According to Arkady Rovner — a Soviet-American poet and adherent of George Gurdjieff’s (1866–1949) metaphysical doctrine of the “Fourth Way”15 — Orientation became the pinnacle of the metaphysical wave in late-Soviet culture, the capstone and embodiment of the times: “[Orientation — North] accumulated within itself, as in a crystal, that which was strongest, most brilliant and most potent [in the underground of the 1970s and 1980s]. . . . It represents the pinnacle of what we sometimes call the Russian Bronze Age.”16Orientation
contains a multitude of parallels with Mamleev’s “Final Doctrine [Posledniaia doktrina
],” and Dzhemal frequently referred to his own philosophy as “the doctrine of Finalism [doktrina Finalizma
],” which he defined as a radical doctrine but not a “Traditionalist” one.17
According to Mamleev, these two works were conceived in dialogue with each other and are both interpretations of the Traditionalist philosophy:
Our common pursuits resulted in a teaching which we called “the Final Doctrine.” It is a purely metaphysical doctrine [whose] final form was already relatively established by the early 1970s. Afterward, Dzhemal stayed in Russia and I left. We both worked on the same doctrine [in the interim]. But, later on, our interpretations diverged. His interpretation is expressed in a book which made the rounds via samizdat . . . : Orientation—North
. My interpretation [of the Final Doctrine] appears in the last chapter of The Fate of Being
consists of 25 chapters: “Absolute,” “Awakening,” “Cosmos,” “Mind,” “Obscurantism,” “Illusion,” “Irony,” “Dormant,” “Art,” “Horror,” “Death,” “Vagina,” “Blessing,” “Messiah,” “Harlequin,” “Myth,” “Evil,” “Miracle,” “Phallos,” “Parabola,” “Messenger,” “Lightning,” “Spring,” “Love,” and “North.” Each chapter includes 72 clauses (theses), which normally consist of one sentence (occasionally broken into two items). In its aphoristic and laconic form, it is a stylization and subversion of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
(1921); it contains almost no arguments, preferring the mode of the maxim. In this work, Dzhemal develops a new language, along with a novel corpus of concepts (e.g., “Harlequin,” “parabolic invasion,” “beyond-being,” “inner corpse,” “the Absolute,” and “the Otherwise”) that were taken up by a broad circle of writers, artists, and musicians in the Moscow underground of the 1970s and 1980s and used as codewords for the “initiated” or “those in the know”; and again, in the 1990s, these watchwords would serve as tinder for a burgeoning counterculture of radical conservatism (represented primarily by Alexander Dugin, Eduard Limonov, and the National-Bolshevik Party).
In the text of Orientation
, one immediately perceives a gnostic line of enmity toward matter, as well as the notion of “awakening” as it is respectively propounded by Gurdjieff and Evola.19
In opposing the self-identity of the Absolute, Dzhemal provides an alternative philosophy of radical otherness and nonidentity; in other words, he describes a model of awakened consciousness that is separate from all objects (i.e., matter, extant things). According to this idea, mind and matter (or subject and object) are noncontiguous ontological orders — they are utterly independent and cannot be conjoined. Dzhemal speaks of a “negative polarity” of being and consciousness, which he places in the category of Spirit: “Being exists, but consciousness is what is not there.”20
Put differently, Being (existence) is an absolute object, while consciousness is Non-Being—a pure absence of Being that opposes it and around which Being is centered.
The concept of “North” enjoyed a marked popularity among the denizens of Moscow’s metaphysical underground. According to Dzhemal, “North” is not to be understood geographically, even if metaphors of the cold, freezing, and lifelessness are widely evoked by the dark underground and its contemporary heirs, such as the representatives of Russian alt-art. A significant expression of the poetics of “North” can be found in the Novonovosibirsk
series by Aleksei Belyaev-Guintovt and Andrei Molodkin (see Figure 1).21
On enormous 8 × 14 foot canvases they portrayed neoclassical sculptures for the new capital of the future Russian-Eurasian empire, Novonovosibirsk. The city was moved closer to the North Pole, the “geometric center of Eurasia.” This is an unpopulated and frigid utopia, a city for people of spirit, hyper-warriors, and conquerors of the North.
InDzhemal’s tract, “North” is the revolutionary opposition to the bestial world of phenomena, of “clay” (glina
) and the “South.” North is the vector of heroes who rise against the Evil Absolute and the Harlequin, its deputy on Earth. North is an approach toward absolute zero, the place where all things end and all life, created by the Evil Absolute, cools down:
5. North represents the rupture within continuous existence.
6. In the face of this pole, existence ceases and turns back on its heels . . .
11. North is the pole of the impossible.
25. Being outside of experience, North has no common measure with existence.
26. Therefore it is rooted in the absurd . . .
71. He who travels North does not fear the night.
72. Because light is absent in the skies of the North.22
The concept of a “man apart,” the Man of the North, was borrowed by Dzhemal from Julius Evola. Dzhemal also follows Guénon, admitting that North is not only the impoverishment of reality or the point that opposes the world. North is also the feminine manifestation of the Cosmos, that female orientation that places the subject who casts his glance toward the North in the masculine position. Consequently, those who turn toward the South (the male pole of the Cosmos) take the passive, feminine position.
Orientation toward the North (as the feminine manifestation of the Cosmos) with the goal of achieving sacred masculinity is reflected in the work of another Iuzhinskii leader— Evgenii Golovin. In both his lectures and his book Approaching the Ice Queen
, on the basis of alchemical and occult literature, European romanticism and black fantasy, Golovin develops the topic of poles as zones of the inhuman closely related to the symbolism of color white.23
Of special significance for Golovin in this regard are Edgar Allan Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket
(1838) and H. P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness
(1931).The Negative Theology of Protest and Political Post-Traditionalism
In Orientation — North
, the ethos of nonidentity with the mainstream and that of the underground reach a scale that far exceeds any mere political or cultural protest against Soviet rule. The Soviet regime is seen as an element of the rule of “Harlequin” or “Pharaoh,” that is, the deputy of the Great Creature, the Absolute. This kind of radical protest against the System was what distinguished members of the Iuzhinskii Circle from other underground communities of the time. Orientation
is a product of Dzhemal’s Traditionalist era; in agreement with the perennial view of Traditionalism, he calls for border crossings among various religious confessions and traditions. In the late 1990s, however, he went on to criticize Guénon’s Traditionalism, developing a concept he terms political post-Traditionalism
, through which he combines a philosophy of protest against the Absolute with a revolution of God against Fate, with monotheism and political Islam (Monotheism against Traditionalism). His public talk “Aryan Islam,” delivered in 1994 in Moscow at the State Museum of the East, presented Dzhemal’s first critique of Traditionalism.24
In it, he opposes the philosophical school of Traditionalism by setting it against Abrahamism, which he characterizes as the counter-Being of Revelation and an invasion of the supernatural into history — a witnessing Spirit that opposes Being.
According to Dzhemal, there is a direct connection between the world of ideas and that of politics; by way of radical political acts, one influences the dimension of the metaphysical and the sacred. The prophets (Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed), along with their followers, become the agents of protest in Dzhemal’s political occultism. In 1993, Dzhemal established a religious social organization known as the “Islamic Committee of Russia,” among the ranks of which were famous journalists Maxim Shevchenko (b. 1966) and Geidar Dzhemal’s son, Orkhan Dzhemal (1966–2018).25 In a cycle of lectures entitled “Tradition and Reality” published in his book The Revolution of Prophets (2003), Dzhemal provides a detailed account of his theology, in which the eponymous Prophets are to rise up against the Great Creature, Iblis, and his priests. However, Dzhemal’s version of political Islam is by no means a “confessional ghetto”; it is rather an open post-Traditionalist structure, a metaphysical Marxism for the 21st century.26Russia as a Zone of “High Metaphysical Lawlessness”