Nikolai Gogol''s Self-Fashioning in the 1830s: The Postcolonial Perspective

By Ilchuk, Yuliya | Canadian Slavonic Papers, June-September 2009 | Go to article overview

Nikolai Gogol''s Self-Fashioning in the 1830s: The Postcolonial Perspective


Ilchuk, Yuliya, Canadian Slavonic Papers


ABSTRACT:

This study examines Gogol''s complex self-fashioning during the time of the creation and reception of his Ukrainian tales Vechera na khutore bliz Dikan'ki [Evenings on a Farm near Dikan'ka] (1831-1832) in light of the postcolonial concept of mimicry. Gogol''s self-fashioning is studied through his submission to the symbolic power responsible for branding him as the Other in imperial Russian culture, as well as through his deliberate strategy of mimicry. Not only did Gogol''s marginal social status and his Ukrainian ethnicity create a social hierarchy responsible for fashioning him as "an outsider within" imperial culture, Gogol' himself engaged in the colonial mimicry, trying to reverse the colonial gaze that imagined him as a "sly" Ukrainian. Challenging the accepted view of Gogol' as one who internalized the colonial stereotype of a "sly" Ukrainian, this study treats Gogol''s identity as strategic, positional, and ambivalent. The first part of the study focuses on the manipulation of stereotypes of the Other within the Russian nationalist imagination in the early 1830s; the second part examines Gogol''s ambivalent visual self-representation and social performance that simultaneously mimicked and menaced the colonial authority.

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The early years of Gogol''s career were marked by the negotiation of his cultural identity within Russian cultural and social space. This negotiation required continual changing and adjustment of Gogof's cultural performances and resulted in his representation by imperial society as the Other. Not only did Gogol''s marginal social status and his Ukrainian ethnicity create a social hierarchy responsible for fashioning him as the hybrid who is always "an outsider within" imperial culture, but Gogol' immersed himself in the colonial mimicry, trying to reverse the colonial gaze that imagined him as a "sly" Ukrainian. The theoretical framework of this study is informed by Steven Greenblatt's concept of self-fashioning1 and Homi Bhabha's theoretization of mimicry,2 which can be effectively applied to Gogol''s complex self-fashioning during and immediately after the publication of his Ukrainian tales-Vechera na khutore bliz Dikan'ki [Evenings on a Farm near Dikan'ka] (1831-1832). Both concepts can elucidate how GogoF's hybrid identity was fashioned as the Other both by its submission to the social power and knowledge of the empire and by his self-conscious strategy of mimicking this power. Throughout this process, Gogol' arose as the mimic man who "passed" as a Russian society man through the adoption of the language, cultural behaviour and dress of imperial culture. However, the very act of mimicking split him as the Other when he consumed and inscribed Russianness upon and within himself. Being a weak copy of the original, the mimic man "becomes transformed into an uncertainty which fixes the colonial subject as a "partial presence."3 Gogol' appropriated the performative identity strategies of mimicry to gain inclusion into the diverse imperial and national spaces of Russia. His hybrid identity was fashioned as the colonial/ethnic Other through discourses and practices of transgression and imposture. Gogol' was quite unique in this hybridization; although many nonRussian migrants participated in a variety of boundary crossings, many of them refashioned themselves, trying to eradicate their ethnic and social difference by adopting imperial disguises.4

In contemporary Gogol' studies, the writer's negotiation of his national identity in the 1830s has been usually discussed within the framework of colonial theory, as one that proceeded along the lines of the powerful tradition of kotliarevshchyna.5 Many scholars have emphasized that Gogol' not only continued this tradition by presenting Ukraine in compliance with the imperial paradigm, but also internalized the colonial stereotype of a "sly" Ukrainian by playing the fool through the mask of a simple-hearted Ukrainian narrator Rudy Pan'ko. …

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