Petersburg The Last Judgement

Such was the condition in which he sat facing the sardine tin: seeing, but not seeing; hearing, but not hearing; as though, at that lifeless moment when this weary body crashed into the armchair’s black embrace, this spirit crashed straight from the parquet tiles of the floor into some kind of lifeless sea, an absolute zero degrees; and seeing, did not see; no, saw. When his weary head inclined soundlessly on to the table (and the sardine tin), looking at him through the open door to the corridor was the strange, bottomless thing that Nikolai Apollonovich had tried to throw off, passing to an everyday task: a remote astral journey, or sleep (which, we shall observe, is the same thing); and the open door continued to yawn amidst the everyday, opening in the everyday its un-everyday depth: cosmic immensity.

To Nikolai Apollonovich it seemed that from the door, standing in immensity, someone was looking at him, that some head was thrust through from out there (one had only to look at it and it vanished): the head of some god (Nikolai Apollonovich would have classified this head as the head of a wooden idol of the kind that one encounters even today among the peoples of the north-east who have inhabited the dim tundras of Russia from time immemorial). After all, it was precisely gods such as these to which, perhaps, in ancient times his Kirghiz–Kaisak ancestors had prayed; those Kirghiz–Kaisak ancestors had, according to legend, had dealings with the Tibetan lamas; they swarmed pretty massively in the blood of the Ab-Lai-Ukhovs. Was that not the reason why Nikolai Apollonovich had experienced a tenderness towards Buddhism? Here heredity was at work; heredity flowed into his consciousness; in his sclerotic veins heredity throbbed in millions of yellow blood corpuscles. And now, when the open door showed Ableukhov immensity, he treated this highly strange circumstance with due indifference (after all, this had already happened): and lowered his head into his hands.

Another moment – and he would have calmly embarked upon his usual astral journey, unfurling from his mortal shell a misty, cosmic tail, permeating through the walls into the limitless, but the dream was interrupted: ineffably, tormentingly, silently, someone was coming towards the door, churning up winds of non-existence: the terrible old days, like the advancing howl of a moving taxi, suddenly gathered strength in the sounds of an old song.

Nikolai Apollonovich sooner guessed than recognized that song:

‘Aa-ba-a-ate … un-re-est of the paa-aassions …’

And not long before, the machine had roared:

‘Fall asle-e-eep … thou ho-ope– …’

‘Aaah’ came a roar from the doorway: the horn of a gramophone? the horn of a taxi? No: in the doorway stood an ancient, ancient head.

Nikolai Apollonovich leapt to his feet.

An ancient, ancient head: Confucius or Buddha? No, the person who was looking in through the door was probably his great-great-grandfather, Ab-Lai.

The brightly-coloured, iridescent silk robe muttered and whispered; for some reason Nikolai Apollonovich was reminded of his own Bokharan robe, which had iridescent peacock feathers on it … The brightly-coloured, iridescent silk robe, on which small, sharp-beaked, golden, winged dragons crawled over a misty, smoky-sapphire field (and into it); the five-tiered, pyramid-shaped headdress with golden brims looked like a mitre; above the man’s head a many-rayed aureole both shone and crackled: a wondrous sight, and one familiar to us all! In the centre of this aureole a wrinkled countenance parted its lips in a Chronic aspect,12 the hallowed Mongol came into the brightly coloured room; and the breezes of millennia wafted in behind him.

For an initial moment Nikolai Apollonovich Ableukhov thought that Chronos had come to pay him a visit in the guise of his Mongol ancestor, Ab-Lai (that was what was concealed in him!); his gaze began to move restlessly: in the hands of the Stranger he sought the blade of the traditional scythe; but there was no scythe in his hands: in one yellowish hand, as fragrant as the first lily, there was only an oriental saucer with a small, sweet-smelling heap of pink Chinese apples: paradise apples.

Paradise was something that Nikolai Apollonovich rejected: paradise, or the garden (which, as he had seen, was the same thing) was incompatible in Nikolai Apollonovich’s mind with the ideal of the higher good (let us not forget that Nikolai Apollonovich was a Kantian; more than that: a Cohenite); in this sense he was a Nirvanic person.

By Nirvana he meant – Nothing.

And Nikolai Apollonovich remembered: he – the old Turanian13 – had been reincarnated a great number of times; had been incarnated today, too: in the blood and the flesh of a pillar of the nobility of the Russian Empire, in order to fulfil a certain ancient, secret purpose: to shake loose all the foundations; in the tainted Aryan blood the Ancient Dragon was to flare up and devour everything in flame; the ancient Orient was showering our time with a hail of invisible bombs. Nikolai Apollonovich – an old Turanian bomb – was now bursting with ecstasy, having seen his native land; on Nikolai Apollonovich’s face there now appeared a forgotten, Mongolian expression; now he looked like a mandarin of the Middle Empire, enveloped in a frock-coat for his arrival in the West (after all, he was here with a single and most secret mission).

‘Indeed, sir …

‘Indeed, sir …

‘Indeed, sir …

‘Very good, sir!’

It was a strange thing: how he suddenly reminded him of his father!

Thus the ancient Turanian, choking with ecstasy, enveloped for a time in a mortal Aryan shell, rushed towards the stack of old exercise books in which the theses of a system of metaphysics he had devised were sketched; both in embarrassment and in joy did he grasp at the exercise books: all the exercise books formed themselves before him into one enormous cause – the cause to which his entire life was devoted (they had come to resemble the sum total of Apollon Apollonovich’s deeds). The cause to which his life was devoted turned out to be not simply a cause of life: the continuous, enormous, Mongol cause could be glimpsed everywhere in the notes under all the headings and all the paragraphs: a great mission that had been entrusted to him before his birth: the mission of a destroyer.

This visitor, the hallowed Turanian, stood motionless: the darkness of his eyes, which were as dense as night, expanded; while his hands – his hands: rhythmically, melodically, smoothly they rose into the limitless heights; and his garments swished; their sound was like the trembling of passing wings; the smoky field of the background cleared, deepened and became a piece of distant sky, gazing through the torn air of this little study: that dark-sapphire crevice – how had it come to be in this bookcase-lined room? Into it flew the small dragons that were embroidered on the iridescent robe (indeed, the robe had become a crevice); in its depths small stars gleamed … And the olden days infused with the sky and the stars: and from there washed an indigo air, infused with stars.

Nikolai Apollonovich rushed towards the visitor – Turanian to Turanian (subordinate to superior) with a pile of exercise books in his hand:

‘Paragraph One: Kant (proof that he, too, was a Turanian).

‘Paragraph Two: value, conceived as no one and nothing.

‘Paragraph Three: social relations based on value.

‘Paragraph Four: the destruction of the Aryan world by a system of values.

‘Conclusion: the ancient Mongol cause.’

But the Turanian replied:

‘The task has not been understood: instead of Kant, it ought to be: The Prospect.

‘Instead of value it should be numeration: by houses, floors and rooms, for time everlasting.

‘Instead of a new order: the circulation of the citizens of The Prospect – regular, and in a straight line.

‘Not Europe’s destruction, but its unalterability …

‘That is what the Mongol cause is …’

To Nikolai Apollonovich it seemed that he was condemned; and the bundle of exercise books in his hands disintegrated into a small pile of ash; while the wrinkled countenance, horribly familiar, leaned right up against him: at this point he looked at an ear, and understood, understood everything: the old Turanian, who had once instructed him in all the precepts of wisdom, was Apollon Apollonovich; it was against him that, having misunderstood science, he had raised his hand.

It was the Last Judgement.

‘But how can this be? But who is this?’

‘Who is it? Your father …’

‘But who is my father?’

‘Saturn …’14

‘But how is this possible?’

‘Nothing is impossible! …’

The Last Judgement commenced.

Here indeed were some kind of dreams from the past; here indeed the planetary cycles rushed in a wave of billions of years: there was no Earth, no Venus, no Mars, only three nebulous rays revolving around the Sun; a fourth had just burst, and enormous Jupiter was preparing to become a world; only ancient Saturn was raising, from its fiery centre, black waves of aeons: nebulae raced; and now with Saturn, his parent, Nikolai Apollonovich was thrown into immensity; and only distances flowed all around.

At the end of the Fourth Kingdom he was on the earth, the sword of Saturn hung suspended like an unfinished thunderstorm; the continent of Atlantis collapsed; Nikolai Apollonovich, an Atlantean, was a depraved monster (the earth would not support him – had sunk beneath the waves); after that he was in China: Apollon Apollonovich, the bogdykhan,15 ordered Nikolai Apollonovich to slaughter many thousands (the order was carried out); and in comparatively recent times, when thousands of Tamerlane’s horsemen descended on Rus, Nikolai Apollonovich had come galloping into this Rus on his swift horse of the steppes; after that he was incarnated in the blood of a Russian nobleman; and resumed his old habits: and just as he had formerly slaughtered thousands there, now today did he want to tear and destroy: to throw a bomb at his father: to throw the bomb in the most swiftly passing interval of time. But his father was – Saturn, the circle of time made one turn, and closed; the Kingdom of Saturn returned (here his heart burst with sweetness).

The flow of time ceased to exist: for thousands of millions of years matter had ripened in the spirit; but he conceived a thirst to tear apart time itself; and now all was being destroyed.


‘You wanted to blow me to pieces; and so all is being destroyed.’

‘Not you, but …’

‘Too late: birds, animals, people, history, the world – everything is tumbling down, collapsing on to Saturn …’

Everything was falling on to Saturn; the atmosphere outside the windows was growing darker, blacker, everything had reverted to its ancient, incandescent state, expanding without limit, bodies ceased to be bodies; everything was whirling backwards – whirling horribly.

‘Cela … tourne …’ Nikolai Apollonovich began to roar in the most complete horror, having now finally lost his body, but without having noticed it …

‘No … Sa … tourne …’

Having lost his body, he none the less felt his body: a certain invisible centre, which had previously been both consciousness and ‘I’, turned out to possess a semblance of that previous, incinerated past; the premisses of Nikolai Apollonovich’s logic were wrapped in bones; the syllogisms around these bones were suddenly wrapped in tough sinews; while the contents of logical activity were covered by both flesh and skin; thus Nikolai Apollonovich’s ‘I’ again displayed a corporeal image, even though it was not a body; and in this non-body (the exploded ‘I’) an alien ‘I’ was revealed: this ‘I’ had come racing from Saturn and had returned to Saturn.

He sat facing his father (as he had been sitting earlier) – without a body, but in a body (there was a strange thing!): outside the windows of his study, in the most utter darkness, a loud muttering could be heard: ‘tourne – tourne – tourne’.

The chronology of the years was running backwards.

‘And what sort of chronology do we have anyway?’

But Saturn, Apollon Apollonovich, bursting into loud laughter, replied:

‘None, Kolenka, none: our chronology, my dear boy, is zero …’

The dreadful contents of Nikolai Apollonovich’s soul whirled restlessly (in the place where his heart ought to be), like a humming top: swelled up and expanded; and it seemed: the dreadful contents of his soul – a round zero – were turning into an agonizing sphere; it seemed: here was the logic – his bones would be blown to pieces.

It was the Last Judgement.

‘Ai, ai, ai: what then is “I am”?’

‘I am? Zero …’

‘Well, and zero?’

‘That, Kolenka, is a bomb …’

Nikolai Apollonovich realized that he was only a bomb; and he burst with a bang: from the place where Nikolai Apollonovich’s likeness had just emerged from the armchair and where now some kind of wretched broken shell (like an eggshell) was visible, a lightning-bearing zigzag rushed, falling into the black waves of aeons …

At this point Nikolai Apollonovich woke up from his dream; with a tremble he realized that his head was resting on the sardine tin.

And leapt to his feet: a terrible dream … But what was it? He could not remember the dream; the nightmares of his childhood had returned: Pépp Péppovich Pépp, who swelled up from a little ball into a mighty colossus, had evidently decided to lie quiet for the time being – in the sardine tin; his old childish hallucinations were returning, because –

– Pépp Péppovich Pépp, the little ball with dreadful contents, is quite simply a Party bomb: there it inaudibly chatters with its hands and second hand; Pépp Péppovich Pépp will grow bigger and bigger and bigger. And Pépp Péppovich Pépp is going to burst: everything is going to burst …

‘What, am I delirious?’

In his head again with horrifying swiftness began to whirl: but what was he to do? There was quarter of an hour left: should he give the key another turn?

He had already turned the small key twenty times; and twenty times something had hoarsely croaked in there, inside the little tin: for a short time his old hallucinations had gone away, so that morning could be morning, and afternoon could be afternoon, evening could be evening; at the end of the coming night, however, no movement of a key would be able to postpone anything: something would happen that would make the walls collapse, and the purple-illumined heavens blow into pieces, mingling with splattered blood into a single dim, primordial darkness.