Situating Gogol' Between the "Imperial" and the "National"

Oleh S. Ilnytzkyj, University of Alberta

Although it is common to write about Gogol as an author caught between two national cultures--the Russian and Ukrainian--it may be more accurate to situate him in a less clearly defined cultural space called the "Imperial." This paper will argue that the national cultures that so jealously guard Gogol' as their own were in fact only nascent entities during Gogol'' s time, subordinated to a transnational culture, typified less by a specific "nation" than by a multiethnic social group, the intelligentsia. Gogol' in fact is better understood not through essential national categories such as "Russian" or "Ukrainian" but through an Imperial (State) prism, especially its elite social groupings and institutions. From this perspective, it could be said that Gogol' did not appear in "Russian" literature as much as in an "imperial literary institution" that served the cultural needs of the Empire's privileged classes, regardless of their ethnic/national background.

Both the contemporary and later reception of Gogol' illustrates the growing differentiation of the imperial intelligentsia along Russian and Ukrainian ethnic/national lines and the weakening of the common imperial literary institution that had elevated him. The cultural capital accumulated by the Empire's intellectuals and writers (Gogol''s legacy included) became a contested object in the independently emerging cultural discourses pursued by Russians and Ukrainians. The rise of a Ukrainian vernacular literary institution--which gradually won ever-stronger allegiance from the Empire's Ukrainian intelligentsia--intimated the foreclosure of the "all-Russian" (Imperial) option and paved the way for codifying a separate Ukrainian cultural identity in the Empire.

The first part of the paper will explore the concept of an "Imperial Culture" and suggest the process and dynamics by which it yielded to two "national" cultures. The second part will examine what kind of competing "national" theories (both implicit and explicit) were deployed to appropriate Gogol'--one of the Imperial Culture's most exemplary individuals--for the purposes of national canons. I will focus on the "imperial intelligentsia" of the 1830s-1860s (V. Belinskij, P. Kulish, M. Kostomarov, etc.) and consider why later generations of Ukrainian intellectuals were less than unanimous in allowing Gogol' entry into the Ukrainian pantheon of writers.