history of Christianity—The word ‘Christianity’ is already a misunderstanding

—in reality there has been only one Christian and he died on

the Cross" (AC, 151). Merezhkovsky did not quote the good things Nietzsche

said about Jesus, lest he blur the eschatological dualism. Rather, he challenged

Nietzsche’s anti-Christian statements. Authentic Christianity is not a slave

morality, Merezhkovsky proclaimed, but a new and higher supramoral phenomenon

beyond good and evil. Christianity is not life-denying; personal

immortality is the supreme affirmation of life. God is not dead; He lives and

will come again. Jesus Christ is the Superman Nietzsche sought in vain.4

Arguing that people need religious faith as much as they need food,

Merezhkovsky proselytized his "new religious consciousness" in novels and

essays, in the Religious Philosophical Society of St. Petersburg (founded by

him and Gippius in 1901), and in their revue, New Path. The Society featured

debates between clergymen and lay intellectuals on burning issues of

the day, including the Holy Synod’s excommunication of Tolstoy, Christian

attitudes toward sex, and whether or not new Christian dogma was needed,

and if so, who would create it. Outraged at Tolstoy’s excommunication (even

though he disagreed with Tolstoy), Merezhkovsky challenged the subordination

of the Orthodox Church to the state and tried to found a new church

a few years later. In the debates on sex, Merezhkovsky championed the idea

of "holy flesh," not realizing that he was advocating transfiguration. One

of the Society’s most prominent figures, the writer Vasily Rozanov

(1856–1919) extolled the holiness of sex and the family, praised Judaism’s

positive attitude to sex, and claimed that Christianity was a religion of death

because it was fixated on celibacy. Because of his diatribes against Christianity

and his unabashed amoralism, Rozanov was called the "Russian Nietzsche."5

Unlike the other "Russian Nietzsche," Leontiev, Rozanov idealized domesticity.

In private life, he was a pillar of the Church, which he regarded as a

haven of beauty, warmth, and spiritual succor. He found supreme beauty in

the visage of Jesus and in Orthodox rituals.

The unprecedented spectacle of clergymen and lay intellectuals debating

one another on equal terms attracted capacity audiences. The government

shut down the Society in April 1903, lest it provide a forum for heresy, but

repression could not squelch the revaluation of all Christian values that the

Society had provoked. It was a major stimulus to the early-twentiethcentury

religious renaissance. The Society was revived in 1907, and branches

were founded in Moscow, Kiev, and other cities. The members of all the

religious-philosophical societies were called Godseekers, even though many

were already believers, because they were seeking answers to questions raised

in the original Society or in the writings and lectures of its leading figures.

Most symbolists were Godseekers, but not all Godseekers were symbolists.

The Moscow branch was called the Religious Philosophical Vladimir Soloviev

Society, after Russia’s greatest philosopher. Soloviev (1853–1900) preached

an activist Christianity that would transfigure the world and establish the

Kingdom of God on Earth, a realm of pure joy and love. He considered art

a form of inspired prophecy and had a special regard for lyric poetry, which

he associated with Sophia (Divine Wisdom) and romantic notions of "the

eternal feminine" (Goethe’s phrase). He believed that the poet’s task was to

bring Sophia down from heaven by love and find forms to suit her essence.

He considered Beauty to be the carrier of the Idea, not in the Hegelian sense,

the reflection of an eternal Idea upon fleeting phenomena, but that which

incarnates a spiritual or divine principle in matter. He saw nature as the

body of Sophia and the flesh as something that should not be denied but

transfigured. In The Meaning of Love (1892–94), Soloviev separated procreation

and sexual pleasure and sanctioned sexual pleasure as a means of

overcoming egoism. His ideal human being was androgynous, a tenet that

can be interpreted either as recommending bisexuality or as calling for the

transcendence of sexual relations in a transfigured world.

Soloviev’s most fundamental concept was "Godmanhood" (Bogochelovechestvo),

the incarnation of the divine idea in man (in other words deification)

and the salvation and transfiguration of all humankind, not just

righteous individuals. The antipode of "Godmanhood" was demonic

"Mangodhood." (Dostoevsky also contrasted Godman and man-god.)

Although Soloviev disapproved of Nietzsche, he considered the Superman a

religiously significant idea, because it expressed a yearning to be more than

human. "Godmanhood" was related to Soloviev’s concept of "total unity"

(vseedinstvo), the unity of being central to Orthodox ontology. He rejected

abstract Western philosophy, represented in his early works by Hegel, in

favor of an integral worldview, an all-encompassing synthesis of philosophy,

religion, science, and art. In the 1880s, Soloviev advocated "free theocracy,"

a variant of the Slavophile ideal of sobornost’, to be instituted by the tsar

and the pope, for one of his goals was the reunion of the Christian churches.

In the 1890s, dismayed by the failure of his theocratic project, Soloviev

espoused a kind of liberalism. (The symbolists ignored this aspect of his

views.) Throughout, he advocated an activist Christianity, one that would

really change the world.

In the last year of his life (1900), Soloviev predicted the imminent advent

of the Antichrist in a tale that portrayed him as a composite figure with

Nietzschean traits. Indeed, says the narrator, "many called him a Superman."6

Dazzlingly beautiful, the Antichrist uses science, magic, and technology to

control nature (an allusion to Fedorov) and ends the age-old scourges of

hunger and war. But he abolishes the distinction between good and evil,

loves only himself, and presumes to replace Christ, for his real motivation

is power. After the political and social problems have been solved, the religious

question comes to the fore. The Jews revolt when they learn that he

is not the Messiah after all (note the importance of human agency); evil is

vanquished; and the Millennium begins. Soloviev’s apocalypticism and his

prophesy of pan-Mongolism (the rule of the "yellow" races over the "white")

influenced symbolist political thought during the Russo-Japanese War, merging

with other apocalyptic visions, especially Merezhkovsky’s Third Testament,

Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, and Nietzsche’s "great noontide": "One day

they shall proclaim with tongues of flame: It is coming, it is near, the great

noontide!" (Z, 192).

Ivanov, Bely, and Blok combined Nietzsche with Soloviev, "correcting"

Nietzsche’s misogyny with visions of Sophia or the "eternal feminine." All

three were Wagnerophiles (Merezhkovsky was not). Ivanov regarded man

as a religious animal (animal religiosum) and since ecstasy is the "alpha"

and "omega" of the religious state, as an ecstatic animal (animal ecstaticum).

In "The Hellenic Religion of the Suffering God" and "The Religion of

Dionysus" (1904–5) Ivanov underscored the interrelated religious and sexual

aspects of the cult and the role of the maenads.7 He believed that "mad"

intoxication and oblivion were the outward manifestations of a state of

ecstasy that was intimately connected with sacrifice and suffering in an eternally

self-renewing cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Dionysian ecstasy

enabled the celebrants to accept the reality of death by providing them with

the certainty of mystical unity with the "suffering god," who was both priest

and sacrificial victim. Viewing the myths and rituals of the cult as expressions

of a primordial mystical idea, Ivanov emphasized the common elements

in Christianity and Dionysianism—passion, death, and resurrection

—and argued that Dionysus was a precursor of Christ.

Ivanov’s Nietzschean Christianity differed from Merezhkovsky’s. The latter

believed that the reconciliation of paganism and Christianity lay in the

future; Ivanov held that they were once one, but then tragically separated.

Ivanov’s orientation was almost purely Dionysian; he exalted loss of self in

mystical ecstasy and assimilated Dionysus to the kenotic Christ. His eschatology

was attuned to immanent transfiguration. Merezhkovsky’s apocalypticism

posited grand historical schemes along the lines of a Hegelian

dialectic, which he sometimes he conflated with Nietzsche’s idea of eternal

recurrence, misunderstood as historical cycles. Merezhkovsky’s Christianity

centered on Jesus; Ivanov’s was part of an amorphous "new religious synthesis."

Merezhkovsky’s writing style was clear and simple, as befit his proselytizing

orientation; Ivanov’s was turgid, esoteric, and replete with neologisms

that had Greek or Latin roots. Between 1904 and 1912, Ivanov’s salon

eclipsed Merezhkovsky’s salon as a gathering place for the literary and artistic

intelligentsia. Ivanov was more important as a theorist of symbolism, but

Merezhkovsky’s writings reached a larger audience. Indeed, Merezhkovsky’s

historical novels were bestsellers.

Bely tried to make symbolism the basis of a integral worldview that encompassed

science, philosophy, religion, and art (Soloviev’s idea). The Nietzschean

aspects of Bely’s aesthetics were derived primarily from The Birth of Tragedy.8

Soloviev shaped Bely’s concept of the redemptive role of the poet, his conviction

that religion, rather than unformulated mystical feeling, must be the

basis of art, and his emphasis on ethics, which he merged with a Nietzschean

aestheticism. Like Ivanov, Bely reworked Nietzschean images of ascent and

descent in Christian terms. Blok tried to integrate Soloviev and Nietzsche

intuitively and poetically, wavering between them all his life. At Ivanov’s

suggestion, he re-read The Birth of Tragedy in 1906. From then on, Blok

viewed the Dionysian rites as the origin of all drama, and the Dionysian

principle as the foundation of all art.9

Idealization of human sacrifice is the dark side of symbolism. The

Dionysian dithyrambs that accompanied the ritual sacrifice of the god in

ancient Greece were not only erotic but frenzied, bloody, and cruel. The original

Dionysian rites were not just sexual orgies, they were orgies of cannibalism

(which Ivanov recognized). For the celebrants, it was Dionysus himself

who was sacrificed. He was literally torn to pieces, pieces which the celebrants

ate, thereby becoming god, or god-like, or so they believed. To Ivanov,

Dionysus’s dismemberment and resurrection symbolized the cycle of birth,

death, and rebirth. Eroticization of suffering and fascination with violent

death are obvious in his cycle of poems "To Dionysus" (1903).10 One of

Blok’s greatest poetic cycles, The Snow Mask (1907), ostensibly about a love

affair, is ordered around the lines of the Dionysian ritual described in Ivanov’s

essays. In Edith Clowes’s words, "The poet becomes a Christ figure who

rebels, affirms his own will, invokes the god, and finally gives himself up to

Dionysian androgynous chaos. Out of chaos emerges a new mystical-creative

consciousness. This resurrection lasts only a short time." In the end the poet

realizes that he is only human and accepts his final sacrifice on the "snowy

pyre."11 Years later, Nadezhda Mandelstam contended that the symbolist

attempt to combine paganism and Christianity implied an apologia for cruelty

that conditioned people to accept terror, giving as an example Ivanov’s

statement, "Cruelty is distinguished by a serene expression while the victim

drinks in the radiant energy of the tormenter."12

Symbolist reinterpretations of Christianity included visions of a new man—

an artist-hero, a creator of a new culture and new values—the polar opposite

of rationally calculating, self-interested "economic man." In addition,

he was depicted as young, daring, forever striving, and a transgressor of

established norms. Merezhkovsky depicted such figures in his trilogy of historical

novels, Christ and Anti-Christ—Death of the Gods (Julian the

Apostate) (1895), Resurrection of the Gods (Leonardo da Vinci) (1900), and

Antichrist (Peter and Alexis) (1904). The protagonists illustrate Merezhkovsky’s

tendency to make individuals into symbols. Julian, Leonardo, and

Peter each have Nietzschean and Christian traits, combined differently as

Merezhkovsky’s views changed. In his study of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky

(1900–1902), Merezhkovsky compared the Russian literary giants to each

other and to Nietzsche (to Tolstoy’s detriment) and posited a polarity within

Christianity between "the flesh" and "the spirit." Tolstoy represents "the

flesh" (on which he was fixated, according to Merezhkovsky), while the tormented

Dostoevsky represents the yearnings of "the spirit."13 In the new

man "flesh" and "spirit" would be harmoniously combined. And he would

have wings, literally, because they signify freedom from nature’s law.

Merezhkovsky took the Wright Brothers’ airplane flight to mean that if

human beings could ascend to heaven, then heaven could descend to earth.

Bely used "new man" and "Superman" interchangeably to denote his ideal

of the new human being of the future.14

The symbolists’ revolt against "necessity" included gender issues and, in

some cases, rejection of procreation and the nuclear family. Dionysus was

an androgynous god, but Nietzsche did not say so. The symbolists took that

idea from Soloviev, who probably took it from Plato, and/or occult doctrines,

and the Bible: "There is neither male nor female for ye are all one in

Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Some symbolists interpreted bisexuality in

terms of a mystique of the Trinity, which they used to justify triadic sexual

arrangements.15 They spoke of the "feminine" element in man, but except

for Gippius, who signed some of her articles "Comrade Herman," they

ignored the "masculine" element in woman. Rozanov called homosexuals

"people of the moonlight" and argued against persecuting them.

Symbolist revaluations of Christian morality extolled liberation of the

passions and instincts repressed by Christianity, made beauty and creativity

into virtues, and extolled "Nietzschean" individualism, self-realization, and

emotional liberation. Merezhkovsky claimed that Tolstoy’s invocations of

celibacy, even in marriage, exemplified the hatred of the flesh preached by

"historical Christianity." Dostoevsky exemplified the spirit and was Nietzsche’s

precursor.16 Pointing out the many parallels in their thought, Merezhkovsky

explained them as responses to the exhaustion of "historical Christianity."

His treatment of Dostoevsky and Nietzsche as kindred spirits was crucial in

shaping the Russian reception of Nietzsche.

Political Myths and a Dionysian Theater

The symbolists interpreted the Revolution of 1905 as primarily a religious

and cultural crisis, and as the beginning of the Apocalypse that would inaugurate

the Kingdom of God on Earth, a new world of freedom, beauty, and

love. Hoping to shape a still-fluid situation, they created new political myths

and concentrated their efforts on the theater as the best way to reach the

people (narod). Once politicized, symbolists inclined to anarchism, utopian

socialism, and neo-Slavophilism, for they detested Marxist (and liberal) materialism

and claimed that Marxism suppresses "individuality," using that term

much as Herzen, Lavrov, and Mikhailovsky did, as opposed to "individualism,"

which they defined as self-affirmation apart from or against the community.

All of them considered Nietzsche an anarchist.

Merezhkovsky’s political myth was a "religious revolution" that would

culminate in a "religious society" characterized by sobornost’, in which the

"truth of anarchism" (unlimited personal freedom) and the "truth of socialism"

(belonging to a loving community) would be reconciled. He proclaimed

that Jesus was a revolutionary and a warrior, who brought humankind "not

peace but a sword," and came to turn the whole world upside down. After

the revolution, Jesus would be the sole ruler and His only law would be love.

Merezhkovsky’s revolutionary Christ was an implicit response to Nietzsche’s

contempt for "slavish" Christianity and Tolstoy’s pacifism. He ignored, at

least publicly, Nietzsche’s view that Jesus was in rebellion against the "Jewish


"Church" taken in precisely the sense in which we take the word today.

. . . This holy anarchist who roused up the lowly, the outcasts and

"sinners," the Chandala within Judaism to oppose the ruling order—

in language which, if the Gospels are to be trusted, would even today

lead to Siberia—was a political criminal in an absurdly unpolitical

society. This is what brought him to the Cross. . . . He died for his

guilt [not] for the guilt of others. (AC, 139, 140)

The censor would not have passed such an inflammatory statement. Moreover,

Merezhkovsky wanted to found his own church.

In Griadushchii Kham (The Ham of the Future, 1906), Merezhkovsky

imagined the Beast of the Apocalypse with three faces: Autocracy, Orthodoxy,

and meshchanstvo, a word that originally pertained to the lower middle

class, but came to mean philistinism and vulgarity. Since Autocracy and

Orthodoxy were in their death throes, the boorish Ham (son of the biblical

Noah) was the real victor of the Revolution. The title of the English translation,

The Menace of the Mob, captures Merezhkovsky’s fear of the rampaging

mob, but obscures his aristocratic contempt for the middle class. The

same year, he called Dostoevsky "the prophet of the Russian Revolution."

In his essay, "Revolution and Religion" (1907), Merezhkovsky "revalued"

Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and other Russian writers for their "religious-revolutionary

significance," returning to the didactic tradition of Russian literature

he had previously opposed. In Le Tsar et la revolution (also 1907), he

treated Russia and Europe as two halves of an eschatological dualism—

Russians are Dionysian and Europeans Apollonian—invoked Russian messianism,

and predicted that Russia and Europe would both go up in flames.

In other essays, he praised the revolutionary intelligentsia as "Christians

without Christ."

Ivanov supported Mystical Anarchism, a doctrine concocted by Georgy

Chulkov (1879–1939) that purported to combine personal freedom with

membership in a loving community, for which Ivanov used the Slavophile

term obshchina. The doctrine was a mish-mash of Nietzsche, Herzen, Bakunin,

Merezhkovsky (Chulkov was a former editor of New Path), Ibsen, Byron,

utopian socialism, Tolstoy’s Christian anarchism, and Dostoevsky’s rejection

of necessity.17 Ivanov’s slogan "nonacceptance of the world" stemmed

from Ivan Karamazov’s refusal to accept the world God created, as did more

remotely, Ivanov’s concept of "struggling with God" (Bogoborchestvo). The

latter concept was also informed by Nietzsche’s depiction of Prometheus

defying the Olympian gods. Turning Nietzsche’s aestheticism into a theurgy,

Ivanov envisioned a "new organic society" (Saint-Simon’s term) characterized

by freedom, beauty, and love. He ignored the productionist and technocratic

aspects of Saint-Simon’s utopian socialism.

Mystical Anarchism was a politicized Dionysianism that emphasized

destruction and creativity. To be destroyed were all authorities external to

the individual—especially government, law, social custom, and morality.

Ivanov and Chulkov based their doctrine on the "mystical person" who seeks

union with others, as opposed to the egoistic "empirical person," who asserts

his interests and claims his rights. Repudiating "Nietzschean" individualism

and the will to power, Ivanov invoked "powerlessness" as his social ideal.

In the new society, no human being would rule another and dominance and

subordination would cease. The social cement would be the internal and

invisible bonds of love, myth, and sacrifice. Ivanov’s social ideal was a cultic

version of sobornost’, in which eros replaced agape; a "new religious synthesis"

(the new myth) that was Christian but not exclusively Christian

replaced the state religion; a Dionysian theater replaced the state church;

and "inner experience" replaced dogma. He and Chulkov never specified

who or what would be sacrificed and who or what would be worshiped.

The idea of love replacing law is Christian, but it can also be supported

by Nietzsche: "In the entire psychology of the ‘Gospel,’ the concept of guilt

and punishment is lacking; likewise the concept reward. ‘Sin,’ every kind of

distancing relationship between God and man, is abolished—precisely this

is the ‘glad tidings.’ Blessedness is not promised, it is not tied to any conditions:

it is the only reality" (AC, 145). The judgmental aspects of Christianity,

Nietzsche attributed to Paul’s desire for priestly power (AC, 155).

The positive aspect of Mystical Anarchism was a Dionysian theater

(Ivanov’s idea), devoted to "myth-creation" (mifotvorchestvo) and characterized

by "collective creativity." In such a theater the dormant "mystical

person" in everyone would be evoked and developed and a new socially

unifying myth would be collectively created or, more accurately, reformulated.

Ivanov believed that while myths reflect a timeless reality, they change

as circumstances change. The symbolist poet, acting as a high priest, would

articulate the "new word," becoming the progenitor of a "new religious

synthesis" (= new myth), a new cult, a new culture, and a "new organic

society" in that order.18 The "new religious synthesis" would be Christian,

but not exclusively Christian (it would include occult doctrines), and it

would not be dogmatic. By contrast, Merezhkovsky believed that new

Christian dogma was necessary and called for a sobor (church council) to

formulate it. As far as he was concerned, the Mystical Anarchists were

"mystical hooligans"

To Ivanov, the Dionysian rites embodied the essence of the theatrical art—

action. He wanted to abolish the stage and have the crowd dance and sing,

as in a Dionysian dithyramb, and praise the god with words. In the original

Dionysian theater, he explained, there were no spectators; each participant

in the rites had a dual role: to participate in the "orgy of action" and the

"orgy of purification," to make holy and to become holy, to attract the divine

presence and to receive the divine gift. Ivanov’s performance theory modified

Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk to emphasize the (Dionysian) chorus rather

than the orchestra, the theurgic aspects of myth, and the spoken word. The

chorus was a mystical entity, an embodiment of sobornost’, in which the

participants shed their separateness to achieve a "living union," which Ivanov

hoped to extend to society at large. The chorus, not the newly created Duma,

was the authentic voice of the people (narod); constitutions and legal rights

were merely "formal freedoms." Note that Ivanov gave the chorus a quasipolitical

function; Nietzsche explicitly denied such a function. Ivanov’s emphasis

on the narod harks back to Slavophilism and populism except that he

and Chulkov added a new element; the narod were the "new barbarians"

destined to revitalize Russian culture.

Ivanov contended that a theater that played to the unconscious and that

included orgiastic rituals that induced self-forgetting in "mystical ecstasy"

would foster the non-egoistic, communitarian psyche required in a society

without coercion. Although he highlighted Eros (sexual love) rather than

Thanatos (death), the idea of ritual sacrifice was embedded in his performance

theory, albeit vaguely. As noted above, he did not specify who or what

would be sacrificed, or worshiped in the Dionysian theater. Mood creation

by techniques that were part of the symbolist theatrical inventory was the

corollary of myth-creation. Techniques are neutral; the same technique can

be deployed on behalf of a range of ideologies.

The Dionysian theater never materialized for lack of funds, but the

Nietzsche/Wagner/Ivanov syndrome (Lars Kleberg’s term) was widely discussed

and taken up in modified forms. Pavel Gaideburov, director of the

Mobile Popular Theater, combined Ivanov’s idea of "collective creativity"

with his own view of theater as festival. Theater-cafes abolished the stage

and experimented with actor-audience dialogue. Nikolai Evreinov

(1879–1953), a long-time admirer of Nietzsche, responded to Ivanov with

his own theory, "theater for oneself," which dropped the sacerdotal trappings

of Ivanov’s theory and introduced Freudian ideas. Evreinov talked

about a "will to the theater" and "will to theatricality." He believed that

human beings are theatrical animals; they act with an audience in mind.

Bely objected to the "orgiasm" (orgiazm) and amoralism of Mystical

Anarchism, but Blok was sympathetic. Around 1908, he superimposed

Nietzsche’s categories of Dionysian and Apollonian onto the Wagnerian categories

of culture and civilization, as Nietzsche himself did on occasion.

Wagner described culture as organic, spontaneous, noncerebral, and residing

in the German Volk, as distinct from and opposed to abstract, rational

civilization, exemplified by the French. Russians could read "Russian" culture

and "Western" civilization or, as Blok did, folk culture and intellectual

civilization. Blok associated Dionysus with the elemental folk, the carriers

of culture in his view, and prophesied the "revenge of the elements," the

flaming lava of revolution breaking through the encrusted "Apollonian" layers

of bourgeois civilization, destroying the cerebral intelligentsia.

The Apocalypse Deferred

Around 1908, disappointed with the outcome of the Revolution, the symbolists

began to reconsider their views. Merezhkovsky and Ivanov blamed

the nihilism and amoralism of postrevolutionary Russian society on Nietzsche’s

influence and repudiated him, or claimed to, but they continued to draw on

his thought. Ivanov proclaimed that "Dionysus in Russia is dangerous." He

stopped talking about "orgiasm" and "ecstasy," condemned self-affirmation

as Luciferan or demonic, and pointed out that Zarathustra was a "lawgiver"

as well as a "lawbreaker." Muting his association of Dionysus and Christ,

Ivanov criticized Nietzsche (as Soloviev did) for his "naturalism," "biologism,"

and "physiologism," and for lacking transcendence. Merezhkovsky

and Rozanov called Nietzscheanism a childhood sickness, fatal to adults.

Merezhkovsky announced that his previous attempts to reconcile paganism

and Christianity were dangerous heresies. As he distanced himself from

Nietzsche, Merezhkovsky’s esteem for Tolstoy grew correspondingly, but it

was always qualified. Occasionally, Merezhkovsky discussed Nietzschean

ideas under other rubrics. In "Lermontov: Poet of Super-Humanity" (1908,

in MPSS, 16:157–205), for example, he criticized individualism. (Mikhail

Lermontov, 1814–41, was deeply influenced by Byron and later regarded as

a precursor of Nietzsche.) Bely depicted the destruction of a naive intellectual

by a (Dionysian) religious sect in his novel The Silver Dove (1909).

Chukholka, a conveyer of evil forces, is a composite of Chulkov and the

Theosophist Kobylinsky-Ellis. Having never championed Dionysianism, Bely

felt no need to disguise his interest in Nietzsche and continued to refer to

him. Nietzschean motifs pervade his novel Petersburg (1916).19

In 1908, Chulkov organized a symposium on the theater of the future.20

Ivanov did not participate, but his views were extensively discussed. The

speakers included Chulkov, Bely, Briusov, Sologub, the future Soviet director

Vsevolod Meyerhold (1874–1970), who had staged symbolist plays, and

the Nietzschean Marxist Anatoly Lunacharsky. Chulkov maintained that as

long as society remained bourgeois, the attempt to abolish the stage was premature,

but the theater could still play a prophetic, countercultural role in

the struggle against "bourgeois individualism" and the spirit of property.

Lunacharsky envisioned an ideological theater-temple as the center of a "free

religious cult" and a locus of collective creativity. Such a theater would be

considered barbarian, he said, but "the salvation of civilization is in its barbarians."

Soon after the symposium, Lunacharsky retracted his views and

stopped calling the people "barbarians," but an ideological theater-temple

remained one of his goals.

Briusov, Meyerhold, and Sologub advocated a theater of pure theatricality,

that is to say, a theater for theater’s sake, as distinct from a theater subordinated

to a religious or a social ideal. In 1902, Briusov had called for a

"conditional theater" (uslovnyi teatr); uslovnyi can also be translated "conventional,"

as in theatrical conventions. He wanted a stylized theater that

required the audience to use its imagination, rather than a theater that

attempted to replicate every detail of reality, like Stanislavsky’s Moscow Art

Theater. (One of its productions included a live frog croaking for verisimilitude!)

Briusov argued that such "unnecessary truths" clutter the stage and

distract from the main thing—the actor’s performance. At the Symposium,

he advocated simplified staging and an actor-centered, rather than a directorcentered,


Meyerhold and Sologub offered their own versions of a "conditional theater"

that separated symbolist techniques of mood creation and subliminal

communication from attempts to unite art and life, or theater and revolution.

Meyerhold wanted the spectators to be constantly reminded of the illusory

nature of the production and used masks to underscore the performance

aspects of theater. He wanted a theater centered on a director who controlled

utterly submissive actor-marionettes from afar.

Among the sources of their versions of "conditional theater" were the

Austrian symbolist Maurice Maeterlinck (1862–1949), whose plays were

staged in Moscow; the British director Gordon Craig (1872–1966), author

of an influential essay "The Actor and the Übermarionette"; Nietzsche; and

the Russian symbolists. Nietzsche considered the tragic heroes of ancient

Greece masks of Dionysus. Ivanov believed that Don Quixote and the heroes

of Shakespeare and Ibsen were "new masks" of the same "suffering god"

("Novye maski," in ISS, 2:76–82). Some symbolist plays used comic masks

such as the masks of the Commedia dell’arte, which Bely and Blok linked

with Nietzsche’s idea that masks are illusions that shield the spectators from

the harshness of reality. In other symbolist plays, clowns or harlequins represent

the alter ego or the unconscious. Meyerhold associated with the symbolists;

as noted above he had staged some of their plays.

Sologub championed a "Theater of a Single Will," the will of the poetplaywright.

Since drama is the product of a single conception, he argued,

"why shouldn’t the actor resemble a marionette?" There would be only one

hero, both sacrificer and sacrifice. The spectator would become a participant

in the mysterium, a liturgical ritual, in which he could "join hands with

his brother and his sister and press his lips eternally parched with thirst to

the mysteriously filled cup where ‘I shall mingle blood with water.’ To consummate

in a bright public temple what can now be consummated only in

catacombs."21 Sologub wanted the spectators to lose themselves in the hectic

rhythms of a dervish dance, his counterpart to the Dionysian dithyrambs.

But he also invited them to join in the spectacle as they did in the sports

and games of their youth. There was an element of playful "let’s pretend"

in Sologub’s theatrical vision. The political implication of a theater of marionettes

is dictatorship, but Sologub and Meyerhold were not trying to unite

art and life, or present the illusion on the stage as truth.

Bely wanted to transform life itself into theater and his own life into a

work of art. The Birth of Tragedy was being overemphasized, he complained.

"The virtuous Zarathustra . . . walked off stage into life. The third and

fourth parts of Zarathustra are the drama of life in earnest." Instead of freeing

modern drama from the "morbid excesses of the mysterium mania,"

contemporary theorists are perpetuating Nietzsche’s errors and "reject[ing]

his sane protest against mass Wagneritis."22 In other words, the struggle for

a new life must continue outside the theater. Bely wanted "myth-creation"

to be transformed into "life-creation." To Bely, art was the creation of life

and life was creativity. He took Nietzsche’s metaphor of an "artist-god" (BT,

22) literally, but dropped Nietzsche’s amoralism. In Bely’s words: "The ideal

of beauty is the ideal of a human being and aesthetic creation, as it expands,

it inevitably leads to the transfiguration of human personality: Zarathustra,

Buddha, and Christ are as much the artists of life as they are life’s lawgivers;

their ethics merges with their aesthetic and vice versa."23 Bely had mingled

aesthetics and morality before, but not as drastically.

Other symbolists developed their own versions of "life-creation," making

them into great projects of theurgic transfiguration. Challenging Briusov’s

view that art is autonomous, Ivanov declared, "Symbolism never was and

never wanted to be merely art." "Art is not the creation of images [or icons],

but the creation of life [ne ikonotvorchestvo a zhizne tvorchestvo]." Gippius

counterposed the notion of life as creation to quotidian life (byt), which she

regarded as dead matter.24 "Life-creation" was a symbolist rendition of what

Nietzsche called the "will to power as art." On another level, "life-creation"

derived from the Orthodox concept of divine energies permeating the universe,

which the symbolists interpreted in the spirit of deification, making

man a cocreator with God.

Ivanov’s failed attempt to create a Dionysian theater led him to realize that

a myth needs a visual image, Apollo descending from the clouds (see BT,

143–44), and that a new myth had to be couched in terms familiar to the

people. He began to theorize about Apollo and Apollonianism and to treat

Christianity, most unconventionally, as a myth. Describing Jesus as an

Apollonian figure, Ivanov interpreted Apollo as the principle of unity and

reinterpreted Dionysus as the principle of multiplicity or fragmentation. The

symbol became the Word with its explicitly Christian associations; the cultic

community became a transcendental church or nation (depending on the

context); and the passions became the Russian soul. Like Soloviev, Ivanov

distinguished between "nationality," a cultural concept, and "nationalism," an

expression of the will to power. "Nations" were the "persons" of humankind.

In "The Russian Idea" (1909), a term coined by Dostoevsky and popularized

by Soloviev, Ivanov proposed a specifically Christian integrating myth.

Every nation has its own "idea," Ivanov maintained. It is a basic fact of history,

a product of the psychological substratum of the unconscious spheres of the

national soul. "The Russian idea" is a Christian idea because the Russian

soul is Christian. Christianity is a form of "primitive culture" (= organic

culture) that arose in response to the "critical culture" of Ancient Rome.

Christianity prevailed because it was couched in the form of mystery. All

new religious truths must be "hidden in mystery, in the form of myth." As

an example, Ivanov gave the religious innovations of Pisistratus, founder of

the Orphic mystery religion, which were so in tune with the subliminal yearnings

of the people that their novelty was forgotten. Pisistratus was remembered

as a tyrant, not as a renegade from the popular faith. By contrast,

Socrates, founder of critical rationalism, was perceived as a heretic and a

danger to the state. He did not understand the people, nor did they understand

him. Implicitly, the secular intelligentsia was repeating Socrates’ error.

Religious innovations (which Ivanov did not specify) must be expressed in

mythic form and incorporated into Christian mystery. He also emphasized

the intelligentsia’s selflessness, its yearning for "descent" (to the people) and

service, thereby restoring the kenotic virtues of self-sacrifice, humility (visà-

vis the people), and love.25 Self-sacrifice was morally superior to self-preservation,

"the law of Moses and of our culture" (ISS, 2:126). Authentic

Christianity transcends (or negates) natural law.

In other writings, Ivanov rejected the "pagan" Renaissance, as well as the

Enlightenment and "godless" mechanical civilization, subordinated Nietzsche

to Orthodoxy, and redefined the Renaissance to include the High Middle

Ages. He read Dante as a symbolist poet of the divine Sophia, misinterpreted

Dante’s amor as Dionysian ecstasy, and suppressed the moral element in

Dante’s works.26 He saw World War I as the beginning of a new constructive

era and Russia as having a messianic task. In chauvinistic articles written

against "the German spirit" he used terms such as "superbeast" and

compared the German state to Hobbes’s Leviathan.27 At first, Merezhkovsky

opposed Russian participation in the war, but as it dragged on he too came

to see it in eschatological terms.28

In an essay about the Russian poets Fedor Tiutchev (1803–73) and Nikolai

Nekrasov (1825–77), Merezhkovsky blamed Tiutchev’s "chaotic" epistemology

and Tiutchev’s poem Silentium for driving symbolists to unbearable

loneliness and suicidal despair in the 1890s, placing particular emphasis on

the lines "Be silent, conceal yourself, and hide both your feelings and your

dreams . . . learn how to live within yourself." Fedor Tiutchev was indeed

one of symbolists’ favorite poets, but Merezhkovsky’s real target was Nietzsche’s

Dionysian epistemology and solipsistic "Nietzschean" individualism.29 He did

not want to admit to having been influenced by a German. Nekrasov, the

populists’ favorite poet, bewailed the misery of the lower classes. Russia

needs Nekrasov now, Merezhkovsky declared, returning once again to the

social didacticism he had previously opposed.

Symbolist ideas pervaded poetry, prose, music, painting, and theater, providing

a rich store of symbols, images, and slogans, many gleaned from

Nietzsche and Wagner, that were adapted by a broad range of artists and

writers. The Gesamtkunstwerk ideal, symbolist techniques for bypassing the

intellect and appealing directly to the unconscious, and Ivanov’s call for a

Dionysian theater dedicated to "myth-creation" and characterized by collective

creativity and the abolition of the stage, had a wide-ranging influence

on performance theory and practice and were later adapted to Soviet

propaganda. The figures to be discussed in the next three chapters responded

to the symbolists as well as to Nietzsche.

Also of Interest

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