'If I had been Lenin I would have introduced the concept "shit" instead of "matter". Shit is primary. How does that sound?! But it's not only primary. It's secondary, as well. And that puts paid to all philosophical argument.' So much for dialectical materialism, a philosophy for which Alexander Zinoviev feels a professional scorn. Zinoviev's academic speciality is logic, and his main work in that field (popularised in a forbidding volume called Logical Physics) is an analysis of the cogency and implications of the language of science. The results of this analysis are frequently counter-intuitive, apparently, but tell us nothing about the world: 'the sphere of application of logic is language and only language.' This is a rarified subject, but we are all familiar enough with the habits of thought subsumed under 'dialectical logic' not to be surprised that Zinoviev should also be the source of a gross and unstanchable flow of satire. The Madhouse, which dates from 1980, is the latest of his novels to be published here in translation. Since then, Zinoviev has turned to the subject of émigré life, but The Madhouse concerns the thoughts and fate of an intellectual misfit in Russia.
LRB 18 September 1986 | PDF Download