Published on September 27, 2007
Gogol at the Edge of Being: Gogol at the Edge of Being Nikolai Gogol 1809-1852 Slide2: All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Why am I just a titular councillor? : Why am I just a titular councillor? A court chamberlain doesn’t have a third eye in the middle of his forehead, and his nose isn’t made of gold either. It’s just like mine or anyone else’s: he uses it to sniff or sneeze with, but not for coughing. Several times I’ve tried to discover the reason for these differences. Why am I just a titular councillor? Perhaps I’m really a count or a general and am merely imagining I’m a titular councillor? Perhaps I don’t really know who I am at all? […] I should like to know why I’m a titular councillor? Why precisely a titular councillor? (DM 32) he was fated to be a titular councillor : he was fated to be a titular councillor And that was how he became Akaky Akakievich. The child was christened and during the ceremony he burst into tears and made such a face it was plain that he knew there and then that he was fated to be a titular councillor. […] Subsequently everyone came to believe that he had come into this world already equipped for his job, complete with uniform and bald patch. (DM 73) Petersburg Tales: Petersburg Tales The Overcoat (1842) - outer garment as vestimentary marker Diary of a Madman (1835) - linguistic expression of inner thoughts The Nose (1835) - bodily organ with independent life Akaky’s life of copying: Akaky’s life of copying [changing a few verbs from the first person to the third] caused him so much trouble that he broke out in a sweat, kept mopping his brow, and finally said: “No, you’d better let me stick to plain copying”. After that they left him to go on copying for ever and ever. Apart from this copying nothing else existed as far as he was concerned. (DM 75) Appendage and displacement: Appendage and displacement “The Overcoat” both draws on and transcends the best of Gogol’s previous work. […] Like “Diary of a Madman”, it deals with the privations of a petty clerk and with his pathetic rebellion; like “The Nose”, it is filled with spurious logic and shot through with absurdity. Like all the stories, it deals with displacement. […] Donald Fanger Outline and inversion: Outline and inversion Outline: at the edge of being Inversion: of being at the edge Latitudes 50o to 60o N: Latitudes 50o to 60o N Kiev to Petersburg “Thoughts on Geography (for children)”: “Thoughts on Geography (for children)” In the first [stage the child] must familiarize himself with no more than a comprehensive outline of the whole world, and such an outline will awaken his attention fully and show him the entire breadth and colossality of the world of geography. Ukraine: Ukraine Krai = border, edge, brink U = by, at Krainii = extreme Kiev (Kievan Rus) – Moscow - Petersburg Petersburg Notes of 1836 : Petersburg Notes of 1836 Indeed, where was the Russian capital cast - to the edge of the world! The Russian people are strange: the capital was in Kiev - too warm; not cold enough; the Russian capital moved to Moscow, but no, it isn’t cold enough there either: by God let’s have Petersburg! The Russian capital will do a keen trick if it snuggles up to the icy pole. I am saying this since its mouth waters just to get a closer look at the polar bears. ‘Seven hundred versts just to run away from Mother Moscow! What restless feet!’ - say the people of Moscow, screwing up their eyes at the Finnic land. But then, what weird wilderness lies between the mother and son. ... Petersburg Notes of 1836 : Petersburg Notes of 1836 But what a difference, what a difference there is between the two! She is still a Russian beard, but he is already a punctilious German. How old Moscow has spread out and broadened! How disheveled she is! How the dandy Petersburg has drawn himself together, standing at attention! There are mirrors on every side of him; the Neva here, the Gulf of Finland there. He always has something in which to see himself. Arabesques (1835): Arabesques (1835) Edgar Allan Poe, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840) Friedrich Schlegel (1800) defined arabesque as “centring on the blending of heterogeneous elements, notably chaos and system” Russia as mixture of chaos and system Russia as chaos and system: Russia as chaos and system Petersburg - new and strange city as a distorting mirror Cossacks - consist of “European caution and Asiatic carefreeness, simplicity and cunning, strong vitality and lethargic comfort, attempts at development and perfection - and at the same time the desire to appear contemptuous of every perfection.” The Cossacks: The Cossacks Because of this intermixing, their facial features, at first so different, acquired a common, more Asiatic appearance and that’s how the nation came into being, belonging to Europe by faith and habitat, but completely Asiatic in lifestyle, customs and dress; a nation in which two opposing parts of the world, two vastly different elements, collided with such strange results: European caution and Asiatic carefreeness, simplicity and cunning, strong vitality and lethargic comfort, attempts at development and perfection - and at the same time the desire to appear contemptuous of every perfection. [Arabesques 108] Inversions in Gogol’s work: Inversions in Gogol’s work Formal: in madman’s diary Verbal : nos (nose) > son (dream) Situational: face of the nose; ghost’s cloak Plot: life of “dead souls”; frame of “portrait” Device: “laughter through tears” Intertextual: Pushkin; Lermontov Cosmic: “Much in history is decided by geography” Parodies of Peter: Parodies of Peter Peter the Great (founder of Petersburg) Important Personage (architect of Akaky’s misfortune) Petrovich, “son of Peter” (designer of the overcoat Ending of The Portrait (1835): Ending of The Portrait (1835) Here the narrator stopped and the people in the audience, who had given him their undivided attention, involuntarily turned their eyes to this strange portrait and, to their surprise, noticed that its eyes had lost all that strange lifelike quality which had so struck them at first. And their amazement was increased even more when the features of the strange picture almost imperceptibly began to disappear as does one’s breath from the surface of clear steel. Only a vague outline remained on the canvas. And when they drew nearer, they saw a certain unfamiliar landscape. Thus the visitors, who were already moving off, remained puzzled for a long time: had they really seen a mysterious portrait, or was it all just a dream, momentarily appearing before their eyes, which were strained by prolonged examination of antique pictures? Boris Eikhenbaum on Gogol: Boris Eikhenbaum on Gogol The centre of gravity is transferred from the theme (which is here reduced to a minimum) to the narrative devices, the most important comic role is given to puns.... Comical effects are achieved by the manner of narration. As always in Gogol, these sentences stand outside of time, outside the moment - motionless and once and for all: language in which puppets might talk. Equally contrived is Gogol’s own language - his narration. Boris Eikhenbaum on Gogol: Boris Eikhenbaum on Gogol The style of the grotesque demands, in the first place, that the described situation or event be contained in a world small to the point of the fantastic, of artificial experiences ... completely cut off from the larger reality ... Gogol valued just this fantastically limited, closed-in structure of thoughts, feelings and desires within the narrow boundaries of which the artist is at liberty to exaggerate details and upset the usual proportions of the world. The grotesque: The grotesque Defining feature of the grotesque, according to Eikhenbaum, is that the small is exaggerated, while the great is minimized. This is the master inversion of all Gogol’s fiction that determines all the other inversions. What we would normally regard as important, we see only in outline, while what we would normally overlook is subject to the most minute examination. Slide24: True life is lived when tiny changes occur.