Omon Ra.

I’ve finished reading Victor Pelevin’s first novel (and the first book by him I heard of), Омон Ра, translated by Andrew Bromfield as Omon Ra. All I knew about it going in was that it’s about a Soviet astronaut, and that’s all you’re going to find out from me — the plot is too much fun to spoil it! Instead, I’ll explain the title (the hero, young Omon Krivomazov, thinks of himself as the Egyptian sun god Ra) and elucidate some of the allusions that the English-speaking reader will miss. You should definitely read the novel; Bromfield’s version is perfectly adequate, even if he skips some difficult bits and makes a couple of embarrassing gaffes.

Chapter 10 begins as follows (in Bromfield’s translation, followed by the original):

Another subject that appeared in our study timetable — “The General Theory of the Moon” — was classed as optional for everyone except Mitiok and me. The classes were given by a retired Lieutenant-Colonel of Philosophy, Ivan Evseievich Kondratiev. Somehow I didn’t take to him, although I had no real reason for disliking him and his lectures were quite interesting. I remember the unusual way he began his first class with us — he spent half an hour reciting various poems about the moon from pieces of paper; eventually he became so moved that he had to stop and wipe off his glasses. I still used to take notes then, and what I was left with from this class was a senseless accumulation of fragmentary quotations: “Like a golden drop of honey sweetly gleams the moon… Of the moon and hope and quiet glory…The moon, how rich the meaning of this word for every Russian ear…But the world has other regions, oppressed by the tormenting moon, to highest strength and supreme courage out of reach…But in the sky, schooled to endure all things, a senselessly distorted disc…He did control the flow of thought, but only by the moon…The cheerless liquid moonness…’ And so on for another page and a half. Then Lieutenant-Colonel Kondratiev grew more serious and began speaking in an official singsong voice:

“Dear friends! Let us recall the historic words of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, written in 1918 in a letter to Inessa Armand. ‘Of all the planets and heavenly bodies,’ Lenin wrote, ‘the most important for us is the moon.’ […] In this course we will study Lenin’s two major works on the moon—‘The Moon and Rebellion’ and ‘Advice from an Outsider’. […]”

Еще один предмет, появившийся в наших занятиях – «Общая теория Луны», – считался факультативным для всех, кроме нас с Митьком. Занятия вел доктор философских наук в отставке Иван Евсеевич Кондратьев. Мне он почему-то был несимпатичен, хотя никаких объективных поводов для неприязни я не имел, а лекции его были довольно интересными. Помню, свою первую встречу с нами он начал очень необычно – целых полчаса читал нам по бумажке всякие стихи о Луне; в конце он так сам себя растрогал, что пришлось протирать очки. Я тогда еще вел конспекты, и от этой лекции в них осталось какое-то бессмысленное нагромождение цитатных обломков: «Как золотая капля меда мерцает сладостно Луна… Луны, надежды, тихой славы… Как много в этом звуке… Но в мире есть иные области, Луной мучительной томимы. Для высшей силы, высшей доблести они навек недостижимы… А в небе, ко всему приученный, бессмысленно кривится диск… Он управлял теченьем мыслей, и только потому – Луной… Неуютная жидкая лунность…» И еще полторы страницы в том же духе. Потом он посерьезнел и заговорил официально, нараспев:

– Друзья! Вспомним исторические слова Владимира Ильича Ленина, сказанные им в тысяча девятьсот восемнадцатом году в письме к Инессе Арманд. «Из всех планет и небесных тел, – писал Владимир Ильич, – важнейшим для нас является Луна». […] В этом же курсе мы изучим две основные работы Ленина, посвященные Луне, – «Луна и восстание» и «Советы постороннего».

The translation gives no hint that half the quotes are hilariously distorted to drag in the Moon. The first, about the golden drop of honey, is unchanged, but it’s from a 1919 poem by Nabokov, long forbidden in the Soviet Union, and one wonders how many of the novel’s original readers were aware of its source. The second, about hope and quiet glory, is from a famous Pushkin poem, “К Чаадаеву” [To Chaadaev], but Pushkin has “Любви, надежды, тихой славы”: love, not the moon. The “how rich the meaning” part is also Pushkin, from Eugene Onegin VII:36, but there it is about Moscow, not the moon: “Москва… как много в этом звуке/ Для сердца русского слилось!” [in Nabokov’s version: “Moscow… how much within that sound/ Is blended for the Russian heart!”]. The lines about other regions oppressed by the tormenting moon are unchanged, but they are the first quatrain of a 1909 poem by Nikolai Gumilyov, shot by the Soviets in 1921 and as forbidden as Nabokov. The lines about a senselessly distorted disc are from the fourth stanza of one of Blok’s most famous poems, “Незнакомка” [The Stranger]; you can see a parallel translation here. The “flow of thought” quote is distorted from Pasternak’s 1928 poem “Высокая болезнь“; near the end come the famous lines about Lenin “Он управлял теченьем мыслей/ И только потому страной” — “He ruled the flow of thoughts/ And only for that reason [ruled] the country” — as you can see, the moon has replaced the country, and Bromfield’s translation has seriously distorted the meaning. And “The cheerless liquid moonness” is the start of a 1925 poem by Esenin.

The second paragraph begins with one of Lenin’s best-known quotes, «Вы должны твёрдо помнить, что из всех искусств для нас важнейшим является кино» [You must firmly remember that of all the arts for us the most important is cinema], but with the moon replacing the cinema. Later on in that paragraph his letter “Марксизм и восстание” [Marxism and Insurrection] has the moon in place of Marxism. And needless to say, Advice of an Onlooker has nothing to do with the moon.

In chapter 14, we get this:

On one occasion Comrade Kondratiev came on the radio to talk to me and began declaiming poetry about the moon. I was wondering how to ask him to stop without being offensive, when he began reading a poem that I recognised from the very first lines as a photographic image of my soul:

Life’s vital bonds we took for lasting truth,
But as I turn my head to glance at you,
How strangely changed you are, my early youth,
Your colours are not mine, and not one line is true.
And in my mind, moonglow is what I see
Between us two, the drowning man and shallow place;
Your semi-racer bears you off from me
Along the miles towards the moon’s bright face,
How long now since …

I gave a quiet sob, and Comrade Kondratiev immediately stopped.

Однажды на связь со мной вышел товарищ Кондратьев и начал декламировать стихи про Луну. Я не знал, как повежливей попросить его остановиться, но вдруг он стал читать стихотворение, которое с первых строк показалось мне фотографией моей души.

Мы с тобою так верили в связь бытия,
Но теперь я оглядываюсь, и удивительно –
До чего ты мне кажешься, юность моя,
По цветам не моей, ни черта не действительной.
Если вдуматься, это – сиянье Луны
Между мной и тобой, между мелью и тонущим,
Или вижу столбы и тебя со спины,
Как ты прямо к Луне на своем полугоночном.
Ты давно уж…

Я тихо всхлипнул, и товарищ Кондратьев сразу остановился.

The poem is a distorted version of the first two stanzas and the start of the last from Nabokov’s 1938 “Мы с тобою так верили”; the important substitutions are “это – сиянье Луны” [it’s the radiance of the Moon, Bromfield’s “moonglow is what I see”] for Nabokov’s “это как дымка волны” [it’s like water’s haze] and прямо к Луне [straight to the Moon, “towards the moon’s bright face”] for прямо в закат [straight into the sunset].

And chapter 15 begins (here I’ll use my own translation, because Bromfield skips the paragraph):

Socialism is the system of civilized cooperators with the monstrous Rasputin at its head, which is copied and photographed not only by large groups of collective propagandists and agitators, but by collective organizers, differing from each other by the place they occupy in a historically determined system of the use of airplanes against the needs and disasters of low-flying cavalry, which is dying, decaying, but just as inexhaustible as how we should reorganize Rabkrin.

«Социализм – это строй цивилизованных кооператоров с чудовищным Распутиным во главе, который копируется и фотографируется не только большими группами коллективных пропагандистов и агитаторов, но и коллективными организаторами, различающимися по их месту в исторически сложившейся системе использования аэропланов против нужд и бедствий низко летящей конницы, которая умирает, загнивает, но так же неисчерпаема, как нам реорганизовать Рабкрин».

This is a farrago of different bits of Leniniana. It starts with a shortened and reworded line from his 1923 О кооперации (“А строй цивилизованных кооператоров при общественной собственности на средства производства, при классовой победе пролетариата над буржуазией — это есть строй социализма”) [On Cooperation: “And given social ownership of the means of production, given the class victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie, the system of civilized cooperators is the system of socialism”]. There follows a bit from his March 1917 “Письма из далека” [Letters from Afar]; here’s more context:

The first revolution and the counter-revolutionary era following it (1907-1914) revealed all the essence of the royal monarchy, brought it to the “utmost limit”, exposed all of its rottenness and vileness, all the cynicism and depravity of the tsarist gang with the monstrous Rasputin at its head, all the barbarity of the Romanov family […]

Первая революция и следующая за ней контрреволюционная эпоха (1907—1914) обнаружила всю суть царской монархии, довела ее до «последней черты», раскрыла всю ее гнилость, гнусность, весь цинизм и разврат царской шайки с чудовищным Распутиным во главе ее, все зверство семьи Романовых […]

Then we get a bit of his 1909 Материализм и эмпириокритицизм [Materialism and Empirio-criticism]; more context:

Matter is a philosophical category denoting the objective reality which is given to man by his sensations, and which is copied, photographed and reflected by our sensations, while existing independently of them.

Материя есть философская категория для обозначения объективной реальности, которая дана человеку в ощущениях его, которая копируется, фотографируется, отображается нашими ощущениями, существуя независимо от них.

Then comes a reminiscence of his 1901 С чего начать? [Where to Begin?]:

A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organizer.

Газета — не только коллективный пропагандист и коллективный агитатор, но также и коллективный организатор.

Then a bit from his 1919 “Великий почин” [A Great Beginning]:

And what does the “abolition of classes” mean? All those who call themselves socialists recognise this as the ultimate goal of socialism, but by no means all give thought to its significance. Classes are large groups of people differing from each other by the place they occupy in a historically determined system of social production, by their relation (in most cases fixed and formulated in law) to the means of production, by their role in the social organisation of labour, and, consequently, by the dimensions of the share of social wealth of which they dispose and the mode of acquiring it.

А что это значит «уничтожение классов»? Все, называющие себя социалистами, признают эту конечную цель социализма, но далеко не все вдумываются в ее значение. Классами называются большие группы людей, различающиеся по их месту в исторически определенной системе общественного производства, по их отношению (большей частью закрепленному и оформленному в законах) к средствам производства, по их роли в общественной организации труда, а следовательно, по способам получения и размерам той доли общественного богатства, которой они располагают.

I haven’t been able to locate a source for the passage about airplanes and low-flying cavalry or the bit about decaying (he often said that about capitalism); the “inexhaustible” part is from his “Новейшая революция в естествознании и философский идеализм” (The Recent Revolution in Natural Science and Philosophical Idealism): “Электрон так же неис­черпаем, как и атом” [The electron is as inexhaustible as the atom]. And the last phrase is the title of his 1923 article “Как нам реорганизовать Рабкрин” [How We Should Reorganise the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection].

Whew, that was more work than I expected! But at least it may save someone else the trouble. A minor but striking aspect of the novel is the outburst near the start of chapter 12 (p. 99 of my 1992 first edition):

“Hey you, fuck your mother, you shitty faggot!” a monstrous bass voice boomed, full of passionate suffering, in my ear. “What are you up to there, jerking off?

– Ну ты, еб твою мать, пидарас сраный! – надрывным страданием взорвался в моем ухе чудовищный бас. – Ты что там, хуй дрочишь?

I’ve rarely been so taken aback (in a good way!); I had seen мат (obscene language) in Yuz Aleshkovsky’s Николай Николаевич [Nikolai Nikolaevich] (see this post), but that was first samizdat and then tamizdat (published abroad) — that kind of language was unthinkable in print in the Soviet Union. Suddenly there it was, for all to see, in an actual printed book available to all comers. A new world indeed, comrade!

And I’ve saved for the last one of the best, if hidden, jokes in the novel. In chapter 13, two of the characters bond over their love of Pink Floyd; they discuss the albums More (1969), Ummagumma (1969), Atom Heart Mother (1970), and Meddle (1971), as well as the band’s contribution to the soundtrack album Zabriskie Point (1970). We can thus confidently date the events of the “now” of the novel to 1972, because you know what album came out in early 1973? The Dark Side of the Moon.

Comments

  1. David Marjanović says

    We can thus confidently date the events of the “now” of the novel to 1972, because you know what album came out in early 1973? The Dark Side of the Moon.

    That repetitive thumping sound in the distance is Pelevin kicking himself for ever & evermore.

  2. I don’t know what you mean. That’s clearly a deliberate setup, like the dog that didn’t bark in the nighttime. He expects the reader to supply the omission. (The novel was written in 1991 and came out in 1992.)

  3. Now, if a Soviet era devil-may-care prankster casually slipped into a novel a made-up plausible quote by Lenin, would they be likely to get away with it? After all, it’s hard to prove the prolific Lenin did not write something.

  4. I’m curious — what was Lenin’s take on Pink Floyd?

  5. “what was Lenin’s take on Pink Floyd?”

    If not a fan, would that have made him The Grateful Dead?

  6. Lenin said: “I know of nothing better than Atom Heart Mother and could listen to it every day. What astonishing, superhuman music! It always makes me proud, perhaps with a childish naiveté, to think that people can work such miracles! … But I can’t listen to music very often, it affects my nerves.”

  7. Interestingly, both Roger Waters and David Gilmour disavowed Atom Heart Mother in later years. Although by that time, of course, they had left the struggles of the proletariat far behind, if indeed they had ever embraced them.

  8. The proletariat took drugs and went to laser shows like everyone else.

  9. Why did you stop? It’s getting better toward the end.

    “I want to say nice silly things and pat people on their heads who, living in a dirty hell, can create such beauty. But today you can’t pat anyone on the head, they’ll bite your hand off, and you must beat them over the head, beat mercilessly, though ideally we’re against all kinds of violence towards people. Hm-hm, – it’s a hellishly hard job!”

  10. “To the Marxist it is indisputable that a revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation; furthermore, it is not every revolutionary situation that leads to revolution. What, generally speaking, are the symptoms of a revolutionary situation? We shall certainly not be mistaken if we indicate the following three major symptoms:

    (1) when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the “upper classes”, a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for “the lower classes not to want” to live in the old way; it is also necessary that “the upper classes should be unable” to rule in the old way;

    (2) when the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual;

    (3) when, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in “peace time”, but, in turbulent times, are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis and by the “upper classes” themselves into independent historical action.

    Without these objective changes, which are independent of the will, not only of individual groups and parties but even of individual classes, a revolution, as a general rule, is impossible. The totality of all these objective changes is called a revolutionary situation.”

    As with other quotes, I recognized here “верхи не могут, низы не хотят“, but not what Pelevin used, he quotes words in vicinity of the idiom.

    The above is «Крах II Интернационала».

  11. The idiom about верхи и низы recembles words of «Маевка революционного пролетариата» and «Детская болезнь «левизны» в коммунизме» (“The Infantile Sickness of ‘Leftism’ in Communism.”) more – but those do not have “Обострение, выше обычного, нужды и бедствий угне­тенных классов” (or maybe have it in different paragraphs?).

  12. David Marjanović says

    The novel was written in 1991 and came out in 1992.

    Oh! I had gotten the impression it came out just too early to allude to the album, right after the present it describes.

  13. Vladimir Il’ich Lenin invented (introduced in revolutionary practice) close air support. I did not know, but see what Google has:

    Арсений Степанович Миловидов, ‎Владимир Георгиевич Козлов, «Философское наследие В.И. Ленина и проблемы современной войны», 1972:

    В сентябре 1919 года, когда продвижение конного корпуса белогвардейского генерала Мамонтова стало угрожать Москве, В. И. Ленин предсказал возможность эффективной борьбы с конницей низколетящей авиации. 4 сентября он писал в Революционный Военный Совет Республики: «(Конница при низком полете аэроплана бессильна против него)… Не можете ли Вы ученому военному X, Y, Z… заказать ответ (быстро): аэропланы против конницы? П р и м е р ы. Полет с о в с е м н и з к о. П р и м е р ы. Чтобы дать инструкцию на основании? «науки» … »[1]

    В ответ на это Реввоенсовет срочно сформировал авиационную группу особого назначения, которая вскоре приступила к практической реализации ленинской директивы. Авиация нанесла ряд успешных ударов по коннице Мамонтова. В произведениях В. И. Ленина мы видим поистине гениальную ….

    Каманин Николай Петрович, «Летчики и космонавты», М., Политиздат. 1972

    Появление у нас самолета ИЛ-2 не является счастливой случайностью. История его создания, как и история создания штурмовой авиации вообще, берет свое начало в годы гражданской войны. По этому вопросу есть исторические исследования. Укажу лишь на следующее.
    Во время гражданской войны вражеская конница наносила огромный ущерб нашим войскам. Нельзя ли против нее применить авиацию? Эту мысль высказал В. И. Ленин в известной записке Э. М. Склянскому:

    « 4.IX.1919 г.
    (Конница при низком полете аэроплана бессильна против него.)
    т. Склянский! Не можете ли Вы ученому военному X, Y, Z… заказать ответ (быстро): аэропланы против конницы? П р и м е р ы. Полет с о в с е м н и з к о. П р и м е р ы. Чтобы дать инструкцию на основании «науки»…
    Ленин»[5].

    Ленинская идея использования самолетов на поле боя была воплощена в боевую практику. Именно в годы гражданской войны советские летчики положили начало штурмовым действиям авиации. Известно, что во время налетов на белогвардейскую конницу Мамонтова и Шкуро советские летчики широко, применяли бомбометание и пулеметный обстрел вражеских войск с бреющего полета.
    Имели и мы, предвоенное поколение летчиков, опыт учебно-боевой работы штурмовой авиации, хотя специального самолета-штурмовика и специальной штурмовой авиации тогда не было.

    [5] В. И. Ленин. Полн. собр. соч., т. 51, стр. 43—44.

  14. 1972 both times is a coincidence. Or not quite.

    I wonder if Pelevin ever served in army, and when and whether it was Air Force?

    The connection between Lenin and close air support is not something anyone writing about aviation could miss: it does not matter what you are writing about, you support it with authoritative sources quotes from Marx, Engels and Lenin. Anyone who served in the Air Force would in turn read and listen to it and see numerous posters.

  15. The above is «Крах II Интернационала».

    Thanks very much for that and the aviation material! Never having served in the Soviet Air Force, I had no idea about Lenin and close air support.

  16. J.W. Brewer says

    If you are interested in the pre-’73 Pink Floyd repertoire, which neither Gilmour nor Waters have had much time for in recent decades, and will be in North America this coming Jan./Feb., you may want to buy a ticket for a show by Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, which is AFAIK the world’s only PF cover/tribute band that focuses exclusively on that early material. As well as the only one that happens to include an actual PF member. I saw them on a prior, pre-pandemic tour and enjoyed the performance; it looks like Boston is the closest they’re playing to Chez Hat this time around.

  17. I’m afraid I’m not a Pink Floyd fan, but I’ll let Omon and Lenin know.

  18. J.W. Brewer says

    Make sure Omon and Lenin know that the two gigs in Russia that were cancelled because of the pandemic have been rescheduled for late next May. I assume former president Medvedev probably already has his tickets.

  19. Trond Engen says

    Amund Ra was born and raised at the farmstead of Ra in the parish of Borre in Norway. How he rose to such fame in Egypt is not fully understood.

  20. I am due to see Nick Mason’s Saucerful in Spring next year, rescheduled several times from 2020 by the recent and current general Unpleasantness. On Saturday I saw Australian Pink Floyd in Bath, as it happens – they’re the outfit hired by Dave Gilmour’s wife to play at his 50th birthday as a treat, as of course he had never seen Pink Floyd (as indeed, neither have I).

    It was a very good and professional show with accurate sound and great lights, but it did concentrate too much for my taste on the stately Floyd behemoth albums of the mid-late 70s – Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall – with long songs of oppression and depression which, while each individually impressive, en masse do come on like a bit of a hectoring onslaught. I’d have liked a sprinkling of the earlier shorter (and sometimes funnier and more whimsical and ethereal) songs such as Julia Dream and See Emily Play, both under 3 minutes, and Bike, 3:22. Maybe Nick Mason’s outfit will scratch that itch.

    I have had Omon Ra sitting about for some years – probably I should read it!

  21. Do it! It’s fun (though grim in places, of course) and will surprise you.

  22. I see I bought the book in LA in 1998. So it has matured on my shelves.

    @drasvi – “I wonder if Pelevin ever served in army, and when and whether it was Air Force?”

    According to the English-language version of Wikipedia anyway, Pelevin had military connections: his father was “a teacher at the military department of Bauman University” and Pelevin himself had “a degree in electromechanical engineering” and “served in the Russian Air Force.[4] ”

    [4] being: “Виктор Пелевин: Оргазмы человека и государства совпадают!”. kp.ru. 2 September 2003. https://www.kp.ru/daily/23106/23029/

  23. I bought the book in 1998 as well. You have to let these things ripen.

  24. David Marjanović says

    Оргазмы человека и государства совпадают!

    …ddd’accord…

    *backing away slowly*

  25. “С тобою мы встретились в клубе / На комсомольском балу. / Ноги твои вонзили мне в грудь / Любви золотую стрелу.”

  26. Оргазмы человека и государства совпадают!

    Reminds me of old Soviet joke. In a village club, a lecture on love. Lecturer: “There many types of love. Love between husband and wife, love between a mother and her child, but the most refined love is between the people and the Party.”

  27. David Marjanović says

    In China during the Cultural Revolution, that was not a joke, it was a Red Song sung in earnest.

    Poe’s law.

  28. PlasticPaddy says

    Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
    Ephesians 5:22-33

  29. The Song of Songs, as we know, is about The People of Israel’s love for God / Christ’s love for the Church (your choice). I am not good enough of a theologian to discern which of these four actors the breasts like twin fawns belong to.

  30. David Eddyshaw says

    Happy to help: Israel, or for us Supercessionists, the Church. (The metaphor implies a thoroughly patriarchal view of sex.)

    Personally, I’m glad that this implausible spiritual reading allowed the compilers to smuggle frank erotic poetry into the canon. One feels that some fairly willing suspension of disbelief may have been involved.

    On a slightly different tack, mystical traditions, in Christianity and Islam both, have often used erotic imagery to picture the believer’s relationship to God. I am not cut out to be a mystic in the least, but I can at least see the logic of saying “Well, the love of God is not less intense than that …”

    Of course, applying this principle to states or political parties is something between blasphemous and grotesque, depending on your point of view of these things.

  31. Israel, or for us Supercessionists, the Church.

    Having an answer makes it worse. Forget I asked.

  32. David Eddyshaw says

    OK.

  33. Personally, I’m glad that this implausible spiritual reading allowed the compilers to smuggle frank erotic poetry into the canon.

    Did it, though? Isn’t the implausible reading a post hoc justification? The book was believed to be written by Solomon, they couldn’t leave it out. In any case, it is probably a mistake to think that the Jewish Bible is a collection of books about God and religion. Old Testament designation is somewhat misleading. There is plenty of stuff clearly about something else. Historical books are about (real or imagined) history and only tangentially about religion. Some writings (The Song, Esther, and Ecclesiastes too) have nothing religious in them at all. Yes, they are all read in the synagouge, but it is just a bunch of old Jewish writings. It’s inteesting how Christians justify keeping all this extraneous stuff in their canon. (I mean, aping Jews is a solid reason, but you cannot say it out loud)

  34. There is a long history of interpreting of Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa* as an erotic depiction of a woman experiencing god’s presence as a surge of pleasure, and certainly, there is something to said for this interpretation. The angel standing over her, mediating her divine experience as she is bathed from even higher above in heavenly light, is supposedly holding a spear (as described in one of the saint’s most famous visions). However, the shapes of the shaft and head are much more suggestive of an arrow, an attribute of Cupid. There has also been much comment on her open mouth, but ultimately I think the “orgiastic” suggestion some have seen in her expression is really only barely present. Her face is happily ecstatic, but it seems like a fairly peaceful ecstasy—neither highly sexualized, nor violent in the way Teresa described her vision of being pierced through and disemboweled by the glory of god.

    To be fair, I am not a great fan of Bernini, so it may not be surprising that this particular piece does not strongly speak to me. Bernini’s human figures, with their pronounced baroque stylization, just do not affect me very intensely. I don’t think that I have actually seen the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in person, but I have clear memories of seeing several of Bernini’s major works at the Borghese Gallery. His human figures unfortunately just seem unrealistic in number of ways that I rather dislike. On the other hand, I think Bernini may have been the greatest sculptor of textile surfaces ever. My favorite among his works is another statue of a woman in religious ecstasy—although it’s not Ludovica Albertoni but the bed she is lying on that I find really emotive.

    * Today I learned (or relearned, more probably) that Saint Teresa of Avila was named the first female doctor of the Catholic church in 1970. Although there was a long delay for that announcement, she had actually been canonized quite quickly, in 1622, only forty years after her death. Bernini started working on his commission to sculpt her in 1644, when her founding of the Discalced Carmelites was probably still within living memory.

  35. J.W. Brewer says

    A relevant wiki article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctor_of_the_Church somewhat hilariously labels the column in the table listing the Vatican-approved “Doctors” that gives the year of doctoral recognition as “Promoted,” as if a saint in heaven would care one way or another about what additional title mortal ecclesial bureaucrats had decided to affix to him or her. The table also lists some of the cool Homeric-epithet titles/nicknames some of the dudes have (“Doctor zelantissimus” or “Doctor melliflluus” etc.), but Theresa apparently doesn’t get one of those, not even “Doctor ecstatica.”

  36. Albertus Magnus is “Doctor universalis”. Does that cover every other category? Good thing they’re all saints and free of envy.

  37. as if a saint in heaven would care one way or another about what additional title mortal ecclesial bureaucrats had decided to affix to him or her

    Who knows? Maybe it’s like high school, with the various saints jockeying to sit at the cool table in the celestial cafeteria.

  38. I also liked those individual doctoral titles, which range from majestically expansive (such as Bernard of Clairvau being the doctor mellifluus) to prosaically descriptive (the Venerable Bede as Anglorum doctor). It’s also good to see Hildegard von Bingen among the doctors; my wife used to like to listen to her music a lot when we were in the car, and we called her “Hildy.”

    I already made a “promotion and relegation” joke about Christian religious writings less than a month ago, so I’ll just link to it, rather than repeating it here with only minor variation.

  39. J.W. Brewer says

    @Brett: Gravestones of members of the Salvation Army often give the date of death next to the word “Promoted” or the phrase “Promoted to Glory.” Whatever you might think of the use of military metaphors in an ecclesiastical context, they are committed to the bit.

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