Thursday, June 19, 2008

More Dead Souls

I've been continuing to read Gogol's Dead Souls, and have found it entertaining and very quotable. As it's late and I really should be organizing my packing, I'll share just a quick quote for tonight. I thought this one was particularly appropriate! And very intriguingly, this excerpt is omitted from most translations; I'm reading the Pevear & Volokhonsky 1996 translation. Perhaps it is a self-reflexive meditation on Gogol's own literary reception.

Happy the wayfarer who, after a long, boring journey with its cold, slush, dirt, sleepy stationmasters, clanking bells, repairs, altercations, coachmen, blacksmiths, and all sorts of scoundrels of the road, sees at last the familiar roof with its lights rushing to meet him, and before him stand familiar rooms, the joyful shout of his people running to meet him, the noise and scampering of children, and soothing soft speech... Happy the family man who has such a corner, but woe to the bachelor!

Happy the writer who, passing by characters that are boring, disgusting, shocking in their mournful reality, approaches characters that manifest the lofty dignity of man, who from the great pool of daily whirling images has chosen only the rare exceptions, who has never once betrayed the exalted tuning of his lyre, nor descended from his height to his poor, insignificant brethren, and, without touching the ground, has given the whole of himself to his elevated images so far removed from it. Twice enviable is his beautiful lot: he is among them as in his own family; and meanwhile his fame spreads loud and far. ...

But such is not the lot, and other is the destiny of the writer who has dared to call forth all that is before our eyes every moment and which our indifferent eyes do not see -- all the terrible, stupendous mire of trivia in which our life is entangled, the whole depth of cold, fragmented, everyday characters that swarm over our often bitter and boring earthly path, and with the firm strength of his implacable chisel dares to present them roundly and vividly before the eyes of all people! It is not for him to win people's applause ... it is not for him, finally, to escape contemporary judgement, hypocritically callous contemporary judgment, which will call insignificant and mean the creations he has fostered... For contemporary judgment does not recognize that equally wondrous are the glasses that observe the sun and those that look at the movements of inconspicuous insects...

This contemporary judgment does not recognize; and will turn it all into a reproach and abuse of the unrecognized writer; with no sharing, no response, no sympathy, like a familyless wayfarer, he will be left alone in the middle of the road. Grim is his path, and bitterly will he feel his solitude.

1 comment:

  1. I am just dying to read this! (This and 1000 other books.) I've picked it up and looked at it so many times times at the bookstore. Maybe I just need to do it. . .

    Have a great weekend!


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