From Maidens to Mugs: The Motif of the Mirror in the Works of Nikolai Gogol'

By Manukyan, Kathleen | Canadian Slavonic Papers, June 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

From Maidens to Mugs: The Motif of the Mirror in the Works of Nikolai Gogol'


Manukyan, Kathleen, Canadian Slavonic Papers


(ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.).

H. B. Torojib, ... (1847)

And the same things appear bent and straight when seen in water or out of it, or concave and convex because sight is misled by colors; and every other similar sort of confusion is clearly present in our soul. It is because it exploits this weakness in our nature that illusionist painting is nothing short of sorcery...

Plato's Republic, Book X1

INTRODUCTION

If you have ever spent a stretch of time as a houseguest in Russia, you may have learned to glance in a mirror upon reentering the home to pick up a forgotten item. If you fail to do this, you will be testing your luck during the journey. The Russian custom is one of dozens of mirror-related traditions and superstitions throughout the world. The enduring fascination with mirrors in folkloric spheres and beyond is easily explained by the unique properties of this everyday object. Chief amongst these, of course, is its ability to produce a real-time image of a person. The mirror is a principal metaphor for both sinful vanity and truthful introspection. Another property, the ability to create illusions of space, lets us imagine demonic worlds on the other side of the mirror. And a final feature is the mirror's dichotomous relationship to "truth" in its image-making. We look to mirrors as the only source of reliable information about our physical selves when the words of others do not suffice. But what we see, the "mirror image," is in fact a reversed and two dimensional rendering of our three-dimensional selves. The simultaneity of exactitude and futility in the mirror image can be a powerful metaphor for the problem of self-knowledge. Common expressions like "smoke and mirrors" and "house of mirrors" attest that optical trickery has brought distortion, deception and confusion into the mirror's metaphorical domain alongside truth-telling.

The idiom that "art is a mirror" (which often, but not always, denotes imitation of reality, whether material or spiritual) is so common that Meyer Abrams selected the mirror as an "archetypal analogy" in his history of literary criticism 77;e Mirror and the Lamp. Of such analogies he writes: "While many expository analogues, as conventional opinion proposes, are casual and illustrative, some few seem recurrent and, not illustrative, but constitutive: they yield the ground plan and essential structural elements of a literary theory, or of any theory."2 When the analogy does become "constitutive" in a theory, then the various properties of the object of comparison, such as those of the mirror discussed above, become both relevant and problematic. As Abrams discusses, this was already the case in Plato's Republic, in which art, like shadows on the walls of Socrates's cave or the heavens reflected in a mirror, is said to be a deficient imitation of the more real world of Ideas. Reasoning by metaphor, it seems, can be as important to literary theory as metaphorical imagery is to literature.

In Gogol" s contemporary Romantic age, the trend was against viewing the mimetic function of art as deficient, even in cases when artist-theorists appealed to Plato's Ideal Forms, by means of romantic Neoplatonic readings of the dialogues. These looked toward Diotima of Symposium, who argues that Eros and the quest for immortality through creation result in the connection of Beauty to Goodness and Truth, thus promoting both creative art and physical matter to more elevated positions than those they occupied among the Platonists or the "original" Neoplatonists of Plotinus. In Abrams's schematic, then, the traditional "mirror" idiom is eventually combined with (and overtaken by) the romantic emblematic analogy of the "lamp" - conveying the outflow of light and truth that the poet discovers through contemplation of higher truths and the imagination that enables him to perceive them. Abrams writes much of Shelley, who "like many of his contemporaries, reverses the aesthetic mirror in order to make it reflect the lamp of the mind," thus creating a "combination of Platonism and psychological empiricism, and of the mimetic and expressive point of view. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

From Maidens to Mugs: The Motif of the Mirror in the Works of Nikolai Gogol'
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.