Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rozanov on Gogol

Rozanov heard a story from Repin, the painter, about Gogol. Gogol had already written Dead Souls, or half of it, when he came to Rome. He was celebrated among the little colony of Russians in Rome as the greatest celebrity. But, Repin said, the trouble was that the colony felt that they had to take tea with Gogol. They would go to his apartment, he would pour the tea, he would pass around the little cakes. And his attitude was such that nobody could think of a thing to say. It was as if he expected the homage, and that was enough. The teas were full of “morgue”. And yet, no one dared to miss them.

Repin told Rozanov this as they were walking along, one cold day, in the country, Repin clutching his burnous against the wind.

And then
“… I felt an icy fear; it seemed to me that in front of my eyes, the great secret of Gogol emerged from the earth. Yes, the person was really like that: formalist, narrow, stiff, like some prelate of death celebrating a funereal liturgy in the middle of candelabras and torches, ordering genuflections and proffering here and there some ‘mots’ from his great repertory, empty and insane. I couldn’t help but pronounce the word idiot. For he was truly inflexible and obstinate, as rigid as he was limited in his reasoning. “I write like that, dot the i and its done.” Magnificent. But what does this mean? The idiot widens his eyes, without understanding. He has these magnificent “mots”. Like nobody else. And besides, he is conscious of this fact; and this delighted him to the point of madness and made him arrogant with an insane pride.

-Ugh. Get out of here, Satan.
But the mannequin winks its cold and glassy eye. It doesn’t understand that behind the words there has to be something, that behind the words there has to be, among other things, a reality, a fire or flood, terror or joy. He absolutely does not understand, and continues to put the finishing touches to his own, while distributing that last cup of cold and repugnant tea to his admirers, , who he imagines in his little head to be the heads of some office constrained to intone praises for the director… what am I saying, for the author of Dead souls.
-Ugh, get out of here Satan!! Cursed witch with a blackspotted soul, icy cadaver, glassy, transparent, … empty.
-Out of here, you polluted thing!
His decrepit face laughs in the tomb.
-But I don’t exist, I never existed. If there is nothing but an appearance.

-Cursed werewolf! Out of here! The cross of Jesus will protect us! How, if not, to be protected from you?

With faith, the heart whispers. For whosever has kept a grain of faith, of faith in the soul, in the earth, in the future of man, for this person Gogol in truth never existed.
Never on earth has a man, or rather the simulacrum of a man, been more terrible.

I am translating this from the French translation.


northanger said...

are you at the library yet?

i'm reading Weiner's By Authors Possessed in the online library.

when are you writing a book?

Roger Gathmann said...

North, I spend an hour a day writing my book. Whether I can get a publisher to publish it is an entirely different story.

northanger said...

i hope you're writing something where i can wait for the blockbuster movie.

Roger Gathmann said...

It is called, "Sex, violence and a lot of gratuitous nudity that you can also play at home, with your Wii!"

I hope I covered everything.

northanger said...

PG-13, kewl.