“Hell is an Eternal Platitude” was a memorable line from the great poet Feodor Sologub. As one of the Symbolists, his mission was to expose the absurdity of modern life and the mass society it created. It pours contempt on conventional morals and urban, alienated ideas that serve the debased elite only. Valery Bryusov is one of the founders of this movement in fin de siècle Russia.
Dr Matthew Raphael Johnson’s podcast is one of several he has made on the Russian Symbolist movement. The Symbolists, sometimes called Decedents, were a group of writers and metaphysicians in a state of rebellion against the modern world, industry and nominalism. They were a combination of Plato and Nietzsche in the most uncommon of ways.
For them, modernity was the mass: the machine. We are born into it. The ignorant are happy because they don’t realize they’re in it. The intelligent have two options: they can accept it and seek its good opinion, or they can fight against it. The Symbolists gave the best of society the tools needed to diagnose the disease and cure it.
In a world dominated by nominalism and positivism, the Nietzschean ubermensch was one who, living a quiet life in solitude, sought to have real communion with the life of the spirit. They were anarchists in the “mystical” sense. The “Mystic Anarchists,” a group given its term by Gregory Chulkov, said that any idea that is organized and institutionalized no longer represents that idea. The moment something is given administrative form, it dies.
It’s great luminaries were Feodor Sologub, Andrei Belyj and an early expositor, the subject of this podcast, Valery Bryusov (1873-1924). Bryusov (pictured above) is the author of the eccentric “Republic of the Southern Cross” (Республика Южного Креста, 1918), “Urbi et Orbi” (Граду и Миру, 1903) and “The Altar of Victory” (Алтарь победы, 1913), all of which altered Russian literature at this very significant time. The desire was to destroy the mundane, reject the mass and show that Plato was an “ubermensch” after all.