Question 4: Choose any text written in the style of magical realism and explain what features qualify it to be placed in this category of writing.
Ans: An echo of this seriousness can be seen in the comic masterpiece “The Nose” (1836, 1842), where magical realism takes the form of an abrupt abrogation of natural law, for no discernible reason and to no clear purpose. The disruption of the natural order happens, and then the natural order is restored as if nothing had happened. There is no explanation for all of this, of course, and there could be no explanation, but at the same time no one could doubt the veracity of the reportage, even if nothing in “The Nose” could be considered as useful “for the benefit of youth,” though such unusual occurrences as a break in the natural order ought to be of benefit to someone, since an author writes to benefit his nation, and yet… “The Nose,” with its comic treatment of the seriousness of life in St. Petersburg, is a remarkable tale about the ordinary.
In “The Nose,” Gogol inverts the typical dynamic of modern magical realism. In magical realism, a supernatural or inexplicable event gives rise to a series of realistic consequences; but the realistic detail of life in St. Petersburg could be satisfactorily explained only by reference to fantastic and sur-real stories. If canonical modern magical realism expects the fantastic to precede and give rise to the real, in Gogol the real gives rise to the fantastic, the unnatural explains the real and quotidian. While Gogol inverts the dynamic of magical realism, making the real the matrix of the fantastic, he does not diverge from the standard narrative structure. The inexplicable is an event that occurs suddenly and surprisingly, while realistic consequences play out as a narrative of funny, pathetic, and outré events. “The Nose,” therefore, exists on three interlocking and circular levels of magical realism. At the base, the inherently surreal quality of daily life in St. Petersburg, so different from the daily life of all other Russian places, made the ordinary itself appear fantastic As a later author put it: Petersburg, seat of the Czars and their officers, mistress of a hundred million human beings inhabiting a sixth of the globe,
absorbed daily thousands and tens of thousands of people drawn from the remotest corners of the whole breadth of Russia, pilgrim to this European Mecca in search of justice, safety and protection, concessions and privileges; for all the affairs concerning the boundlessly great and rich empire of Russia were decided in Petersburg alone.
In such a place nothing could be quite as it was elsewhere. Indeed, the intrinsic oddity of the ordinary in St. Petersburg somehow engendered the magical moment when all the laws of nature dissolved into a dew. And beyond that, on yet another level of reality, the appearance of the everyday can be regarded as not only the narrative consequence of the magical moment, but also its cause. “The Nose” begins with “an extraordinarily strange incident,” an incident so unusual as to draw official attention. A barber, IvanYakovlevich, who was, naturally, a drunken lout, cut open his breakfast loaf the morning of the twenty-fifth of March, and: to his amazement saw something there that looked white. Ivan Yakovlevich probed at it carefully with his knife and felt it with his finger…
He thrust in his fingers and pulled it out and – it was a nose! (475)
Astonishment and dread nearly overcame IvanYakovlevich, while his wife, Praskovia Osipovna, reacted with horror, not so much at the errant nose as at the obvious culpability and incompetence of her husband. “‘Where have you cut that nose off, youmonster?’ she cried wrathfully. ‘You scoundrel, you drunkard, I’ll go to the police myself to report you!’”
This was an idle threat, perhaps, displaying the expected and inevitable wifely distaste for her husband more than any desire to interact with the always threatening authorities, but it was far from the most serious of IvanYakovlevich’s troubles. He sat there, stunned, “more dead than alive: he recognized that the nose belonged to none other than Kovaliov, the collegiate assessor whom he shaved everyWednesday and every Sunday.” His world had collapsed around him. All must assume, of course, that if Major Kovaliov’s nose was in the barber’s bread, it could not also be on the Major’s face. And the Major himself discovered the truth of this natural law against bilocation (suspended only for the benefit of saints) when he awoke and discovered that “to his great astonishment there was a completely flat space where his nose should have been” (477). Naturally this was disconcerting, even frightening, and certainly a matter for the police. But it was actually worse than that. It was the end of everything; at least it was the end of collegiate assessor Kovaliov’s efforts to find a plush post in the capital and to marry a woman with a fortune of at least two hundred thousand. He had, after all, made his rank in the provinces, being “a collegiate assessor from the Caucasus,” and he had neither the education nor the connections to advance his career. And, now, without his nose …
Major Kovaliov’s nose had not abandoned its owner merely to reappear
in the morning bread of a drunken barber. The nose had grander ambitions than that. It wished to become an independent personage, and a personage of significance. While the now preposterous major walked on Nevsky Prospekt muffled in his cloak to conceal the “extremely absurd flat space” where his nose had once been, the nose was busy acquiring a persona. As Kovaliov watched, a carriage door flew open; a gentleman in uniform, bending down, sprang out and ran up the steps. What was the horror and at the same time amazement of Kovaliov when he recognized that this was his own nose! (479) The nose outranked the rest of Kovaliov. He [the nose] was in a gold-braided uniform with a high collar; he had on buckskin trousers and at his side was a sword. From his plumed hat it might be inferred that he was of the rank of civil councilor. It is not given to everyone to be visibly inferior to one’s nose, and Kovaliov reacted as any sane man would: [He] almost went out of his mind; he did not know what to think of such a strange occurrence. How was it possible for a nose – which had only yesterday been on his face and could neither drive nor walk – to be in uniform! Kovaliov followed his nose (his nose, but no longer completely his nose) into the Kazansky Cathedral, and, “inwardly forcing himself to speak
confidently,” addressed the elegantly uniformed nose. After some false starts, Kovaliov stated his case bluntly: “Why you are my own nose!” (481). But the civil councilor, né nose, was equally forthright: “You are mistaken, sir. I am an independent individual. Moreover, there can be no sort of close relations between us. I see, sir, from the buttons of your uniform, you must be serving in a different department.”
The nose was even more of a snob than the rest of Kovaliov. By the time Kovaliov’s nose has dismissed the rest of the Major, the laws of physics and nature seem to be dissolving progressively away. The nose initially appears in the loutish barber’s hot bread, not damaged and quite recognizable, having detached itself from Kovaliov’s face; subsequently the nose escapes from IvanYakovlevich’s grimy grasp and emerges as a starched and uniformed civil councilor and an “independent individual.” Multiple and continuing violations of the laws of nature inform Gogol’s narrative, and they are all treated seriously, but as events, not as miracles or drift toward insanity. Such events are merely unusual. The line between the natural and the usually-regarded-as-unnatural has begun to blur. Major Kovaliov responded to this gap in the ordinary by resorting to the ordinary. He took a cab to the police commissioner’s house, but that august official was out. From the police Kovaliov moved to the press. He would advertise for the lost nose, in the ordinary way, both to alert the public and to prevent the now independent nose from slipping out of town. Arriving at the newspaper office, Kovaliov found that virtually everything was either lost, wanted, or for sale. He told the clerk: “my nose…has run away from me…my own nose” (485). The clerk, when he understood the extraordinary nature of this advertisement, was neither surprised nor disconcerted. He treated it as the ordinary course of events: “No, I can’t put an advertisement like that in the paper.…The newspaper might lose its reputation.” The clerk advised Kovaliov to see a doctor. The paper could, of course, print the advertisement, but, the clerk concluded, “I do not foresee any advantage to you from it. If you do want to, …describe it as a rare freak of nature…for the benefit of youth…or anyway as a matter of general interest” (486).
There would be no advertisement. Close to despair, Kovaliov returned home, where, that very evening, deliverance from an unexpected source appeared suddenly. A police officer called on Kovaliov, asking if the major had lost his nose, just as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world, which, in St. Petersburg, it might well be. The nose, he reported, had been discovered by extraordinary luck: he was caught almost on the road. He had already taken his seat in the stagecoach and was intending to go to Riga, and had already taken a passport in the name of a government clerk. And the strange thing is that I myself took him for a gentleman at first, but…I soon saw that it was a nose. (489) Whereupon, to Kovaliov’s indescribable joy, the officer put his hand in his pocket and drew out Kovaliov’s nose. For humanity, suffering is long and joy is brief. However delicious had been the moment of recovery, doubts and discomfort set in almost at once. Would the recovered nose stick to his face? Kovaliov made the experiment. No. The nose fell off at once. Again near despair, Kovaliov sent for a doctor, who arrived almost at once, evincing the air of general How indeed? Here Gogol baldly states his opinion, implicit throughout the tale, that all is reversed in St. Petersburg. In “the northern capital of our spacious empire” the things that required explanation were the ordinary and the everyday, while the wondrous, the supernatural, the incomprehensible could be expected to occur as a matter of course. In St. Petersburg, the wondrous and the supernatural is the ordinary, while the truly incomprehensible is what happens to everyone every day. Reversal of the magical into the ordinary was the realism of St. Petersburg alone. And yet, in spite of it all…are there not absurd things everywhere? – and yet, when you think it over, there really is something in it. Despite what anyone may say, such things do happen – not often, but they do happen.