Gnostic Code in the Novel by L. Ulitskaya «Medea and Her Children» - PDF

Journal of Siberian Federal University. Humanities & Social Sciences 9 (2012 5) ~ ~ ~ УДК :111.8 Gnostic Code in the Novel by L. Ulitskaya «Medea and Her Children» Natalia V. Kovtun* Siberian

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Journal of Siberian Federal University. Humanities & Social Sciences 9 (2012 5) ~ ~ ~ УДК :111.8 Gnostic Code in the Novel by L. Ulitskaya «Medea and Her Children» Natalia V. Kovtun* Siberian Federal University 79 Svobodny, Krasnoyarsk, Russia 1 Received , received in revised form , accepted The present article is the analysis of poetics in the novel Medea and Her Children by L. Ulitskaya, that conceptualizes the earlier works of the author. It proves that the leading factor of understanding the text is its gnostic code that reflects the contemporary spirit, which actualizes the problem of the world evil. At the same time, the book is an intellectual game built up of the plots of world literature and art that highlight the characters fortune; a game made to initiate the reader, strengthen their ability to read between the lines. Post-modernistic poetics are replaced by hermeneutics, the trace of the truth can only be followed behind the text and behind the time ; the author sustains the rights of private being of a personality, and only this way from inside the home and from inside the soul, the mysteries of the creation begin to open up. Keywords: Ulitskaya, «Medea and Her Children», myth, antiquity, Gnosticism, Sophia the Wisdom In the literary criticism of the end of the XX beginning of the XXI centuries works by Ulitskaya are tightly bound with the problems of family, blood, the feminine (Bologova, 2010). The purpose of the present work is to find out, how the mentioned values correspond to the main idea of the author s prose, which is the idea of self-identification of an individual in the world, cyphered as a text. The interest of the writer towards basic myths of culture, from antique, gnostic myths to the myths of literature, reflecting the mysteries of creation, is remarkable. The emphasis on the gnostic symbolism that goes through the novel is connected with the general feeling of disappointment and nihilism that is specific for the era of Post-Modernism. The question about the nature of Evil, imperfection of the world, and ways of escape is presented in the doctrines of Gnostics in a maximally convincing manner. However, Russian philosophers of the beginning of the XX century working on the theory of sophiology, denied the anticosmism of the Gnostics (postulate of the world as of the result of tragic mistake of Sophia aeon, prison for the particles of light/spirit); their characteristic is bright Cosmism (optimistic view on the nature of creation that strives for achieving the Absolute and deification ) (Jonas, 1998, 8). Ulitskaya follows this tradition, trying to reach peace between the world and the personality. The novel Medea and Her Children (1996) is the conclusion of the early works of the author, that conceptualizes the observations and results, characteristic of it. There are сквозные герои * Corresponding author address: 1 Siberian Federal University. All rights reserved 1343 (Leva Gottlieb, Aliks), images and plots. The text is movement across labyrinths of signs and illusions in the search for primary scenario, primary meaning, and, at the same time, an intellectual game, pierced with irony. The unavoidability of the collision between mistakenness enlightment, step to the new level of knowledge that builds up the characters fate is provided by the genre archetype of prose by Ulitskaya: educational novel; it also explains the attention towards Mason-enlightment symbolics, in the base of which there is the same gnostic code. Exposition of the book is the history of the Sinople family, the roots of which go deeply into ancient cultures (Corynthian, Greek); its ending is the call to enter the circle of the chosen, the family of Medea. Hermeneutic gift, ability for self-reflection, independence despite of the basic ideologemes of the epoch are just a condition for initiation. Selfhood is admitted to be the main virtue of a Gnostic (Jonas, 1998, ). The novel is a way of self-control of the writer s experience, which results in the big amount of self-quotation. The traces of the truth are felt by Ulitskaya exclusively within the limits of private existence, behind the time ; and only this way, from inside of home/soul, the draft of the world creation begins to open up. Movement within the artistic space is duplicated by the description of ordeals, the text is colourful with the mythological stories of afterlife journeys, reminiscence to the Bible, Dante, descriptions of dreams and visions. The main character sees the Trinity on the tomb of her parents: her mother surrounded by the нимб of her red hair with a naked pink-headed girl in her hands, but not a new-born, but aged around three, and her father, white haired, with an absolutely white beard and looking much older than Medea ever remembered him (Ulitskaya, 2005, 29). The place of Christ is taken by Sophia the Wisdom, the face and the hands of who are traditionally depicted in purple colours, that symbolize spirit-bearing fire (Trubetskoy, 1993, ). The structure forming role in the book is played by the ancient Greek plot of Medea, a magician, a daughter of King Aeёtis of Colchis, the wife of Jason who leaded the Argonauts campaign. This myth is one of the most wanted in the world literature; the great variety of its interpretations (from Euripide to Jean Anouilh and L. Petrushevskaya) is the proof of the integrity of text and culture, the belonging of the author to the circle of masters. The heroine of Ulitskaya inherits not only the name and origin of her famous predecessor, but also the gift of medicine, art of foreseeing, knowledge of herbs and special connection to horses. Her house situated in the very centre of the Earth, on its navel, combines the traits of Colchis, the Ark and Calvary; however, in its relation to the modern civilization the location of this humble stage of the story (Ulitskaya, 2005, 6) is emphasized in a peripheral way. In the description of the mansion that is built as steps, there are the traits of a pyramid and the Limbo by Dante. At the root of the conic mountain, there is a well with precious water, and on its top, there is an outhouse with a significant inscription: As you leave, look back to see whether your conscience is clean, and in the rectangular hole the best view of the world is seen (Ulitskaya, 2006, 16). The ascension is the analogue of initiation, and in the mansion everyone can behold love, friendship, betrayal, their own heaven and hell (from the symbols of plenitude to the gnashing of teeth coming from the baby). On the top of the mountain Dante meets his Beatrice, the poet meets his muse; this plot is reconstructed in the stories of the characters. And only the androgynous image of Medea is beyond the framework of the human games, opposed to the image of the narrator. The character is the embodiment of the world tree, around which the being develops: this life, 1344 that immediately and vigorously changed by itself , granted Medea with the strength of wood, that has braided its roots into the rocky soil, under the eternal sun, following its daily and annual path (Ulitskaya, 2005, 60). Since her your years, the character was recognized as a fadeless star of the girls gymnasium; her perfect notebooks were demonstrated to the subsequent generations of the gymnasium girls (Ulitskaya, 2005, 23). She was a part of the landscape (reminiscence to the story by A. Bitov A Man in the Landscape ), the bearer of wisdom hidden in the land as it was hidden in a book, unique, approximately knowing Greek, that still keeps the amazing literality and the initial meaning of words (Ulitskaya, 2005, 5). In the utopic texts of the Enlightment, Ancient Greek and Latin acted as the languages of the chosen ones; they were used to describe land of the Covenant (Kovtun, 2008, ). The mystery hidden behind the series of letters and signs is the Golden Fleece, to the search of which the modern reader is also invited. Black, tall Medea, who calls herself a goddamn rake, is the embodiment of a stylus, while the well is the inkpot. The Landlady leaves the key of the house/temple under a triangle stone that sends us back to the basic Mason symbol, the third eye of a Cyclops, the omphalos of the human spirit (Hall, 1994, 276). The housekeeping talent of the character is highlighted by the uselessness of the official authorities that have occupied the promised land, unable to cultivate or read it; as a nurse, Medea finds all symptoms of brain injury in the representatives of the state (Ulitskaya, 2005, 12). The story of the Leviathan fight is one of the key plots that determine the fate of the characters. The involvement into the mysteries of creation leads Medea out from the transitory ideas of the good, the evil and the just. She looks at everything from the position of the Creator, from above ; she watches and remembers, but never condescends to admonitions. Her image combines the traits of a Christian righteous woman and some distinctive infernal features that altogether witness the integrity of creation. As a Christian ascetic, who believes not in fortuitousness but in disposition of God (Ulitskaya, 2005, 152), the heroine has got a talent of mercy, inner concentration; her existence is ascetic (she s a widow), her appearance strikes with its iconic beauty. Around Medea s house there are some lilacs growing, a sign of the Blessed Virgin and the talent of artistic living, according to Ulitskaya. The mansion is a model of existence, omphalos of ages, spaces, peoples who are alive and dead, righteous and sinful. In The Funeral Party novel ( ) Alik s workroom on the skyscraper roof performs the same function of the world axis. Similarly to Sophia the demiurge, Medea is striving for bringing everything to an order, a system, from the tea cups on her table to the clouds in the sky (Ulitskaya, 2005, 8). A table is like the God s hand, like an altar, as the ritual of evening conversations and tea is one of the most stable ones in the family. The same function of bringing chaos to space is performed by all the innermost characters of Ulitskaya: Robert Victorovich, his daughter Tania (reminiscence to the character by Pushkin) play the history of humankind in their own scenery (story Sonechka, 1992), Ninka that solves puzzles ( The Funeral Party ), in the milestone novel Kukotsky Case (2002) draftsperson Elena discovers the perfect draft of the creation: Sometimes Elena wanted to open up her ideas of the draftness of the world to her husband, tell him about the dreams that she saw from time to time, the dreams with the draft of everything in the world: words, illnesses, or even music (Ulitskaya, 2005, 78). Medea s room is assimilated to a sanctuary, where ignoramuses are forbidden to enter: Her room was sacred for all the guests, and no one could enter it 1345 without a special invitation (Ulitskaya, 2005, 35). Around the house, there are some sheep at grass that symbolize the holiness of the place. All actions within the mansion are ritualized, starting from going to the well to get water till the evening tea: out of respect for Medea, her unexplainable rules were strictly followed by the guests. However, the more unexplainable, the more convincing it was (Ulitskaya, 2005, 32). The threshold of Medea s house has never been crossed by any representatives of the authorities; her house preserved its absolute purity. The ideological centre of the novel and of all the prose by Ulitskaya, is usually composed by prophetic dreams and letters. Medea writes letters to her childhood friend, a born aristocrat, Elena, whose image reminds us of a character of the central gnostic myth, Helen of Troy, who acts in the role of Sophia (Woman in Myths and Legends, 1992, 109). The messages of Medea are a variant of the ancient soliloquium, the artist s conversation with himself and with his own soul. The novel performs the same function, as the author replays some famous fairy tales of culture, makes up some new plots; this is the existential experience that helps us to survive in the merciless history. Gnostic mythology interprets a letter as the embodiment of the call sent to the world and reaching the soul sleeping here, below (Jonas, 1998, 130). In the watershed moments of her life, Medea writes in French, however, the texts are rich in everyday details, random descriptions and must be read between the lines, like messages of the experts (chosen, pneumatics). Only those who have the spiritual gift are able to change themselves as a reply to the call. While the soul, according to Gnostics, keeps the flash of divine knowledge and the memory of the lost harmony of the Universe, which is the potential of the Chosen ones. All characters of Ulitskaya are traditionally divided into marionettes, Pinocchios with empty chests, and demiurges, or directors; artists, decorators, doctors, musicians, those who compose stories for the puppets; however, not everyone can have a chance in the game. The same letter function in the novel is performed by the gymnasium notebooks of Medea, the ancient books (messages from the predecessors to the descendants), the painting canvas, patterns on the fabric, household stuff, even inscriptions on fences and gratings which require some skill to be read. Short before the death/departure the husband of the main character Samuil Mendos is given three old Hebrew books by an unknown brown young man with a fat, roughly cut upper lip who symbolizes the Apocalypses rider. Medea interpreted this obvious sign without any doubt as be ready! (Ulitskaya, 2005, 152). The dying man who used to serve revolutionary ideas, through the ancient texts starts going back to the wisdom of his nation, transforms inside and outside: he becomes quiet, especially kind, his face enlightens ( Medea found him inspired and beautiful ), he reaches the virtue of tears, the body of the deceased was patiently expecting for the relatives arrival, without revealing any features of rotting (Ulitskaya, 2005, 161). Before his death, Samuil discovers the main principle of working with the Word, that thoughts are transferred by words not totally, but with a great share of approximation; there is a space, some distance between the thought and the word and it is filled up by intensive work of the conscience, and that is how the limited opportunities of the language are compensated. To get back to the thought, which was now imagined by Samuil as a kind of a crystal, it was necessary to avoid text (Ulitskaya, 2005, 155). The crystal is reminiscence of same images of the pyramid, the conic mountain and the third eye of the Cyclops, that attribute Medea s mansion. The hermeneutic principle described by the character is also preached by the author. 1346 The oldest symbols that are found in all messages of all nations and times are gender symbols. The symbols of masculine and feminine (a circle, a cup, a lily, a rose, a cross, a dirk) are interpreted in the novel as symbols of fate that appear at strictly selected moments. So, only after her husband s death Medea finds his sister s ring and letter, the evidence of their relationship, the incest. The story of Sandra and Samuil is highlighted by the story of Glaukus and Jason, the plots of the novel Ada by V. Nabokov and the short story Sonya by Leo Tolstoy, which are built on the canvas of the Nabokov text (Kovtun, 2009, ). The trip of Medea to her motherland, to wise Lenochka and her brother Feodor that takes place after the finding, is constructed according to the same initial scheme, and, unlike the myth logics, finishes not with revenge, but with reconciliation with the fate. The union of Elena and Feodor makes us remember the story of St. George the Victorious. Elena/Sophia and Theodore Stratilates, according to the legend, are recognized as the parents of a famous saint, baptizer of Russ (Markova, 1997, 234). Iegory, cultivating the world with his Word, is usually depicted in the icon with the Gospel Book in his left hand. Reading the sacred book performs the role of an amulet that protects from evil spirits, supported by saying a prayer or a sermon. The functions of the dragon fighter in the novel are inherited by Elena s son, George, and Medea herself, who saved her own husband from Leviathan. The appearance of Medea in Feodosiya is marked with big water filling the wells, which symbolizes expurgatory power: children and old people opened were opening the aryk latches that leaded to their yards. The hour of morning watering began (Ulitskaya, 2005, 175). The time in Elena s house is fixed by the Orthodox Christian calendar dates, as Medea spends the Lent and Lazarus Saturday there, and after Good Wednesday she comes back to the world. Her trip is accompanied with many happy coincidences and miracles; her guide to the space of the chosen is an unknown boy, who reminds of a road angel. Travelling Medea looks like an ironic remark of the Odysseus: she felt as Odyssey at any rate, who was an adventurer and a man of water; he never refrained from delaying his coming back, more pretending that his aim is his rough dwelling in Ithaca (Ulitskaya, 2005, 165). If a woman is connected to the earth and the space, a man is connected with time elements; he is a stranger and a scout of new territories (as of women). In the novel, the love intrigue is combined with cognition act. Infernal paradigm in Medea s image includes the family of thirteen children (which is the devil s dozen); the family has a generic mark, which is the copper colour of hair, but only Medea and the youngest brother, Dmitry, were radically red (Ulitskaya, 2005, 8). The surname of the character s husband is Mendos, which sends us back to the image of the hermaphrodite Mendos Goat, which symbolizes the universal life power and the astral light in ceremonial magic. Mendos Goat is equal to Templars God Baphometh (Hall, 1994, ); interest for Tampers culture is obvious in Ulitskaya s works, as their characters act out knight scenes, perform songs of troubadours who are involved to Gnostic heresy (Rougemont, 1998, 52-72). In real life Samuil is remarkable for his loyalty to goat cheese, rapid mood changes as a crow-bill pick (Ulitskaya, 2005, 55). This character is a parody reflection of Bulgakov s Azazello, the fallen angel (Azazel) who taught men the art of war, and women the mysteries of decoration and seduction, which is closely connected with the plots of lust between angels, the sons of God and the human women (Book of Enoch). In Talmudic literature Azazel is identified as the Satan or Samael (Mythological Dictionary, 1990, 29). The character of Ulitskaya finds a compliment for every woman, helps 1347 Medea to discover her own beauty just like the demon did with Margarita. One of Azazello s incarnations in the novel by Bulgakov is a nurse (Medea s profession). In the version by Ulitskaya, the mysterious marriage anticipates the illnesses of both of them, which symbolizes the initiation stage and act of finding the world harmony. Mendos toms is decorated with a silver star, that at the same time signifies the pentagram in the Mendos Goat forehead, Magen David and the Christmas star: Medea re-interpreted the star in a way by painting the edge on which it was fixed with some silver paint; so, the star acquired the sixth, reverse point, and now reminded of the Christmas star, and also leaded to some other associations (Ulitskaya, 2005, 18). In the text structure it is important that the most ancient image of hexagram points at Astarte, night Venus, and symbolizes the union of the masculine and the feminine (Woman in Legends and Myths, 1992, 41). Natural analogue of the hexagram is the lily, the flower with six petals. Some features of Astarte are granted to the images of Medea s sisters, Sandra and her beautiful daughter Nika. The figure of Medea, vested in black, with her head wrapped with a black shawl and a distinctive fringe, a remark to A. Akh
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