Yuri Mamleyev - a sort of metaphysical detective story. “On the one hand, the novel may be read as reflecting modern hell: ‘The earth has turned hell without anybody noticing it.’ However, very deep down, this book offers, in fact, a religious vision, and its comedy is earnestly lethal

Yuri Mamleyev, The Sublimes, Trans. by Marian Schwartz, Haute Culture Books, 2014.

An excerpt 
“Yuri Mamleyev’s grim and crazy novel revolutionized Russian literature.”  – Le Monde 
“This book will change your perception of the human nature. This is literature in its boldest, art in its pure sense, – uncompromising and limitless.” – Russian writer Grigory Ryzhakov
Almost half a century ago, in 1966, a book was published unofficially via samizdat in the Soviet Russia. A book that both terrified and dazzled the literary establishment. This was Yuri Mamleev’s novel, Shatuny, today published in English as The Sublimes. This comical and metaphysical novel is somewhere between Dostoyevski and A Clockwork Orange, full of philosophy, humour, esotericism and spiritualism.
Over the years, the novel became a cult classic, and Russia produced Mamleev’s literary followers like Vladimir Sorokin and Victor Pelevin who continued exploring the limits of mankind and the dark side of humanity.
Only a few extracts were published in the West in the 80s and the critics were overwhelmed with its power. At the time it was suggested that mankind wasn’t ready for such a book.
In The Sublimes, Mamleyev’s figures are mystics, absurd occultists, philosophical fanatics in search of immortality, of their own “eternal ego” and of the great Absolute. They sometimes seek evidential proof of the presence of God and the continuation of life in order to find an answer to the question: What will they meet with on the other side of death?
Translated in many languages, The Sublimes is a masterpiece that creates the purest state of mind, a moralistic tale that can be compared to a contemporary Dante’s Inferno.
Professor James McConkey of Cornell University says of the work: “On the one hand, the novel may be read as reflecting modern hell: ‘The earth has turned hell without anybody noticing it.’ However, very deep down, this book offers, in fact, a religious vision, and its comedy is earnestly lethal. Yet, in view of its ironic estrangement and dynamic lure – another remainder of Dostoyevsky – Shatuny can be read as a sort of ‘metaphysical detective story’.”
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“Yuri Mamleyev’s grim and crazy novel revolutionized Russian literature.” – Le Monde

“This book will change your perception of the human nature. This is literature in its boldest, art in its pure sense, – uncompromising and limitless.” – Grigory Ryzhakov

Almost half a century ago, in 1966, a book was published unofficially via samizdat in the Soviet Russia. A book that both terrified and dazzled the literary establishment. This was Yuri Mamleev’s novel, Shatuny, today published in English as The Sublimes. This comical and metaphysical novel is somewhere between Dostoyevski and A Clockwork Orange, full of philosophy, humour, esotericism and spiritualism.
Over the years, the novel became a cult classic, and Russia produced Mamleev’s literary followers like Vladimir Sorokin and Victor Pelevin who continued exploring the limits of mankind and the dark side of humanity.
Only a few extracts were published in the West in the 80s and the critics were overwhelmed with its power. At the time it was suggested that mankind wasn’t ready for such a book.
In The Sublimes, Mamleyev’s figures are mystics, absurd occultists, philosophical fanatics in search of immortality, of their own “eternal ego” and of the great Absolute. They sometimes seek evidential proof of the presence of God and the continuation of life in order to find an answer to the question: What will they meet with on the other side of death?
Translated in many languages, The Sublimes is a masterpiece that creates the purest state of mind, a moralistic tale that can be compared to a contemporary Dante’s Inferno.
Professor James McConkey of Cornell University says of the work: “On the one hand, the novel may be read as reflecting modern hell: ‘The earth has turned hell without anybody noticing it.’ However, very deep down, this book offers, in fact, a religious vision, and its comedy is earnestly lethal. Yet, in view of its ironic estrangement and dynamic lure – another remainder of Dostoyevsky – Shatuny can be read as a sort of ‘metaphysical detective story’.”

What can I say but “finally”?.. I admit I’ve been dreading, almost since I read its first pages, writing about Yuri Mamleyev’s Шатуны, a dark “metaphysical realist” novel known in Marian Schwartz’s translation as The Sublimes. In fact, I’d been dreading it so much I even considered combining two books in one post: The Sublimes and Danzig Baldaev and Sergei Vasiliev’s Soviets, which I wrote about in early May.
That combination isn’t quite as crazy as it might sound: Baldaev’s grotesque caricatures offer perspectives on the soul-sucking Soviet system and one of the main characters in Mamleyev’s novel, which was written in what Mamleyev calls the “deep underground” in 1960s Moscow, is Fyodor Sonnov, who seeks souls, a process that requires death and, thus, makes Fyodor a serial killer, albeit one with rather loftier-than-usual intentions. Sonnov starts killing early in the book, all very casually, not long after his stomach has been described as his second face and not long after he’s punched someone in the jaw for no apparent reason. Sonnov knifes his victim, checks his passport in the moonlight, and then starts chatting.
Юрий Мамлеев - ШатуныLike Mamleyev, Sonnov goes underground, too, both literally and figuratively, adding to a Dostoevskian mood that goes way beyond sharing a name with the writer. Sonnov stays with his sister Klava, who lives in a house near Moscow with some interesting characters: there’s Lidochka, a bug freak, and Petenka, who eats his own skin diseases. Meaning he eats himself. All of this feeds into myriad human and metaphysical mysteries related to themes like “Do I exist?” (I’ve only mentioned some of the marginally odd characters here, saving the most peculiar for readers to discover on their own. If you’re like me, you might wonder if you’re understanding things properly… Yes, you are. Some parts of this book may not be for the faint of heart...) The passages with the Sonnovs toward the beginning of the book felt almost like a mix of chernukha (dark, realistic fiction usually associated with the 2000s), surrealism, and something syntactical (I’m not quite sure what) that reminded me of Platonov, albeit without the heart-piercing beauty I find in Platonov. It’s Dostoevsky that rules, though: his portrait even appears in a reflection, complete with a firm and suffering gaze.
The Sublimes lost a lot of its energy for me when Mamleyev introduced a band of intellectuals: it felt like they sucked (oops, that was initially “fucked,” a nice little slip because of one of Sonnov’s capers…) the soul out of the book. I hasten to add that my problem with the band of intellectuals is but a symptom of my own biases: I’ve long had difficulty with philosophizing characters (cf. this previous post on Bykov’s The List) because they almost always feel heavy-handed and obvious to me. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy certain passages with some of Mamleyev’s chattier characters, particularly Anna, the “metaphysical courtesan”; there’s even a beer-drinking scene at a cemetery. Still, so much talk about the “я” (the “I”) and solipsism tends to drag almost any reading for me.
That said, The Sublimes got under my skin like one of Petenka’s afflictions, coming close to making me scratch until I bled. I think I have a sense of why some readers love it so much: beyond the fact that lots of people enjoy the philosophizing I find so tedious, I have to admit Mamleyev does a fantastic job creating a world that’s both familiar and alien, a place that feels like some strange circle in some strange Soviet hell. The Sublimes is loaded with oppositions—life/death, presence/absence uneducated/intellectual, I/other—and there is, crucially, I think, a lot of laughter toward the end. Both Mamleyev’s laughter, written into the book, and mine, written in the margins. I even wrote a big “Ha!!” when Fedya hopes to kill all the metaphysicals: he’s in Moscow, in a place that seems like the foothills of Hell and he’s breathing in the smells of извращение, which feels to me like all sorts of perversion and distortion. My “Ha!!” wasn’t just because I disliked the metaphysicals. It also came from something wonderfully, hmm, ironic and unreal and realistic and maybe sublime about Fedya, who even takes pleasure in the smell of that perversion/distortion as he inhales.
And so even if I didn’t always enjoy The Sublimes, I can’t help but appreciate Mamleyev’s vision and off-kilter humor, both of which I (obviously) find a little indescribable. That brings me to one last thought: I’m glad I dreaded writing about The Sublimes. As often happens, my thoughts and feelings about the book settled with time, helping me appreciate The Sublimes, a book that is, whether I like it or not, a modern classic. I’ve included some links below with other views and particularly recommend Grigory Ryzhakov’s concise description and analysis. Finally, I have a feeling Mamleyev is a writer—like Sorokin and Pelevin—I will grow to appreciate, perhaps even enjoy, far more as I read more of his books and delve further into his themes and unusual world(s).

Almost half a century ago, in 1966, a book was published unofficially via samizdat in the Soviet Russia. A book that both terrified and dazzled the literary establishment. This was Yuri Mamleev’s novel, Shatuny.
If comparisons could be drawn in terms of its shocking value, Shatuny is a Russian equivalent of A Clock Work Orange, only darker and more insane, full of philosophy, esotericism and spiritualism.
Over the years, the novel became a cult classic, and Russia produced Mamleev’s literary followers like Vladimir Sorokin and Victor Pelevin who continued exploring the limits of mankind and the dark side of humanity.
Only a few extracts were published in the West in the 80s and the critics were overwhelmed with its power and darkness. At the time it was suggested that mankind wasn’t ready for such a book and it’s only now that the first complete translation ever has appeared thanks to the Haute Culture Books edition.
Soon you will all be able to make your own opinion about this astonishing, dark and unforgettable book. For now, I will share with you my very subjective view of the novel.
In The Sublimes our world is a realm of death. The story is set in the 60s in the Soviet Union. The characters are trying to grasp the big questions of ‘being’, existence, of human nature and human soul, through death, to reach the higher ‘metaphysical’ status, to defy mortality.
The main character, Sonnov (in Russian his name means sleepy, dreamy) perceives the world around himself as an illusion. He kills strangers for a particular reason, unclear to anyone including himself: it is something to do with death and its connection to reality and his soul. Many conversations in this book are attempts to explain or perhaps even rationalize Sonnov’s reasons and view of the world.
He has philosophical conversations with his dead victims as a bona fide psychopath. He is not educated and his quest comes from his inner irrational urges, which he can’t explain, it is not a result of a thought-through personal doctrine.
His ’educated’ twin in the story is called Anatoly Padov (in Russian his surname means ‘falling’). Padov and his other ’metaphysical’ friends from Moscow uses evil, act or thought, as a mean to overcome human limits. Padov is fascinated with Sonnov and goes to meet him to find out whether Sonnov kills people ’metaphysically’ or physically (in reality).
The novel presents the lore of such monstrous characters indulging in the extreme sexual perversions, violence and never-ending intellectual quest into the higher metaphysical state.
The educated ‘I-meta-physicists’ and simple people like Sonnov are united by their fascination with death. To me, it’s their way to escape from meaninglessness of life.
Mamleev writes in The Sublimes, Life is, in itself, a retribution.’
Sonnov finds that he won’t get anywhere by killing commoners, who are just ‘the living dead’ anyway. So he decides to target the ‘I-meta-physicists.’ As if their death could be the way to extract a new metaphysical knowledge, a higher meaning…
There is so much evil and madness in the book, that one has to shut down one’s emotions to grasp the story and scrutinize Mamleev’s themes. The total freedom the characters in the book mean to reach through evil and death is terrifying. And to me it’s not freedom, because one can never be free from oneself and from all that information that goes through our minds. To me, it’s just a different state of mind, however twisted it may be considered. And there is no reason to think that it can allow for more understanding of our world and us.
The Sublimes is about to find its daring and fearless English-speaking reader. This book will change your perception of the human nature. This is literature in its boldest, art in its pure sense, – uncompromising and limitless. - Grigory Ryzhakov 

In the 1960s, a secret circle of philosophers met in the Moscow apartment of Yuri Mamleev. They called themselves “sexual mystics,” opposing the cultural restrictions of the official regime with drunken orgies, occult rituals and black magic.
Fyodor Sonnov, antihero of Mamleev’s groundbreaking novel “Shatuny,” is a serial killer driven by metaphysical angst “as if with each murder I were solving a puzzle.” On the third page he kills a stranger, then sits down to eat his sandwiches and tell the corpse about his life. There are fairy tale elements (lonely cabins, giant axes, hidden gold), but the novel as a whole is a uniquely bewildering exploration of life, death and insanity.
“Shatuny” was written in the late 1960s and the author’s readings of it circulated unofficially on audiotapes, making him famous in the cultural underground. Mamleev immigrated to the United States in 1974, and then to France in 1983 – but finally returned to Russia and was published there in the 1990s. A bilingual edition of “Shatuny,” with a full translation by Marian Schwartz, is finally published this month. The English title “The Sublimes” refers to a grotesque gang, which gathers in a village near Moscow. They are obsessed with the idea of seeking a divine truth – but they look for it in the bowels of the human psyche.
One character cultivates “on his scrawny, sinewy body various colonies of fungi, herpes, and pustules, which he scraped off – and ate.” A dying man thinks he’s a chicken; a woman drinks the blood of live cats, another eats chocolate cake off a diseased corpse. There are sweating eunuchs, mad gravediggers, and a solipsist who caresses himself until “his entire body seemed to be gushing sperm.” It makes Margarita at Satan’s ball look like child’s play, even if Mamleev shares Bulgakov’s fascination with human depravity.
Spending a devilishly good night at the museum
Beneath the surreal horrors, readers can recognize the influence of the extraordinary era in which the novel was conceived. He mentions the “secret, cellarly-metaphysical corners of Moscow.” A math teacher in a Soviet school, Mamleev spent evenings writing, drinking, and discussing esoteric philosophies.
His new brand of “metaphysical realism” shocked readers, defied conventions and revolutionized Russian prose. Internationally, it fits well with other sixties icons. Imagine the violence of “A Clockwork Orange” crossed with J.G. Ballard’s erotic perversity and the existential nihilism of Yukio Mishima, but in a distinctly Russian format and flavor.
Writers like Viktor Pelevin and Vladimir Sorokin, whose works are influenced by Mamleev, have turned scatological or sadistic scenes into blazing satire. Mamleev’s father, a professor of psychiatry, died in the Gulag. It’s easy to read the novel’s earthly hell as an anti-Soviet parable, but its vision goes beyond the political, challenging fundamental aspects of society, sanity and sanctity.
Emptiness in all its forms is a recurring theme: the space around a murdered corpse, or the gap, licked at by filthy cats, where Mikhei’s hacked-off genitals are missing. In the middle of the novel is a dream in which the narcissistic philosopher Anna observes a man approaching her own bed and throwing back the blanket to reveal a “coiled emptiness,” leaving her soul with “a definite chill.”
Some see Mamleev as a Russian Kafka, others as a latter-day Gogol. The only visibly present author in “The Sublimes” is Dostoevsky, whose portrait hangs on the truth-seekers’ walls like an icon, “his fixed gaze full of suffering.” “Any spiritual human achievement is like a rat’s squeak compared with Dostoevsky,” Mamleev writes.
Mamleev’s characters, like the thinkers in his real-life salon, debate the nature of mortality and of “this mysterious, black world where we have been abandoned.” Despite the unholy pandemonium of his imagination, he appears ultimately to believe that God “is still man’s sole fortress amid all this metaphysical chaos.” It is faith that keeps him trawling through the monstrous and the meaningless in search of salvation.- Phoebe Taplin 

Yuri Mamleev’s literary works are available for the Western reader in numerous translations - his novels and short stories have been printed in French, German, Italian and other European languages. In English, however, there has only been a single book where several his earlier short stories and parts of the «Shatuny» novel have been published ("The Sky Above Hell and other stories" by Yuri Mamleev. Taplinger Publishing Company, New York, NY, 1980. ISBN 0-8008-7236-3). Today it is hard to understand why a complete translation of «Shatuny» was not published in the USA in 1980. Yet the very fact of this book’s appearance in the US had a significant impact on the writer’s life, establishing his reputation as a man of letters in the Western world. Thanks to this, Mamleev was admitted to American pen-club, and since the late 70-s he has worked at the University of Ithaca teaching Russsian literature to the American students.
  Yuri Mamleev was born in Moscow in 1931. His father was a specialist in psychopathology. In due time Yuri entered the Forestry Institute, and after graduation he worked in a technical school for teaching mathematics to adults who needed to complete their secondary education according to Soviet legislation. He started writing prose quite early, yet for obvious reasons much of it has never been published. In order to be published in the USSR in those years, one had to join the ranks of the Soviet Writer’s Union, a task that Mamleev's short stories failed to meet.
    At that time, a strong autodidactic self-educational process was taking place in Soviet society among a wide range of quite advanced and progressive public, collectively known as the «intelligentia». The Soviet intelligentia constituted a broad spectrum of people of varying social status who possessed a broader range of values than that of an average proletarian. They were mostly employed in the professional circles of management, diplomacy, culture, science, military and state service. Soviet intelligentia played the essential role in the society’s cultural life, which appeared to be adequate, for this intelligentia was the milieu by means of and for the sake of which five-year plans succeeded, target plans were achieved and over-achieved, and life in general raced up nearing the light, happy, just future.
- This novel was written in the late 60-s, - Yuri Mamleev recollects. - Local situation was moderate, as the post-Stalin Soviet Union has already become different. The state power was on it’s own and by itself, while the life of people and intelligentia moved along its own path. In other words, under the veil of the Soviet Union with its «iron» system there existed a ‘proper Russia,’ and by then it has started to turn back to what it had been like before the revolution, to what the Bolsheviks had seemingly destroyed. Russian literature rendered an enormous impact on the intelligentia, (for Russian classics had never been banned as they were in China for a certain period, for example), and this source always provided a powerful feed. Besides all that, the Russian Orthodoxy, of course persisted.
    There are a few issues pertaining to the context in which the novel was written. Firstly, as stated above, a new layer of creative intelligentia had risen and formed itself (for various reasons this epoch of world culture is scarcely known in the West). But besides that, the 60’s in the USSR were a period of a powerful outburst, a break through into the unknown, into the "beyondness". Even back to Stalin’s times there were circles unifying artists, poets, spiritual, and creative persons. Such circles served as medium for self-realization; and although almost no traces are left of those efforts, it had become a base for subsequent creative break-throughs. During Khruschev’s “thaw" - from the early 60-s and for a decade to follow - a creative revolutionary phenomenon was accomplished, known today as "Cultural Revolution".
- All along people lived on, drinking. A factory canteen offered good food where one could have had a drink as well. Even during a lunch break it was possible to drink at least half a glass. The Soviet Union was enormous and it was unclear how it carried on with such specific population’s lifestyle. My circle was different however. Besides the official intelligentia that would usually express discontent, there existed other groups that were totally outside of ‘the Soviet mentality’, with its atheism, communism and idealism (idealism, because there was an attempt of constructing a society which is impossible to construct in principal). Everything appeared surreal to them, with a touch of nice, kind absurdity.
    Yuri Mamleev was definitely one of the patriarchs of this process. For it was at his home in Yuzhinsky side-street in central Moscow where a metaphysical salon had been formed. It is worth explaining just what a communal flat, such as as the one where Mamleev had his two rooms, was like. It was common in the USSR at that time that apartments were shared by several neighboring families. All neighbors used same kitchen and facilities. Five or six additional families, besides Mamleev lived at the two-story old wooden house that held the apartment where the Yuzhinsky circle would run its weekly sessions - located in the very center of the city. This would have seemed normal back then: most of the country lived like this. Interestingly enough, this never hindered the creative processes ripening in the depths of Soviet reality, but rather furthered them.
- There was a group of people around me and they were attracted by my short stories. I would read them out loud at my flat; and though only a few people could participate in the readings each time (due to lack of space), there was a constant circulation, new ones would always come. I should say that unofficial culture that existed had a greater impact on common consciousness then the official one. There was a wide range of different people around me, some later became quite famous: Anatoly Zverev, Vladimir Bukovsky, Venedikt Erofeev, Alexander Kharitonov, Oskar Rabin, Oleg Tselkov… They would come to Yuzhinsky, or I would go to their places and read my stories there. There were many salons, such an interpenetrating intellectual life. My works were treated differently, sometimes they’d call me Russian Kafka, or Dostoyevsky’s follower, however already back then it was admitted to be something brand new.
    Lots of new information certainly got through the Iron Curtain from the West. Indian philosophy became more widely available and in demand. Books such as the Advaita-Vedanta, works of yoga, and the first translations of Gurjieff appeared. All traditional philosophy was reconsidered. Many Yuzhinsky participants were well educated people, and quite often self-educated. A lifetime was devoted to attending libraries, such as Lenin’s Library, or the Foreign Literature Library; at that time these were places where very rare source texts were available. Everything was reexamined, which led to new approaches to ideas of self-realization and opened up a wide new sphere of creativeness. As a result, this circle brought forth many distinctive poets, artists, writers, other creative persons.
- I described the atmosphere of those years in details in my novel «The Moscow Gambit». All kinds of books got through: from Eastern mysticism, advaita-vedanta to Orthodox religion, all philosophy; there were quite extensive private libraries as well. A constant mutual sharing was underway. It only took someone to read a book in English or in French, as it was instantly retold, retransmitted among the spiritually close ones. That was a special circle, those were personalities who dug into issues like death and immortality. Of course those are common philosophical issues, yet the peculiarity of Yuzhinsky people, especially those closest to me, was their submergence into this, those were not theoretical, relative issues to them, but a matter of life. So one may say those personalities lived a bit into the other dimension. Their consciousness touched that what is impossible to touch. There is a text by Plato where he compares our material world to a cave that has an exit in principle, but it is impossible for one to attempt a glimpse out of the cave, to see what’s beyond it. We only see some shadows and cannot realize what happens out there. There were just the kind of people in my circle who did attempt to go beyond.
    Every Thursday general meeting took place on Yuzhinsky. Yuri Mamleev would read a couple of his new short stories at every such meeting. Others would sing songs, read poetry. Creativeness was expressed by all means possible. Lots of alcohol was drunk. Beer with vodka, port-wine (often of dubious quality)… These sorts of accidents and breaches of propriety were regular: neighbors protested, police would come - all of this took place in the very center of Moscow, in everyone’s view, in the context of a total communist obsession. However in general they had much fun, as reality’s boundaries dissolved, and ideas formerly unknown actualized. Critical philosophical issues were discussed, the fierce participants' aspirations towards absolute freedom gave a special sense to the meetings, and the grade of self-expression was high; these vibrations providied a steadying atmosphere. In the end all of this compelled the authorities to admit that the level of freedom of personal creative expression so that many artists, poets, writers had achieved what formerly was impossible to fit into the framework of official Soviet culture. After the Cultural Revolution of 1974 a new epoch has commenced in Russia, and all the events that followed in the state history were largely influenced by those Yuzhinsky meetings.
- The background of our circle was not political, it was definitely non-Soviet, but we had little to do with politics. Some of our friends participated in opposition, however back then reading the poetry of Marina Tsvetayeva was considered to be of opposition. Gradually top circles of the Soviet Union have inclined to the changing of the regime, yet the absurd prosecution of the dissident literature has still remained, even of the Silver Age poets. They wouldn’t get you imprisoned for that, of course; the possibility of being imprisoned was not common in general as the authorities attempted to "work" with these people somehow. Especially with active opponents to Soviet power. Like, they often invited Vladinmir Bukovsky and questioned him about why he was going into such anti-soviet things, organizing this and that. Many among us were well known people, while some were not as much creative, still everyone were significantly interesting personalities; that kind of people, sometimes strange, mysterious were visiting me. They formed this chaotic atmosphere where the «Shatuny» novel was conceived.
    The above mentioned personalities formed a different layer of the society. They were abstracted from the general intelligentia by not fitting into the common way of life. They were personalities existing as if by themselves, and the reality around them was rather a simple background then a dogma weighing upon them: they took things easily while their lives were quite hard at times. Most of them barely had enough money to buy a bottle of vodka, although most had a place to sleep.They were not anti-Soviets, and should they have found themselves in the West, most likely they would have been marginals there as well. Many things were free in the Soviet Union in those years: medicine, education, social service, and transportation costed almost nothing, although it was practically impossible for one to have much pocket cash. A man with a wallet instantly became a target for the authorities. Yuzhinsky participants were usually people who had fallen out of the system. They were practically free from social conditionings and were left alone - the authorities wouldn’t bother troubling them, for there was hardly anything one could get from them. Meanwhile this was exactly the circle where powerful, metaphysical impulse was formed that would bring about the further dissolution of the Soviet society.
*  *  *
     The «Shatuny» novel is no doubt the epoch’s landmark. This novel signifies the break through of a consciousness concluded in the social-infernal sphere of being. Concealed feelings surface from the depths of subconscious, turning into formerly unthinkable patterns of daily life, actualizing in totally unexpectable and inconceivable manners. The author’s genius creates the world of personalities of an immense depth, it is often hard for us to realize the complexity and the multiple facets of such a world. This is what makes the novel most interesting - it establishes a high metaphysical standard for modern literature and testifies that Art is eternal and indestructible.
- What one could say about this novel, - the author says, - it astounded. It was written in 1966 and 1968 in a village, in a bathhouse where I lived in the summer. My friends often visited me there of course. This bathhouse was on a river bank on the outskirts of the village, a typical Russian country bathhouse with tiny windows, yet it created a special atmosphere of remoteness from expressions of kali-yuga.
    At the time, the novel «Shatuny» shocked readers. Today when from all screens we encounter a steady stream of abomination and violence, Fyodor Sonnov may even seem a regular guy. As well as other novel’s characters - Klavusha, Lisonka, granddad Mikhey and others, which one may see as commoners on the internet news. Yet this only furthers the philosophical plot. The search for the Truth, albeit an unreachable one, has always been and still is the greatest motive for the evolution of humankind. The incomprehensibility of external Truth has been examined and justified by many serious researchers, in fact the dominating positivism does not require Truth today, for its Light threatens to eliminate the basic constructs of positivism. The internal aspect of the search has not been as profoundly examined, and each one’s idea of this is always strictly personal. The main philosophical position of the «metaphysical» ones, which they themselves call the I-Metaphysics, offers new references for the inner search. This is probably the only example in modern prose where the problem of metaphysical comprehension of reality is delivered in such a clear, interesting and original manner. There are various esoteric trends, some of which may lead somewhere, there is official and traditional science, which may explain us something, however all these is failing to properly answer the basic questions: Who we are? Why? How? The answers to these questions may hardly be given in regular terms but it is the author’s genius that helps us grasp and sense the essence through the artistic image.
    The plot unfolds in the situations of weird relationships betweenthe main characters, initially they are beyond reality. They are obscure, alien to the world around them, as if they never existed, yet they are altogether more then alive in their time and in the world around them. The context details that deliver the atmosphere of those years, the everyday aspects of life - the kitchen sittings and beer-stand lyrics, coarse communal surroundings where everything takes place give a very precise view of that time’s reality, sometimes however with a due note of irony and the grotesque. Yet this reality is remote and unthinkable; it’s occurrence can hardly be fitted into common state of things.
- Conditionally, we may divide the novel’s characters into two main groups.
First one is the metaphysical group of people who’s life was not too much surreal, and their aspirations were quite logical: break through and get out of this world, comprehend the Absolute Truth. Why were there such aspirations? They were furthered by the atmosphere of materialist terror. People had a feeling of living in a cage, they had an impression of the world as having been created erroneously, that there is something sick in its background, something rough, as a result of all world history with its constant self-extermination of human kind. What was the reason for their such wanderings? Why couldn’t they go a religious way, with church (which was possible at the time)? Why wouldn’t they choose a way to God, to the Absolute that had been practiced by humanity previously?
However these people are remarkable for their unquenched faith. They desired to know, to know completely what God has not revealed to the human kind. This aspiration set about by some metaphysical yearning and the unquenched faith produces a sort of a shift. These people may have seemed to be crazy, however they were quite adequate. Their peculiarity was that basing on traditional knowledge; they were in search of some platform already available to humans, in order to transcend it. This was an adequate but rear shift - to comprehend Truth, or get somewhere near it at least. The above relates to the intellectualists, Padov, Barskaya, Ryomin, Izvitsky.

    These so called «metaphysicals» were obsessed by the idea of solipsism. A note must be made that this is not regular solipsism, but a distinctive one. Here it signifies a method that leads to complete self-identification of one’s mortal being with eternity and infinity of one’s own Higher Self. Higher Self here is no ego, of course, and even less the body. It pertains to a purely internal, immanent realization of self identification with the Source of Eternal Being. From this perspective the common everyday world turns out to be a mere set of shadows where only sometimes lights of self-existence spark here and there; all that looks quite unattractive from outside. The power of such faith is so profound that it lets one become a co-creator, maybe just for a moment, when internal concentration focuses on the intimate link with the Higher Self. There are several records of such states in the novel, and each time we can see how it unfolds on both sides, externally and from the inside.
    The «metaphisicals» do not just live in their inner world, but it determines their outwardly situation in return. They do their best to keep alive the link with the Eternal Source, which each one of them reveals inside. Thus they themselves form their own situation, their world, their quest. What happens "out there" makes no difference for them whatsoever - a playground, a beer stand, some room in a communal flat may become a stage where mystery unfolds. In surrounding emptiness these characters are searching for something dissimilar, "that-don’t-know-what". Their inherent condition hideously, irrationally transforms into some weird reality, where they encounter their opposites. Creatures that got together by a whim of inconceivable powers become objects of the "metaphysicals’" self-reflection. And thus the inner Abyss*(see footnote) yawns in front of them.
  • (footnote to term "the Abyss")   The concept of the Abyss beyond the Absolute is disclosed quite comprehensively in the main philosophical treatise by Yuri Mamleev, "The Destiny of Being". In the path of self-realization, once the mirror of self-reflection is broken, the seeker reveals the principal inherent inseparability from the Absolute, realizes self-identity with the Absolute. Then a hideous impenetrable Abyss unveils, Abyss of nonexistence, which itself is nowhere to be found. It is «produced» by the totality of the Absolute, as an opposition to the complexity and diversity of everything contained within the Absolute. One may not even say the Abyss "exists", for it is "emptiness of absence", yet the Abyss is the ultimate reality for the Absolute, to which it is bound inseparably and infinitely due to Its own existence alone. This Abyss penetrates our reality, moreover, our human world is where the edge of the Abyss lays. One may feel it everywhere. In regular consciousness it is linked to the idea of horror of death. Sometimes they tend to keep silence of the presence of the Abyss, and indeed there is not much to talk about, however in literary work an author may consciously or intuitively reveal this aspect of being for us to see how the beyond nonexistence unfolds in the context of our daily world.
- The other group - they may just be called «mad ones». They are obsessed by sorts of madness. The most dramatic examples are the «chicken-corpse» and Peten’ka, exemplifying self-cannibalism, the one, who devours himself. And the others of the kind. What kind of people are those?
We see here examples of ontological madness. I was well familiar with psychiatry, and would like to state here that it is not about regular insanity. Here I employed knowledge of marginal situations, not mental diseases. Therefore the ontological madness - since that is not a disease in psychiatric sense. Their behavior may not be adequately expressed in psychiatric terms.
That is metaphysical madness.
It is rooted in the fact that people fallen into the trap that is called «the material world» were unable to even see the shadow flickering by the cave’s exit, but they couldn’t take the regular path as well, i. e. the religious way. They also want to know, not just believe, however they are unable to, since they are of non-intellectual kind. They just got mad in such situation and went into extremes: they hid into their madness from the madness of the world, the madness of kali-yuga. Thus their madness is so surreal, so expressive.
So, here are the two groups of characters: the first one aiming to break through into what God has not revealed to humans, the other getting mad metaphysically.

    The madness of this second group reflects in some way the all-over madness that the whole planet is now immersed in. The deadlock of materialism where humanity has driven itself is terrible. Today spirituality is thoroughly ousted from common consciousness; while there are ways, following which one may accomplish the search of spiritual spheres, most of these ways lead to wrong objectives, and the true ones are not being searched or revealed. This major metaphysical madness brought to extremes in the novel is the narrative’s major background. Also from time to time we encounter some adepts, wandering philosophers and various «searchers» who don’t seem to play any significant role in the plot. Somehow all characters are either the «metaphicals», or the mad ones.
- The novel’s most enigmatic character is Fyodor Sonnov. He kills because he perceives this world as pseudo-reality. He does not believe in the reality of this world, considering it to be a kind of a dream. («Reality couldn’t be like this, this world is the perversion of reality»). However his actions are largely inexplicable and even mysterious. This character can’t be reduced to any concept hence his mysteriousness and attractiveness. Like, he attempts to know a woman at the moment of her passing away. Such eccentricity is ultimately individualistic, and to some extend it is inexplicable.
     Sonnov requires particular attention. He is the third party, the novel’s third component. He is not just a serial killer (of which we have seen dozens in recent years). Observing Fyodor’s inner world one encounters his firm vital position. Very much like the «metaphysicals» he senses the illusory kind of the outer world and when he kills he, according to his own words, «sets a soul free». However for him postmortem being is non-existent as well. In the beginning, before he meets Padov and Anna, he wanders all about, as a rouge-bear, from murder to murder, where he acts rather as a punishing arm, inexplicable and unpredictable. His acquaintance with the "metaphysicals" changes his path radically. From there on killer Sonnov desires a metaphysical murder. Having encountered people in search for real immortality, getting to know them closer, he decides to make fun of them by killing them. Spiritual challenge of the "metaphysicals" to the world of reality is counteracted by the material forces of this reality personified by Fyodor Sonnov. He thus embodies the destructive sphere of anti-being, the sphere of chaos, not regular, but metaphysical chaos, bringing about the absolute death in its ultimate essence, total extinction. However in the end the "metaphysicals'" faith into their Higher Selves, their profound devotion to the "I-Metaphysics" renders them inaccessible for the forces of chaos. Sonnov turns out to possess no real power to harm them, he himself is forced to go where he had tried to send the others. And this makes no problem for him, being fully charged by this situation, he faces death with interest and curiousity.
- All these wanderers are undoubtedly exceptional, now this is clear. Their essence is exceptional, an average person can’t be like that. Every person aspires some stability. But «Shatuny» novel discloses the utter instability of the world. A normal person aspires stability, something one considers to be normal. Where one could find such stability? It used to be found in a traditional society where undoubted religious base existed. But bit by bit as the level of spirituality lowered in the world the vertical ray leading to God was getting lost resulting a situation of a «golden dream»: it’s when one goes to church, prays, and therefrom concludes that eternal life is provided for one. Well, but this is not sufficient, one must aspire God spiritually. There are multiple examples when people consider themselves as having achieved salvation while being far away from there.
    Yuri Mamleev raises one important issue with his «Shatuny» novel: could a human spirit overcome the doom and predetermination of material existence and go beyond its own limits? Is the search of seeming stability really so important, or are there other priorities, other considerations? In the mysterious breath of the Abyss where all being appears to be dissolved, the "metaphysicals" encounter an endless source of self-being. Self-realization is admitted to be the ultimate barest necessity. Everything besides it, the external, loses its significance, is devalued, dissolved.
- Well, but what are ways of attaining stability in our society? First of all one should be totally indifferent to spiritual life in general, get completely immersed into philistine life routine. This is not even atheism, just indifference regarding anything spiritual, even life and immortality. Once it is generally admitted, it may provide some stability.
    Well, but what does such stability provide us? Without the connection with the Source of all Being, any our activity is senseless. Our reality turns out to be absurd, while in some secret corner of our mind Fyodor Sonnov still exists, not even as a threat, but as a reminder that things may well turn out to be different.
- In Soviet time they published a book in GDR (German Democratic Republic), which was then translated into Russian, of one German communist philosopher, who’s name I forgot. He suggested one possibility for the world dominated by materialism and atheism as official doctrines: he wrote, that the problem stems form a humans' exaggeration of their significance for the world, as they envision themselves to be above nature and claiming immortality. His point was that the problem is the giant self-conceit.
"This must be put an end to, - he wrote. - To attain that, human consciousness must be minimized, i. e. the claims of human mind must be minimized". (Not spirit, or consciousness, but of the mind). Simply minimized to such a condition where humans consider themselves to be rational animals, and this should become a conscious norm. One should forget of death, of immortality, that everything ends after death, and that way it would be easier. To deprive one’s consciousness of the vertical idea of God. Once all that is achieved, the scale of mind would become so narrow that humans would treat themselves as flies, without any sorrow. I only looked briefly through the book back in the Soviet times, but I still remember how it had an impact on me.
With this example I wanted to show the extent to which humans may degrade during the kali-yuga period. From God and down to a fly.

*  *  *
    Yuri Mamleev spent many years of his life in immigration. Soviet reality was not accepting of people like him - everything exceeding the framework of common values was forced out actively from the field of the social mind. Once there opened a possibility to immigrate from the Soviet Union, a stream of dissidents flowed to the West, who could not or didn’t want to stay in Russia. Many personalities of cultural intelligentia went abroad for permanent residence. USA, Europe, Israel - people fled leaving everything behind, relatives, real estate, property. Why?
Yuri Mamleev moved out from Russia in 1974, also leaving everything behind. A brave new world was waiting ahead. But then long years of immigration followed. A possibility to return to the motherland only became available at the dawn of Perestroika; in early 90-s Yuri Mamleev came back to Moscow. It had become a new country though: everything had changed. What had been strictly banned was now promoted. Finally, the novel "Shatuny" was first published in Russia in 1993.
During the years of immigration and later the works by Mamleev were printed extensively by various publishers. His novels «Shatuny», «The Wandering time», «The Ultimate Comedy», «World and Laughter», «The Other», as well as compilations of his short stories are widely known. A complete translation of his main philosophical treatise «The Destiny of Being» was recently published in France. This work is intimately connected to the period when «Shatuny» was created, it discloses the original, creative, metaphysical credo of the author in a systematic format. The I-Metaphysics, the dramatism of the Last Doctrine reveal a perspective of wide inner horizon, providing a profound original context for creative philosophical research of reality. In the last essay of the «Destiny of Being» entitled «The Metaphysics of Art» the author formulates and determines a new trend in the modern art, «metaphysical realism».
The new comple English edition offers an exquisite opportunity to deliver one of Yuri Mamleev's key novels to the broader public. It was made possible thanks to Luis de Miranda from the "Haute Culture Books". Extensive and painstaking work was undertaken by the translator Marian Schwartz. The author greatly appreciates everyone who took part in the publication of this first full edition of "Shatuny/Sublimes" novel in English. - Timofey Reshtov

Publisher Haute Culture’s page for The Sublimes: download the bilingual book for free! Legally! 
An interview with translator Marian Schwartz
Material on literalab about The Sublimes

Yuri Mamleyev, The Sky Above Hell and Other Stories, Trans. by H.W. Tjalsma. Taplinger Publishing Co., 1980.

 Yuri Mamleyev is a marginal figure in Russian literature. His works are almost unknown to any large audience, critical literature about him is scant, and his name is surrounded with an aura of the most extreme spiritual perversity which keeps his writings beyond the scope of "normal" literature.
Yuri Mamleyev
Yuri Mamleyev
Little is known about his biography. He was born in 1931 or 1932. His father was a psychiatrist and in 1937 he died in a prison camp. Mamleyev began to write in the late 50s when he worked as a teacher of mathematics in an evening school somewhere on the outskirts of Moscow. He read his short stories to a narrow circle of admirers which began to form around him. Later, when his popularity increased, tapes of these readings were circulated amongst the Moscow cultural underground where they were listened to with enthusiasm and trembling. Gradually Mamleyev became one of the maitres of the metropolitan nonofficial culture; however, his fame was totally based on word of mouth: he was so afraid of the KGB and of being sent to the madhouse that he never gave his texts to anyone to read (his fear was not without reason: during that time one could be send to the madhouse for far more innocent things).
Such a situation could not continue forever. In 1975 Mamleyev emigrated to the United States where he taught Russian literature at Cornell university. In 1983 he moved to Paris, where, as one critic said, "he kept on frightening readers" by his strange stories. His works have been published in Samizdat and Russian emigre editions and translated into other languages. For his book "The Sky Above Hell" he was admitted into the French Pen-club. In 1989 a few of Mamleyev's short stories were published for the first time in his fatherland, followed by three slim books [1]. It is rumoured that he is going to return to Russia and that he has already bought a flat in Moscow.
Regardless of his influence on the younger generation of "unofficial" writers (I do not touch here on his role as a philosopher and a "guru"), on the whole his own works seem to remain outside the literary process.
It seems sometimes as if critics avoid his writings merely out of a sense of self-preservation. As Mikhail Ryklin has remarked, the "literary 'Satanism' of Mamleyev serves him as an ideological refuge and a label behind which he can somehow preserve himself in culture". The hyperreality, or "realised impossibility of collective bodies", which is built up in his works, "as if being a total vacuum cleaner, absorbs into itself not only God but also Satan" [2] . All the critical labels pinned onto Mamleyev (conceptualism, surrealism, etc.) seem to be no more than signs of pseudo-comprehension which deliver the reader from an actual immersion in his monstrous world.
As Igor Smirnov noted in his recent article, "Mamleyev was one of the firsts, if not the first, in Russian postmodernism, who reduced to monstrosity the whole world depicted in his prose". "Mamleyev's texts", he continues, "have a social function: they destroy the Stalinist construction of society". Nonetheless, "to understand his prose it is not enough to say that it is engaged in critics of the Soviet system. Mamleyev depicts the monstrosity uncompromisingly. [...] In Mamleyev's writings the monster is not contrasting with everyday life but with another monster" [3]. Such a comprehensive monstrosity is due - and here I agree with Smirnov - to the 'hypertrophy of subjectivity' which is so striking in Mamleyev. Smirnov interprets it as a result of the postmodernist denial of the 'unsubjective subjectivity', which is the basic feature of the totalitarianism. However, 'postmodernism' is a rather obscure conception. It looks like one more abstract label unable to explain any real phenomenon. It is not by chance that Smirnov just uses Mamleyev as an example and illustration for his own theory.
Father's Portrait (1992) by Valery Morozov
Father's Portrait (1992) by Valery Morozov
If the work of art means something in human life then it seems more important to try to understand its existential rather than its theoretical significance and value. Understanding the fictional world of Mamleyev gives us a chance of understanding the real world, including ourselves.
I shall discuss one work by Mamleyev - his novel "Shatuny" [4] in which practically all his favourite themes and motifs are brought together [5].
"Shatuny" owes a lot to the tradition of the Russian ideological novel (especially Dostoevsky). There is much discussion and argument about 'fundamental questions', often in a beer house or over a cadaver. All the characters seem to be obsessed by ideas which they seek to realise or at least to test. But in fact they are obsessed by consciousness which is transcendent to all worldly ideas.
The characters of the novel are divided in two categories: 'common people' (the family of Krasnorukov-Fomichevs) living in a constant delirium and unable to articulate clearly their intrinsic faith, and 'intelligentsia', that is, 'metaphysical ones' (Padov, Remin, Izvitski, Anna Barskaja, etc.) from Moscow also living in an absurd way but constantly conceptualising and discussing this delirium and absurdity, and asserting their value and religious necessity. The collision in the novel - "mixing folk obscurantism with intellectual mysticism" (55) - sounds quite in spirit of the Russian literature at the beginning of the century. The synthesis is acquired by virtue of the homogeneity of their worlds: Padov "could without difficulty render heavy and dense language and silence of Feodor into the common metaphysical language" (88).
All the individual 'metaphysics' of the novel can be regarded as variations of or deviations from Glubev's 'religion of the Self' as presented by his follower Gennadi Remin (Glubev himself does not appear in the novel). The object of worship, love, and faith in this religion is one's own self. This self is an absolute and transcendental reality and at the same time the personal self of a believer who, however, is already spiritually realized. At all stages of being (i.e. after death and in other rebirths), one's own self remains the only reality and supreme value. Therefore the notion of God as a reality separated from the self looses its sense. The mystical infinite love of oneself is of tremendous significance. One of the main principles is a superhuman narcissism (90). (Note that in his own metaphysical foundation of aesthetics Mamleyev speaks about the 'absolute spiritual narcissism' in earnest) [6].
Remin instructs Aljosha: "We must not only love our Self with infinite spiritual love; we must try to realise this highest self during our lifetime, to live it; to experience pleasure of it; and then the world will turn into a herd of shadows; everything created in us will disappear" (143). Or, as Anatoli Padov, the main ideologist of the "metaphysical ones", put it: "I want to be Creator of myself, not a creation, if the Creator exists I want to abolish this dependence"(141).
All the other characters in different ways express this "pathological wish to confirm themselves in eternity" (146) and regard their own selves in the aura of the Absolute. From this solipsistic attitude follows a total negation of everything that is not Self. Abstract ideas rendered into direct action create the novel's peculiar world.
Padov lives with self-destruction mixed with a crazy fear of life beyond the grave and of hereafter. This fear forces him to invent delirious hypotheses about after- death existence which only increase his fear. He rejects all religious-philosophical systems and even treats his own pure ego with a great suspicion. Some of his characteristic traits: his favourite places are cemeteries where he digs graves with loud laughter and spends his nights with the corpse of a dead girl; he is a customer of slaughterhouses and usually drinks 2-3 mugs of fresh blood a day; he denies even the religion of Self as not radical enough; his cherished dream is to copulate with his own corpse.
Petja, a boy at the age of 14, cultivates different colonies of fungi, herpeses and pustules on his body, then scrapes them off and eats them. He even prepares a soup with them (14). His reason is an extremely distrustful attitude to the outer world: "To accept something from the world was equal for him to a religious or rather existential suicide" (104). Finally he begins to feed himself with his own blood wishing to devour himself, and brings himself to death.
Andrej Nikitich, feeling his death approaching, preaches about a kind and loving God in order to make death seem simpler and less fearful. But then he goes mad and begins to consider himself as a dead hen ('hen-corpse'). From now on, "the outer word has apparently perished and completely disappeared from his soul" (118). His behaviour becomes absurd and totally disconnected with his disintegrating consciousness "filled with thoughts without any content, even senseless content"(118).
That absurdity and inadequacy "in a worldly, trifling sense" (77) is a positive value in Mamleyev's world. Feeble mindedness and madness are considered as a token of involvement with the beyond. And the beyond is conceived as a realm of death.
This realm of death is the only thing of interest for Feodor Sonnov who kills people in the hope of 'figuring the mystery of death’, which is, at the same time, mystery of his own soul. "Death and everything which surrounded it reigned in his soul. More exactly, his soul was death" (23). Murdering is for him a means of self- knowing and the corpse a mirror of his innermost Self. In the description of his inner life, all Mamleyev's typical motifs abound: perception of the world as unreal and irritating by its separateness from his own existence; solipsism (sometimes he seems to himself to be the only being in the universe); inadequacy according to worldly standards; wild longing to enter the beyond. Everything that unites people, or is common to them seems to him "silly childish" (84). In this connection one could speak about anti-symbols as special things (or mental states) abolishing consciousness as something unified and universal .Anna who is also fascinated with them asks Feodor, "You love dead symbols, words, don't you?" (32).
For Feodor, murder is "a symbol of soul-killing, soul- ruining; it happens mostly in spirit (though it can be accompanied by "ordinary murder"). Nothing of empirically beyond scares him because "his beyond lies beyond our consciousness and not beyond life" (88). Moreover, it is said that he is "in a degree beyond the beyond itself".
Padov calls Feodor "a metaphysical killer", "whose aim was to completely oust all humankind from his consciousness so that the very conception of the existence of other people becomes empty. As an ordinary killer removes people from the outer world so Feodor removed people from his soul" (89).
His last wish is to kill all "metaphysical ones". Normal people seem to him just poles, stones or "prepared shining corpses without any secrets" (72). "Except for them", he thinks, "there is nobody to kill. The rest are already dead" (133). He feels that after this killing everything on earth will become "of a third quality" and he himself "probably will leave for a new form of existence" (139). However, he is unexpectedly arrested for his previous murder and condemned to death which "he met completely calmly but with unconcealed interest" (155).
Mystical love of oneself often adopts sexual forms. Pavel hates children because he recognises in the world only his own sexual pleasure. Children disturb his mind with their separateness from his own sexual pleasure "that seemed to him a serious, hostile challenge. Night and day with knife in his hand he was ready to pursue children - these shadows of his pleasure, this nothingness of voluptuousness" (18). He therefore kills his unborn children in their mother's womb by bashing their skulls with his huge penis (24 pass.).
For Fyodor sex is inseparable from death. At one point, he becomes obsessed by the idea of taking a woman at the moment of her death. "He thought that in that moment the purified soul will be bared and he will be coupled not with a half-corpse but with the emerging, trembling soul itself" (29). He fulfils his wish with feeble- minded Lidochka, the wife of Pavel, who is dying because of her husband's trashing. While ejaculating, he strangles her. Killing animals gives a kind of sexual pleasure to the "young sadists" - Pyr', Johann and Igor, all of them Padov's adherents. They perform a quasi-ritual in which they murder different kinds of animals "for nothing", "just for pleasure" (35). However, unconsciously they seek self-deification: "They are alive and we do away with them... They are no more... Then, we are, in a sense, gods" (40).
Sexual attraction of non-being is also shown in the relationship between old Mikhey who castrated himself and the girl Mika who is blind to the objective world. She performs 'the oral sex with the absent member' voluptuously licking Mikhey's 'empty place'.
The novel is filled with scenes where "sexual obscurantism" is mixed with "a sort of surreal Gnosticism" (157). The characters please themselves in the strangest of ways, trying to "combine the rough reality of the sexual act with the refined and formidable being of the unknowable" (59). The common desire of many characters is to copulate with their own selves, and in comparison with the self, the world is perceived as a "stirring rubbish heap of half-being" (130). As Anya put it, "metaphysical solipsism leads to the sexual one" (127).
This tendency finds its fullest realisation in Evgeni Izvitski who comes to a "black voluptuousness, a non-human love of himself" (123). He has always considered, like Pavel, that he who possesses his own penis possesses the whole world. Gradually he finds the proper object of his sexuality - himself. From then on, there is no barrier between subject and object of love; there follows a detailed description of the ways in which he satisfies his sexual-metaphysical self-adoration. The desire to possess himself is so strong that he even feels an impulse to tear his own belly and to kiss his own entrails. The world seems to him a shadow of his 'selfhood'; even buildings seem a projection of his own body (128-9). He longs "to pierce this dear, spiritual self with his member, to envelope it with sperm like a fountain" (132). Fyodor coming to kill Izvitski in his home and seeing the scene of the act of self-love in front of the mirror felt "that he was unable to kill a being who loves himself so frantically, so pathologically; this would mean to touch something new, unseen, morbidly sepulchral, too super-akin for him" (139).
On the basis of the review above it is possible to outline principal features of the metaphysics presented in the novel.
  1. The main value and object of carving for the characters is the beyond, which is transcendent to the world and life.
  2. Realisation of the beyond is considered possible by means of consciousness directed towards itself.
  3. The sphere of that consciousness is a pure subjecthood of the "I" which appears as nothingness, i.e. as a field of death.
  4. Thus, the desirable object is in fact a dead consciousness void of everything, including itself.
In philosophical terms, Mamleyev's metaphysics can be qualified as a reversed mysticism. Mystical searching for the all-including Absolute and eternal life is replaced by searching for the all-excluding ego and spiritual death. Thus, whatever Mamleyev's original intentions were, we can see his works as an expressive depiction of egoistic consciousness, reaching its utmost limits.
Egoistic consciousness is characterized by desire of pleasure, hatred to everything which prevents it from pleasure, and active ignorance of any 'otherness'. It is basically solipsistic, for there exists only one soul, one self - itself. Everything else is the 'other', and all the 'others' are just inanimate objects. Opposing itself to the world, egoistic consciousness becomes progressively narrower. In this process, even its own contents become the 'other'. Their displacement leads to its gradual reduction to a point, and then to its transformation into a kind of anti-consciousness.
Psychological sources of Mamleyev's world I see in fixation and cultivation of thoughts that are usually repressed by inner censorships and, therefore, considered nonexistent. The world created from them can be conceived as a nothingness turned inside out (the topos of 'living death' is varied in Mamleyev writings in many ways). His originality consists in the fact that he made the realm of negative, destructive drives the only object of both metaphysical reflection and artistic representation.
It is interesting to compare his creative method with a "negative, monstrous way to the Absolute" which is proclaimed by Izvitzki:
"He outlined a picture of the world where one could come to the Absolute through denial, through negation; it was a world in which the positive would be annihilated and everything strikingly negative, on the contrary, would become affirmative. [...] It would be a reversed side of our world suddenly obtained independent existence; and, on the contrary, the common world of the positive would become here turned inside out, disappearing" (101).
The problem of individual consciousness is basically the problem of correlation between 'I' and the 'other'. Existential solipsism of Mamleyev's characters has much in common with the philosophical solipsism of Berkeley and the phenomenology of Husserl (from the latter, probably, Mamleyev borrowed the term yainost' - 'I-ness', 'Ichkeit'). The difference is that both mentioned philosophers overcome the pure subjectivity of the individual consciousness by virtue of introducing a certain trans-subjective consciousness. It is a Deity in the case of Berkeley, and 'intersubjectivity' in the case of Husserl. But in Mamleyev's world there is neither God, nor other persons.
While speaking of his writings, Mamleyev appeals to Russian literary tradition. In the preface to one of his books he proclaims: "The ultimate goal of my works was to reveal those inner abysses which are hidden in the human soul. [...] If one expresses these abysses through the behaviour of characters, then probably the writing will turn out to be that which Dostoevsky called 'fantastic realism' (that is, nonetheless, realism; for what can exist beyond reality?)" [7] And he actively uses ideas and artistic means accumulated in Russian literature. This shows that he deals with states of consciousness which do exist in Russian mentality and which influence Russian history, though they were never before depicted with such exaggeration and vividness.

However, life guided by the head and not by the heart, lack of love and compassion to others, and necrophilic tendencies can be found in human nature at large. Any of us is a little of Mamleyev's characters. Such recognition can help us to cease to be like this. - Eugene Gorny

Collected works by Yuri Mamleyev in Russian Virtual Library


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