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This review is taken from PN Review 55, Volume 13 Number 5, May - June 1987.

PLAYING IN EARNEST Andrey Bely, Selected Essays, edited, translated and with an introduction by Stephen Cassedy (University of California Press), £29.75

Andrey Bely (Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev) belonged to a generation of European thinkers in flagrant rebellion against constraints of any kind, but most particularly against the law of cause and effect, and hell-bent on breaking down all the walls - moral and metaphysical - erected by post-Renaissance thinkers to protect the individual and society from encroaching chaos. 'Papa Kant, the old monkey', Bely declared in a moment of youthful ebullience, 'has been finally demoted from his place as watchman before the locked doors of eternity . . .'

In the first essay translated in this book, Bely writes: 'After the crisis in thought, it was inevitable that art should come forth to take the place of philosophy as the guiding beacon of mankind' (p. 76). One of the basic tenets of Symbolism in Russia and elsewhere was the belief - derived primarily from Schopenhauer - that art had an epistemological function, in so far as art alone was seen as capable of catching (on the wing, as it were) the moment of intuitive perception and of communicating that perception directly from one subject to another. The law of cause and effect was experienced as a prison which the subject (the individual) must either accept with quiet resignation, or from which he must struggle to escape. The great escapee was Friedrich Nietzsche who, after a sustained attack on discursive logic - on which he turned its own weapons - had launched out into a new form of philosophy: the ...

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