- Western Esotericism in Russian Silver Age Drama: Aleksandr Blok’s The Rose and the Cross
Lance Gharavi’s Western Esotericism in Russian Silver Age Drama: Aleksandr Blok’s The Rose and the Cross is described by its publishers as “two books in one,” because it contains two distinct sections. The first section contains Gharavi’s introduction to and extensive commentary on Blok’s 1913 play, The Rose and the Cross, and the second section contains his new translation of the play. Rather than being “two books in one,” however, the two sections of the book work together to give it a sense of comprehensive wholeness. Gharavi has presented well-documented, scholarly commentary that allows even the novice reader to comprehend various aspects of the esoteric and occult symbolism within Blok’s often-misunderstood play. He has also produced an accessible and stage-worthy version of the play. More importantly, the method by which Gharavi illuminates the esoteric symbolism within the play can be applied to other similar dramas written during the Occult Revival, which thrived in Europe and the United States at the turn of the twentieth century.
The book’s introduction discusses the Occult Revival, its relationship to the Russian Silver Age, and, of course, Blok’s place within this complex social and artistic milieu, thus establishing the centrality of the occult, esotericism, and mysticism to Blok’s writing, and, more specifically, to The Rose and the Cross. Gharavi details the close interaction between those who experimented with theatre and those who experimented with esoteric religion and spirituality during the Silver Age, noting that Blok was one of many individuals during this period who “attended meetings of the St. Petersburg Religious-Philosophical Society, the Wednesday gatherings at Ivanov’s ‘Tower,’ and other salons where symbolist writers and other artists and philosophers of the new religious consciousness met to read poetry and discuss issues of mutual interest” (4). The author also notes that although Blok’s relationship to the occult and esotericism was “hard to pin down,” mysticism [End Page 501] always “permeated his writing” (5). This introduction is followed by three chapters that separately consider the symbols, characters, and action of The Rose and the Cross.
Gharavi offers a theoretical framework for his “exegesis of symbolic images, characters, relationships, and actions in The Rose and the Cross” that is based on three sets of diametrically opposed terms (6). The first pair of terms is “center,” which suggests a point of view in which everything in the universe is understood as outside of and distinct from the self, and “circumference,” which indicates the view that the universe is inside of and part of the self (10–11). The next pair is “myth,” which indicates a perspective in which “everything that is” is perceived as being “located inside the imagination,” and “antimyth,” which signifies “the externalization and objectification of all that is” (11). Finally, Gharavi juxtaposes the term “negation,” which refers to “a binary . . . in which one of the constituents is privileged over the other,” with “contrary,” which is a binary in which two concepts are “simultaneously the same and different and neither merely the same nor merely different” (11).
These literary terms acknowledge the limitation of dichotomous views and suggest the possibility of finding harmony between apparently disparate concepts. Gharavi uses these terms to discuss a central concept within The Rose and the Cross: the esoteric concept of correspondences. Esoteric correspondence theory asserts, on the one hand, that the wholeness of the universe (macrocosm) is contained in the smallest particle of matter (microcosm) and, on the other hand, that the microcosm contains the wholeness of the macrocosm. By focusing on correspondence theory, which both affirms and rejects dichotomous relationships between things and ideas, Gharavi manages to speak in depth about the mystical perspective permeating Blok’s play.
By translating The Rose and the Cross, Gharavi has done theatre scholars and artists a service. This story of a tired knight’s (Betran) struggle to find the...