A Typology of Exile Literature Based on a Paradigm of Inheritance: Gogol′, Belyj, Nabokov, and the Third Wave

By mediating between Ukrainian and Russian culture in his language and writing, and migrating from one country to another in an attempt to resolve the question of his identity, Nikolaj Gogol′ would provide the contemporary Russian author in emigration with a productive literary and biographical archetype. A large number of authors who belong to the Third Wave of emigration have named Gogol′ as a major influence on their works. In my presentation, I will discuss some of the elements of Gogol′’s method appropriated by émigré authors, then suggest possible motives for their selection of Gogol′ as a literary ancestor.

Emigré authors choose their literary ancestors in part to demonstrate their affiliation with the native culture, but more importantly, to recognize in them certain qualities consciously overlooked or misinterpreted by Soviet literary critics and to valorize those aspects of a writer’s work that could not be recognized within the Soviet context. Critical monographs by Andrej Belyj and Vladimir Nabokov in which the authors challenge the representation of Gogol′ as a Realist writer are examples of this tendency. Authors of the Third Wave are similarly interested in distancing Gogol′’s works from previous interpretations, often doing so by incorporating particular formal and narrative devices associated with Gogol′ into their own works. Critics have interpreted this as émigré authors’ homage to Gogol′ as a satirist who exposed corruption within state institutions; the use of carnival inversions and aberrant language in contemporary émigré writing has been often characterized as a strategy toward depicting a destabilized official culture. However, the contexts in which Gogolian devices and themes appear in émigré writing suggest interpretations that concern issues of cultural identity. Works by Vasilij Aksenov and Zinovij Zinik present variations on Gogol′’s lowly clerk existing as an émigré on the margins of society in a new homeland, and Terc’s study “V Teni Gogolja” identifies emigration as a condition that benefited the writer. In each of these instances, the émigré author draws on Gogol′’s biculturalism. A bicultural view of the homeland can allow the émigré author to treat Russia not as an end in itself, but as a means to an end—a more universal view of the role of Russia in the world. While Gogol′ is certainly not the only writer who provided émigré authors with such a model, his constant peregrinations and conscious struggle between two cultures have had a discernible influence on contemporary authors’ portrayals of emigration and the role of the émigré both abroad and at home.