Saturday, December 16, 2006

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.