Gogol''s "Secretics": Testing the Term

Ilya Vinitsky, University of Pittsburgh

Gogol' is known as one of the most secretive writers in the world. Unfortunately, his rhetoric of secrecy has not yet been studied adequately. The list of typical Gogolian devices includes meaningful silence and intentional unreliability of the source of information, the sudden, unmotivated shifts from one narrator's mood to another, from the narration about heroes to lyrical digressions, and, especially, reminiscences. One can add his mocking or edifying appeals to the reader—profane, false hints and pseudo-resolutions, which replace reach other as fast as the thoughts in Xlestakov's head, together with obtrusive suggestions of numerous contradictory interpretative "keys" to his own works, etc. This secretive writing can be qualified as a special aesthetic system, which demands a peculiar approach: "...not secrets to be found out here one by one, but Secrecy" (Kermode).

In this context, I would like to introduce the term "Gogol''s secretics," which might be applied to the description of his aesthetic system. Thus, from the "secretics" point of view, such hermeneutic traps as Dead Souls and The Nose appear as powerful means of inflaming readers' interest in the author's persona, rather than parodies of numerous "explanatory models" and "the human capacity for explanation itself" (Morson). In Gogol''s "secretics," the source of narration is more important than the narration itself. The emphasis is placed here on the (secret) narrator's motivation (Why did he say these strange things? Who is he?), rather than on the (non-existent) motivation of the events. By mocking all possible explanatory algorithms, Gogol' establishes a privileged status for the author as an absolutely incomprehensible Master of Meaning. In other words, the text "secretes" the enigmatic author. This secretive self-writing demands a concentrated, eternal, and always unsuccessful search, by the reader, for a solution of the riddle of the text=intention=existence of "Nikolaj Gogol'."

However, "secretics" is a double-edged sword; it leads the reader into a rhetorical trap into which the author himself can fall. The present paper will deal with one of the most striking examples of secretics' fallacy—the story about Gogol''s portrait, as presented in his Last Will and Testament (1847).