Petersburg A Revelation

At last he managed to get away.

Now he must start striding; keep striding, and again striding – until his brain was completely stupefied, in order to collapse at a table in the eating-house – to reflect, and drink vodka.

Aleksandr Ivanovich remembered: the letter, the letter! He was supposed to have delivered the letter himself – on the instructions of a certain person: delivered it to Ableukhov.

How he had forgotten it all! He had taken the letter with him when he had set off then for Ableukhov’s – with the little bundle; he had forgotten to deliver the letter; had delivered it soon after to Varvara Yevgrafovna, who had told him that she was going to meet Ableukhov. That letter might have proved to be the fateful one.

But no, and no!

It was not that one; that one, the fateful one had, according to Ableukhov, been delivered at the ball; and – by some kind of masker … The masker, the ball and – Varvara Yevgrafovna Solovyova.

No, and no!

Aleksandr Ivanovich calmed down: so that letter was certainly not this one, the one that had been delivered by Solovyova and sent to him by Lippanchenko; so he, Aleksandr Ivanovich Dudkin, was not implicated in this matter; but – and this was the main thing: the dreadful commission could not have proceeded from the person; this was the principal trump card in his hands: a trump card that vanquished his delirium and all his delirious suspicions (those suspicions had rushed through his head when he had promised, vouched for the Party – for Lippanchenko, because Lippanchenko was his organ of communication with the Party); had he not had this trump card in his hands, if, that was to say, the letter had come from the Party, from Lippanchenko, then the person, Lippanchenko, would have been a suspicious person, and he, Aleksandr Ivanovich Dudkin, would have been associated with a suspicious personality.

And the delirious dreams would have arisen.

Hardly had he put all this together and was already preparing to cut across the flood of carriages in order to jump into a horse-car that was speeding towards him (there were, after all, no trams yet), than a voice hailed him:

‘Aleksandr Ivanovich, wait … Wait a moment …’

He turned round and saw that Nikolai Apollonovich, whom he had left an instant before, was running after him, panting, through the crowd – trembling and sweaty all over; with a feverish light in his eyes he was waving his stick over the heads of the astonished passers-by …

‘Wait a moment …’

Oh, good Lord!

‘Wait: I can’t just let you go like that, Aleksandr Ivanovich … Look, there’s something else I want to tell you …’ He took him by the arm and guided him to the nearest shop window.

‘Something else has been revealed to me … Was it a revelation I had perhaps – there, as I stood over the little tin? …’

‘Listen, Nikolai Apollonovich, I have to go now; and I have to go in connection with a matter that involves you …’

‘Yes, yes, yes: I won’t take a moment … Just a second, a third …’

‘Well – all right then: I am listening …’

Now Nikolai Apollonovich displayed in his appearance something that was quite simply inspiration; in his joy he had evidently forgotten that not everything had been untangled for him yet, and that – above all: the tin was still ticking, tirelessly traversing the twenty-four hours.

‘It was as though I had a revelation that I was growing; I was growing, if you know what I mean, into immeasurability, traversing space; I assure you that this was real: and all the objects were growing with me; the room, and the view over the Neva, and the spire of Peter and Paul; they were all swelling up, growing; and then the growing stopped (there was simply no more room left for growth anywhere, into anything); but in this fact, that it was ending, in the end, in the conclusion – there, it seemed to me, was some kind of another beginning for me: a post-terminal one, perhaps … Somehow it seemed extremely preposterous, unpleasant and deranged, – deranged – that was the principal thing; deranged, perhaps, because I didn’t possess an organ that would have been able to make sense of this meaning, which was, so to speak, post-terminal; instead of my sense organs I had a “zero” sense; and I perceived something that was not zero, and not one, but less than one. The whole absurdity was, perhaps, only that the sensation was a sensation of zero minus something – five, for example.’

‘Listen,’ Aleksandr Ivanovich interrupted, ‘I had rather you told me this: did you receive the letter through Varvara Yevgrafovna Solovyova? You did, didn’t you? …’

‘The letter …’

‘Not the little note … the letter that came through Varvara Yevgrafovna …’

‘Oh, you mean the one about that poem with the inscription “A Fiery Soul”?’

‘Well, I don’t know anything about that: in a word, the letter that came through Varvara Yevgrafovna …’

‘Yes, I got it, I got it … No – as I was saying, this zero minus something … What was that?’

Oh, Lord: still about the same thing! …

‘You ought to read the Apocalypse …’

‘I have heard from you before the reproach that I am unfamiliar with the Apocalypse; but now I shall read it – I shall read it without fail; now that you have finally put my mind at rest about … all this, I feel an interest awakening within me in the circle of your reading; you know, I shall settle down at home, drink bromide and read the Apocalypse; I’m most enormously interested: something has remained from the night: everything is what it is – yet different … For example, look, here: the shop window … And in the shop window there are reflections: there is a gentleman in a bowler hat walking past – look – off he goes … It’s you and I, do you see? And yet it’s – somehow strange …’

‘Yes, it is somehow strange,’ said Aleksandr Ivanovich, nodding his head in confirmation: Lord, but this fellow seemed to be a specialist in the field of ‘somehow strange’.

‘Or then again: objects … The devil only knows what they really are: they’re what they are – and yet different … I perceived that from the tin: the tin was a tin; and yet – no, no: it wasn’t a tin, but a …’


‘A tin with dreadful contents!’

‘Well, you’d do best to throw the tin into the Neva; and everything will come right again; everything will return to its place …’

‘No, it won’t, it won’t, it won’t …’

He sadly dodged the rushing couples; sadly he sighed, because he knew: it would not come right again, it would not, would not – not ever, ever!

Aleksandr Ivanovich was astonished at the flood of garrulity that had gushed from Ableukhov’s lips; to be quite honest, he did not know what to do with such garrulity: whether to try to calm him down, to support him, or, on the contrary – to break off the conversation (Ableukhov’s presence was simply weighing him down).

‘Nikolai Apollonovich, it’s just your sensations that appear strange to you; it’s just that you’ve been sitting too long with Kant in an unaired room; you’ve been struck by a tornado – and you’ve started to notice things about yourself: you have listened carefully to the tornado; and you have heard yourself in it … Your states of mind have been described in a variety of forms; they are the subject of observations, of study …’

‘But where, where?’

‘In fiction, in poetry, in the psychiatries, in occult resarch.’

Aleksandr Ivanovich could not help smiling at the scandalous (from his point of view) illiteracy of this intellectually developed scholastic and, having smiled, continued seriously:

‘A psychiatrist …’


‘Would call …’

‘Yes, yes, yes …’

‘All that …’

‘That everything is what it is, and yet different?’

‘Well, call it that if you will – for him the more usual term is: pseudo-hallucination …’


‘That is, a kind of symbolic sensation that does not correspond to the stimulus of a sensation.’

‘Well, so what: saying that is equivalent to saying nothing! …’

‘Yes, you’re right …’

‘No, it doesn’t satisfy me …’

‘Of course: a modernist would call this sensation the sensation of the abyss – that is to say, he would look for an image that corresponds to a symbolic sensation that is not normally experienced.’

‘So there’s an allegory here.’

‘Don’t confuse allegory with symbol; an allegory is a symbol that has become current usage; for example, the normal meaning of your “beside oneself”; while a symbol is your appeal to what you have experienced there – near the tin; an invitation to experience artificially something that you experienced for real … But a more suitable term would be a different one: the pulsation of the elemental body. That is precisely how you experienced yourself; under the influence of a shock the elemental body within you gave a perfectly real shudder, for a moment became separated, unstuck from your physical body, and then you experienced all the things that you experienced there: trite verbal combinations like bezdna (abyss) – bezdna (without a bottom) or vne … sebya (beside (outside) … oneself) acquired depth, became a vital truth for you, a symbol; according to the doctrine of certain schools of mysticism, the experiences of one’s elemental body turn verbal meanings and allegories into real meanings, into symbols; and it’s because the works of the mystics abound in these symbols that now, after what you have experienced, I advise you to read those mystics …’

‘I told you that I will: and – I will …’

‘And as for what happened to you, I can only add one thing: sensations of that kind will be your first experience beyond the grave, as Plato describes it, adducing in evidence the assertions of the Bacchantes … There are schools of experience where these sensations are deliberately provoked – do you not believe me? … There are: I can tell you that with certainty, because the only friend I have – and he is a close friend – is there, in those schools; the schools of experience transform your nightmare by means of hard work into a harmonious accord, studying its rhythms, movements and pulsations, and introducing all the sobriety of consciousness into the sensation of expansion, for example … But why are we standing here? We’ve talked for far too long … What you need to do is go home now and … throw the tin into the river; and stay at home, stay at home: don’t set foot anywhere (you are probably being followed); so stay at home, read the Apocalypse, drink bromide: you’re dreadfully exhausted … Though perhaps you’re better off without bromide: bromide dulls the consciousness; people who abuse bromide become incapable of doing anything … Well, and now I rush away, and – on a matter that concerns you.’

Having pressed Ableukhov’s hand, Aleksandr Ivanovich suddenly slipped away from him into the black stream of bowler hats, turned from that stream and shouted once more from there:

‘And throw the tin in the river!’

His shoulder adhered to the other shoulders; he was swiftly carried off by the headless myriapod.

Nikolai Apollonovich gave a shudder: life was bubbling in the little tin; the timing mechanism was working even now; he must go home quickly, quickly; in a moment he would hire a cab; when he got home, he would put the tin in his side pocket; and – into the Neva with it!

Nikolai Apollonovich again began to feel that he was expanding; at the same time, he felt: it was drizzling.