Bomb Explosion

Olga Rozanova, Vzorval' (1913)
Olga Rozanova, Vzorval' (1913)

Bomb Explosion — Rozanova

Olga Rozanova's image of explosion as radiating lines and other shapes from the center illustrates the futurist book of poetry by Alexey Kruchenykh titled Explodity (Vzorval') – a neologism of which there are many in Bely's novel, though less radical than Kruchenykh's. Explodity (1913) appeared the same year as the beginning of the serialization of Petersburg. In narrative terms, the bomb in the novel fragments and dissolves representation.

Bely compared his writing to an exploding bomb: "Мy creative work is a bomb that I throw; the shards of my work are the forms of art; shards of the seen — images of necessity that explode my life."

Andrey Bely, Apollon and Nikolay
Andrey Bely, Apollon and Nikolay (click to enlarge)

Petersburg, set during the 1905 revolution, narrativizes bomb–throwing terror in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century. The novel's subtext is the notorious assassination of the minister of the interior Viacheslav von Plehve in 1904, which is examined on Visions of Terror. Intended for senator Ableukhov, the bomb — "a sardine tin with horrible contents capable of turning everything into … slush" — explodes in his room at the novel's end, but without killing him. The bomb serves as the motor of Petersburg's plot, creating a thunderous roar as it explodes, but by failing to accomplish its political mission it averts parricide. Yet the father remains fearful of his son as we see in Bely's drawing of their final encounter, with the senator recoiling from Nikolay who is moving toward him. Strikingly, in this drawing and elsewhere, Bely reveals himself a master of representing both motion and emotion.

Satirical Journals

Voron cover
Voron cover (click to enlarge)

One of the results of the relaxation of censorship in 1905 was the rise of new satirical journals in which caricatures of bomb explosion abounded. The one on the cover of Voron (crow) represents government and military officials; Father Gapon, a priest who led a demonstration of workers to petition the tsar that resulted in Bloody Sunday, marking the beginning of the 1905 Revolution; at the top – reactionary chief procurator of the Holy Synod Konstantin Pobedonostsev; and just below him a little to the left, most likely prime minister Sergey Witte who helped draft the October Manifesto that contributed to the end of the revolution, as well as assuaged the censorship. As to Bely's Petersburg, Pobedonostsev served as a model for the senator, and Witte, Pobedonostsev's opponent, for Count W, the senator's opponent as well.

Sergey Witte
Sergey Witte
Voron cover
Voron cover characters
Konstantin Pobedonostsev
Konst. Pobedonostsev
Father Georgiy Gapon
Father Gapon
(click images to enlarge)
Shtyk cover
Shtyk cover (click to enlarge)

This is the cover of Shtyk (bayonet) that represents the dismembering of the body in a bomb explosion. The satirical journal was edited by the well-known humorist Arkady Averchenko in Kharkov. The caption by I.F. Gorbunov from Balloonist (Vozdukhoplavatel) reads: "a good life can't make you fly" (ot khoroshei zhizni ne poletish'). The dismemberment of the body here evokes one of the patricidal fantasies of the senator's son – he imagines his father's body splattered on a bloodied wall with scraps of skin sticking to it, with a shinbone intact, and recoils in horror.

Go here for more images of bombs and bomb explosions in Russian satirical journals.

Andrey Bely, Nikolay Apollonovich
Andrey Bely, Nikolay Apollonovich (click to enlarge)

Explosion and Astral Space

Images of explosion — not only of bombs, but of planets, crimson spheres, consciousness, thoughts, even clouds and fog — abound in Petersburg. They figure in Nikolay Apollonovich's astral journey, a dream, in which he enters the third dimension of theosophical spiritual space. The impetus is the bomb, the sardine tin with horrible contents. Its actual contemplation makes Nikolay's body goes limp, as we see in Bely's drawing. At the beginning of the dream he imagines swallowing the bomb, at the end — himself exploding. During the astral journey, which takes him back into a fantasmic past, he meets his Turanian ancestor who turns out to be his father.

Francesco Cabianca, Saturn
Statue of Saturn (click to enlarge)

The subsequent metamorphosis of Apollon Apollonovich into Chronos/Saturn, the god who devours his children, results in the father's apparent victory over his son. But when Nikolay returns to his material body from astral space, he turns the key of the bomb's clock mechanism that sets the patricidal plot in motion.

This statue of Saturn by Italian architect Francesco Cabianca (1716 - 1717) is located at the Neva entrance of the Summer Garden, close to the Ableukhov mansion on the Gagarin Embankment. When Nikolay goes to the park in one of Petersburg's chapters, he must walk by the statue, although there is no mention of it in the novel.

Thought Forms: Explosion Thought Forms: Explosive Anger Thought Forms: Murderous Rage Thought Forms: Sudden Fright
Thought Forms: Explosion, Explosive Anger, Murderous Rage, Sudden Fright
(click to enlarge)
Andrey Bely, Meditative Drawing 10
Andrey Bely, Meditative Drawing
(click to enlarge)

These images come from Thought Forms (1901), the title of the influential theosophical treatise on the dissolution of the material universe by Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater in which the astral plane figures prominently. From left to right they represent: explosion, explosive anger, murderous rage, and sudden fright. According to Besant and Leadbeater, thought forms were representations of mental, emotional, and spiritual states of heightened consciousness.

In Petersburg, such out–of–body states are experienced by the two Ableukhovs as well as by Dudkin. Bely most likely was familiar with the theosophist book, creating his own thought forms in the meditative drawings from the 1910s. He described Petersburg's characters as "thought forms" that hadn't yet reached consciousness, and the revolution as "the conventional dress of these thought forms."