(Self)Portrait of the Artist as Misdiagnosed Patient: Vivisection versus Transfiguration in N.V. Gogol''s "The Portrait" (1842) and "Author's Confession"

Lindsay Watton, Bard College

The naturally occurring physical body both disgusts and fascinates Nikolaj Gogol'. At the same time that he verbally renders the debased and disfigured body and the corporeal world it inhabits in all its "repulsive actuality", he gestures through the verbal description of imagined visual objects (ekphrasis) towards the ideal transfigured image of man, in all its "wonderful remoteness." These apparently antithetical tendencies are central to Gogol''s fiction and autobiography, and are acutely articulated in the 1842 revision of "The Portrait" and his apologia "Author's Confession" (1847).

This paper will extend Gogol''s 1842 claim that "all [his] most recent works are the story of [his] own soul" and suggest that "The Portrait's" narrative of the fall of two painters and the redemption of one, together with the persisent imagery of bodily decomposition, vivisection and autopsy in Author's Confession constitute a (self)portrait of his own body and himself as artist. Gogol''s privileging of the sacred human image (the religious painting and the icon of the Nativity in "The Portrait") and visual means of representation over the profane and "supernaturalistic" human image (the portrait) and, implicitly, the verbal material with which he "figures" (soobrazhat') the human form in his work exacerbates the tension between the pathologization of personality (the artist as misdiagnosed patient) and the iconic imperative of transfiguration.

This paper will draw upon Sergej Bocharov's "artistic anthropology" of Gogol', Uspenskij on iconography, and the emerging literature on medicalization and pathology in nineteenth century.