Impenetrable Prose

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Nikolai Bugaev

Bugaev was born in Georgia into a somewhat unstable family (his father was an army doctor), and at the age of ten young Nikolai was sent to Moscow to find his own means of obtaining an education. He succeeded, graduating in 1859 from Moscow University, where he majored in mathematics and physics. He went on to study engineering, but in 1863 wrote a Master's thesis on the convergence of infinite series. This document was sufficiently impressive to win him a place studying under Karl Weierstrass and Ernst Kummer in Berlin. He also spent some time in Paris studying under Joseph Liouville. He earned his doctoral degree in 1866 and returned to Moscow, where he taught for the remainder of his career. Some of his most influential papers offered proofs of previously unproven assertions of Liouville, but his most original work centered around the development of formal analogies between arithmetic and analytic operations.

Bugaev founded the Moscow Mathematical Society and urged Russian mathematicians to write in their native language. He also wrote influential philosophical essays in which he trumpeted the virtues of mathematical analysis and decried the influence of geometry and probability. Many feel he is largely responsible for the pronounced predilection towards "hard analysis" which is characteristic of so much of the best Russian mathematics. Through Bugaev's star student, Dmitri Egorov, many famous Russian mathematicians, such as Andrei Kolmogorov and Nikolai Luzin, directly "descend" from Bugaev-- and thus from the Prince of Mathematicians, Carl Friedrich Gauss.

Nikolai Bugaev was also a talented chess player; some of his games are available at orangutan-people site.

Bugaev was a memorable "character" whose life was touched by scandal. He was not, it is said, much admired for his looks, but his wife was brilliant, beautiful, and rich, and the Bugaevs were socially prominent. Their mathematically, musically, and artistically talented son, Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev (14 October 1880 O.S.-8 January 1934), went on to adopt the pseudonym Andrei Bely, under which name he helped found the Symbolist movement. Professor Korobkin, the main character of Bely's innovative novel Moscow, was inspired by Nikolay Bugayev. Interestingly enough, in view of his father's prejudices, Boris Bugaev was fascinated by probability and particularly by the notion of entropy, which is mentioned in several of his novels and poems.

Andrei Bely

Andrei Bely (Андрей Белый) was the pseudonym of Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev (October 26, 1880 [O.S. October 14] - January 8, 1934), a Russian novelist, poet, theorist, and literary critic. His miasmal and profoundly disturbing novel Petersburg was regarded by Vladimir Nabokov as one of the four greatest novels of the twentieth century.

Boris Bugaev was born into a prominent intellectual family. His father, Nikolai Bugaev, was a leading mathematician who is regarded as a founder of the Moscow school of mathematics. His mother was not only highly intelligent but a famous society beauty, and the focus of considerable gossip. Young Boris was a polymath whose interests included mathematics, music, philosophy, and literature. He would go on to found both the Symbolist movement and the Russian school of neo-Kantianism.

Nikolai Bugaev was well known for his influential philosophical essays, in which he decried geometry and probability and trumpeted the virtues of hard analysis. Despite-- or because of-- his father's mathematical tastes, Boris Bugaev was fascinated by probability and particularly by entropy, a notion to which he frequently refers in works such as Kotik Letaev.

Bely's creative works notably influenced-- and were influenced by-- several literary schools, especially symbolism. They feature a striking mysticism and a sort of moody musicality. The far-reaching influence of his literary voice on Russian writers (and even musicians) has frequently been compared to the impact of James Joyce in the English-speaking world. The novelty of his sonic effects has also been compared to the innovative music of Charles Ives.

Bely's symbolist novel Petersburg (1913) is generally considered to be his masterpiece. The book is vivid and memorable, and employs a striking prose method in which sounds often evoke colors. The novel is set in the somewhat hysterical atmosphere of turn-of-the-century Petersburg. To the extent that the book can be said to possess a plot, this can be summarized as the story of the hapless Nikolai Apollonovich, a never-do-well who is caught up in revolutionary politics and assigned the task of assassinating a certain government official--- his own father. Nikolai is pursued through the impenetrable Petersburg mists by the ringing hooves of the famous bronze statue of Peter the Great.

Bely has been credited with foretelling in this novel, which some have called semi-autobiographical, the Russian Revolution, the rise of totalitarianism, political terrorism, and even chaos theory.

Bely was one of the major influences on the theater of Vsevolod Meyerhold.