Gogol's Art : A Search for Identity

by Laszlo Tikos

Copyright © 1996 Laszlo Tikos
Gogol's Art was published in paperback in 1997 by Bati Publishers, PO Box 263, Leverett, MA 01054. (Price $15). You can reach the author at that address or by email at Tikos@slavic.umass.edu.

Permission is granted to make and distribute complete verbatim electronic copies of this text for non-commercial purposes provided the copyright information and this permission notice are preserved on all copies. All other rights reserved.

The book CD "Gogol and Russian Literature" is built around Gogol's Art: a Search for Identity by Laszlo Tikos, the best book ever written about Russia's most enigmatic and intriguing author. Nikolay Gogol (1809-1852) created a new direction in Russian letters, which was further developed in the 19th century by writers like Dostoyevsky and Rozanov, and in the 20th century by Bely, Bulgakov and Sinyavsky. In addition to Gogol's Art, this CD includes the full text of Dead Souls, Tara Bulba, The Inspector General, and St. John's Eve by Gogol, plus great books by Dostoeyevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Pushkin, Turgenev, Andreyev, Gorky, Kuprin, and Lermontov, plus works on Russian history, plus two "Country Studies" -- Russia and Belarus (birthplace of Gogol) -- which were originally published as printed books by the Library of Congress between 1987 and 1995. For details, see our online store http://store.yahoo.com/samizdat/russian.html


Table of Contents

Introduction

Chapter One -- First Literary Attempts : Poetry

Chapter Two -- The Ukrainisation of European Romanticism. First Attempts in Prose.Fragments.

Chapter Three -- The Wedding: The Central Organizing Force in the Early Short Stories: The Dikanka Cycle

Chapter Four -- Paradise Lost : Mirgorod

Chapter Five -- Arabesques: The Portrait.Nevskij Prospect. The Notes of a Madman

Chapter Six -- The Petersburg Stories: The Nose.The Overcoat.The Carriage. Rome.

Chapter Seven -- Dramatic Works: The Marriage. The Inspector General. The Gamblers. Fragments.

Chapter Eight -- Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends. Testament. Introduction. The " Women" Question. General Advice.Literature, Art. About The Dead Souls. Russia, Religion, Church.

Chapter Nine -- Dead Souls

Instead of an Epilogue

Bibiliography, Notes


Introduction

"For an artist the greatest thing is to find one's nature "1

Fate and freedom of choice , determinism and personal decision as eternal opposites, these are eternal concerns in art. Job, Oedipus Rex, Orestes all provide ancient examples of man's predicament in facing life's paradoxes.

Nikolay Vassilyevitch Gogol ( 1809-1852 ) , one of the most brilliant Russian 2 writers of the 19th century , usually associated with comedy , also portrayed heroes who move in a fate-dominated world as the reader watches their tribulations with anguish and incredulous laughter . So, for example, in one of his most celebrated masterpieces : "The Overcoat " Gogol wrote about the baptism of his hero , that he was " fated " to be called Akaki Akakievich " ..it could not have happened otherwise " , he says. Were there indeed no other possibilities ? The author convinces us that there was, indeed, no other choice .

By extension, the same could be said about the author himself. Born Ukrainian , he was "fated " to become the great Russian writer, to whom the much quoted compliment was paid already during his lifetime . As F.M.Dostoyevsky tells us : " We all came out of Gogol's Overcoat "

But how does one " become " a writer ?A.Sinyavskij (Abram Tertz) , a " Gogolian " writer himself, points out in his prison memoirs ( A Voice from the Chorus ) : " One falls into the profession of being an artist as having been born , one falls into the profession of living ".3Thus, to quote again Gogol's words about Akaki Akakievich's baptism : " nothing could be done about it".

In this sense Gogol's success as a writer, and his tribulations as an artist and person originate from the same source: his realization that he could not help writing. This fate, as Donald Fanger so perceptively has observed , created Gogol's life-long agony and preoccupation which became an absolute in his development : "the creation of his own self as a writer" 4

Contemporary witnesses unanimously testified 5 that Gogol was a great story teller, and reader of his own stories ( even though often times a reluctant one ).It was not just " literature " that he performed. He was just as keen to tell anecdotes, jokes, to read plays, so that his audience was vividly carried to the stage by this single voice which appeared to be performing for a whole cast. But he was just as deeply touched by Ukrainian folk songs, and if these were sung or performed for him, he was usually happy to join in the singing. He also had a keen ear for language , he was a great collector of words,in particular of local or strange expressions ; he was interested in botany, for instance, learning the Latin and popular names of all kinds of plants and flowers . On the other hand, as all contemporaries also agree, and his later works indicate, Gogol lived a tortured life whose agony became increasingly obvious with advancing age. Inquiries into the nature of his affliction had been the study of many biographies , and critical investigations -- with widely different conclusions. For this present work, we accept as a starting point Fanger's insight that Gogol's agony was connected with the difficulties that he experienced as a professional writer and the fact that the parameters of his profession were never clearly delineated nor defined in his mind. Add to this perception the particularly Russian phenomenon of the 19th century which, while keeping writers and artists in a specially high esteem, expected of them revelations , the solution of "those accursed questions", as Dostoevsky put it . Wanting to respond to such a vaguely formulated challenge , Gogol created an astonishing and fascinating literary output, which in many cases remained and still remains an enigma . The century and a half since his death produced a huge body of critical literature, 6 which by now vastly surpasses the actual volume of Gogol's own writings, and it seems that every generation since his death felt called upon to struggle with the meaning of his art anew.

The purpose of this present attempt is a reappraisal of Gogol's art, especially an investigation of the development of a leitmotif, the " svoe mesto "( one's own place ") , as he called it, in his art. Other attempts of a similar nature have already been undertaken,and many with great distinction: Donald Fanger's The Creation of Nikolai Gogol , for instance, or Simon Karlinsky's Gogol's Sexual Labyrinth 7are more recent publications.Their work provided Gogol scholars , including the author of this study , with invaluable insights ; but still this present work argues for a different perspective , a different vision in deciphering Gogol's creation .It focuses not so much on a conflict between form and content ( Fanger ), on such biographical issues as homosexuality ( Karlinsky ) , or on a religious crisis ( Mochulsky ), 8 but rather on what this writer considers to be one of the most salient and permanent features of Gogol's work : his quest for " his own place", or " svoe mesto " ,his particular slant on a passionate search for an identity that was uniquely his own. This quest has many facets, including the very simple exploration of a character, the experiments with the language and definitions, topics with which this author has chosen to deal with as dominant influences , even to Gogol's the metaphysical quest for a "Holy Grail".

It is the thesis of this volume that the older Gogol grew, the more torturous this question became; if there was any single reason for his developing something that would nowadays be called nowadays a " writer's block ",which probably caused his early death , this would certainly be high on the list of probable causes. Through a reappraisal of his fiction I hope to demonstrate the development of this problem. Many great artists pursue a single persistent vision throughout their artistic creation , or at least so it appears in retrospect. Gogol is no exception . It is precisely this search for "one's own place " and for the " real meaning " of art that unites him with other great writers of the world : Dante, Cervantes, Goethe , Dostoevsky ,Tolstoy .

Gogol's struggle for his"own creation "shows him in his "real" element as the artist " on the road " , the man who never called a house or a place his own, who always lived with or sponged on his friends, because - to quote Dostoevsky' again - " he had nowhere to go" 9. This is the quality that makes him Russian literature's first " homeless "writer -- "Bezdomnyj " 10 to use Bulgakov's apt word --, or the modern age's "unbehauster Mensch " 11.Our predecessor -- and our contemporary.

*****

This book is the result of many years of reading and studying Gogol and his fellow Russian writers, during my teaching courses on Russian Literature at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst MA. and at other Universities: at the University of Tuebingen Germany, my second "alma mater" and in Gogol's adopted " homeland " in St. Petersburg, Russia. I have always felt the need for a student-oriented work on Gogol, which would not be a new biography , nor the exploration of some literary theory . It should rather be an inquiry into Gogol's complete works , in which the interested reader could find a coherent explanation to their questions. It is for them, this book was written , the average , but well informed reader . On the other hand , it is still hoped that specialists of Russian Literature will also find some new insights here into Gogol's work.

This intention has also defined the boundaries of this work : nothing has been ignored , or treated in a cursory way, as an " unimportant " or "youthful " work .Gogol's entire oevre is treated as one, in which sketches," laboratory experiments" of characters, language, situations etc. serve only to explain further developments leading to the appearance of the " important " and " big " works. For this very same reason Gogol's non fictional works, especially his essays from the Arabesques and the entireSelected Passages from Correspondence with Friends are considered as part of the total.Many ideas and topics explored there give important insights into his fictional works and vice versa .

The method employed here is basically a close reading of the primary texts , with references to " secondary " literature only sparingly . It was not my aim to debate other critics , or follow any particular literary critical theory. I thought it more important to have Gogol himself come through these pages, to show the inherent features of each work. Frequently quotations from Gogol's texts are assigned the job of presenting the arguments.

As the Latin wisdom has it : " docendo docemus "- teaching we learn . I gratefully acknowledge my debt to my students, who have helped me with many of the insights into Gogol's world during seminar-discussions, lectures, and my reading of their seemingly endless papers about " Gogol's Nose as a phallic symbol " , or the "Women Characters in Gogol's fiction". Needless to say - I alone bear the responsibility for possible mistakes or misreadings of Gogol's works.

Finally, I should like to express my gratitude to all the friends and family, who patiently listened to the endless stories about Gogol or read parts of the manuscript, during the years of writing this book . For many of them, the name and art of Gogol became a household word. Mrs. Melinda Kennedy, my friend, poet, translator and tireless editor of Metamorphoses spent countless hours in advising me and editing the MS. Without her generous help this book might never have seen the world. My special gratitude goes to my daughter Beata, who just as untiringly edited in an earlier version of the MS. the endless runaway sentences of her exuberant father.

Amherst, MA. August 27, 1996.


Footnotes to Introduction


Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Epilogue, Bibliography

Published by B&R Samizdat Express, 33 Gould St., West Roxbury, MA 02132. (617) 469-2269. seltzer@samizdat.com

The book CD "Gogol and Russian Literature" is built around Gogol's Art: a Search for Identity by Laszlo Tikos, the best book ever written about Russia's most enigmatic and intriguing author. Nikolay Gogol (1809-1852) created a new direction in Russian letters, which was further developed in the 19th century by writers like Dostoyevsky and Rozanov, and in the 20th century by Bely, Bulgakov and Sinyavsky. In addition to Gogol's Art, this CD includes the full text of Dead Souls, Tara Bulba, The Inspector General, and St. John's Eve by Gogol, plus great books by Dostoeyevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Pushkin, Turgenev, Andreyev, Gorky, Kuprin, and Lermontov, plus works on Russian history, plus two "Country Studies" -- Russia and Belarus (birthplace of Gogol) -- which were originally published as printed books by the Library of Congress between 1987 and 1995. For details, see our online store http://store.yahoo.com/samizdat/russian.html

What do Balzac, Dumas, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Gogol, Machiavelli, Tasso, Luther, Ibsen, and Goethe have in common? They are all on the same World Literature CD with over 600 books, in plain text, with software that lets you listen as well as read.

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