Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Prophecy of the Third Act of the Undivine Comedy

"Atheism is an old formula. I expected something new from you."
- Henry to Pankracy, the revolutionary

"This is the dance of a Free People. Men and women dance around a guillotine and sing."
- The Neophyte revolutionary

"What an ugly corpse."
- The Neophyte revolutionary, on the death of the worker
The Undivine Comedy, Act III


The third act of Zygmunt Krasiński's Undivine Comedy is perhaps the greatest masterpiece of European literature ever written. The work of Europe's greatest poet bards, from Shakespeare to Goethe, pale by comparison. The prose bristle with the energy of Krasiński's relative youth as a writer, his wisdom all the more pronounced, the prophetic weight of his words all the more permanent. Krasiński's prose are no mere account of French revolutionary fervor, they are a prophetic warning of times to come - times we would do well not to consider past on account of the collapse of communism and fascism - for the ominous foreboding omnipresent within Krasiński's vision may yet be upon us.

Krasiński paints a picture of a Europe whose old elites have fallen on account of their corruption, which gave birth to a new, revolutionary religion of freedom defined as the idea of license with murder as the highest expression of this new liberty. Henry, the aristocrat who - like his fellows - erred in succumbing to temptation, but was saved from the abyss in order to suffer the consequences of his betrayal - represents the tragic soul of Western civilization, having lost its chance at attaining a noble life, left only to refuse temptation in pursuit of a noble death. The last bastion of Western civilization, in Krasiński's prophetic vision of the fate of Europe, is Poland - the oasis to which the remnants of Christian culture in the West flock to make their last stand against Western Satanism.

Krasiński's revolutionaries are self-proclaimed gods, Henry correctly identifies them as a "new aristocracy", with a new religion - albeit possessed of an ancient core: Satanism. Krasiński's brilliant prose juxtapose every revolutionary ideal with a uniform revolutionary practice: murder. For example, the metaphysical liberation of women takes place abreast  the physical murder of their husbands. Men of principle are not judged merely in the intellectual sense - they must demonstrate their fidelity to the new age in blood. The rivers of blood that Krasiński prophesies are aimed at the creation of a new race:

"The Earth has yet to see such men. They are free. They are her masters from pole to pole. The Earth is their city: one city, blossoming, one happy household, one workshop of wealth and industry"

Krasiński offers no contrast to this earthly paradise beyond the paradise of Christian martyrdom. There is no political mechanism by which to avoid this fate. When Henry betrayed his wife, drawn by the temptations of the demon dressed in the flesh of beauties long dead, he irretrievably lost the old world of order and happiness. He is now condemned, as Europe condemned itself, to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. At the end of his sojourn he is once again tempted. Yet this time the alternatives are revolutionary freedom or Christian death - Krasiński sees no middle ground.

In this despair we remind ourselves that only the miracle of the resurrection, only the intervention of God, can organize what Krasiński claims cannot by itself be reordered. We, like Henry, must recognize that the poetic spirit of mankind is - like the poetic soul of his son - a conduit for the word of God and the happiness of everlasting life. Krasiński's play leaves no room for political mediation: class warfare is inevitable, Armageddon is now. The role of the Christian is to resist temptation and die in the calm faith that God will resolve the calamities of the time.

Krasiński portrays the human attempt at negotiating a resolution to the crisis through the common thread linking religion and revolution: the poetic soul. Pankracy's curiosity and understanding that amongst the nobility there did exist exemplary men of ancient virtue, combined with Henry's humane manners, offers the potential for reconciliation between the remnants of the old world and the revolutionary vanguard. Henry may well have believed Pankracy and found himself swept away by the tide of romantic revolutionary fervor if not for his earlier experience with the demon who turned him away from his wife and lay at the root of his personal tragedy.

By juxtaposing Henry's personal temptation in Act I with his political temptation in Act III, Krasiński makes clear that Satan seeks to condemn mankind by corrupting his personal morals in order to then corrupt his public morals. The goal, as the Neophytes proclaim, is to crucify Christ once again - only this time ensure that no resurrection takes place. This renewed crucifixion takes place first in the intimacy of the human heart (as it did in Henry's heart, gone insane with love for the demon woman and blinded to the tender and immediate care his wife attempted to give him), and then in the public realm.

The murderous revolution Krasiński paints in the third Act is composed of the crimes of individuals all of whom have followed their own personal demon. It is the fact that Henry himself allowed his heart to be tempted that makes Pankracy confident that he can turn the aristocrat to the side of the revolution once again. He is sorely disappointed when it turns out that Henry prefers a Christian death. Yet Krasiński's drama does not leave us with a sense of triumphant satisfaction - for Henry's decision to die well rather than live badly is indicative of the ultimate failure of human reason to remedy the illnesses of the times. Krasiński does not offer up a remedy for revolution, but only an illustration of the end of the world.

Picture: Ilya Glazunov's Mystery of the XXth century serves as the perfect illustration of Krasiński's third act.

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