Friday, January 30, 2009

Nikolai Gogol: Diary of a Madman

One of my resolutions for this year is to read Russian literature. I was sharing this ambitious and rather suicidal goal of mine with my sister; and here is her response: "Make sure you also put down 'MUST NOT KILL MYSELF' as a resolution too." My dad, who is fluent in Russian, has been encouraging me to read Nikolai Gogol (in English, of course) since I was in middle school. He got me Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls when I was a mere tween. And, people wonder why I am so morbid. So I finally caved in to parental pressure, and gaily cracked open my first Gogol: Diary of a Madman.

Diary of a Madman is a satirical and the most hilarious tragedy I have ever read. This short-story was written by Gogol in 1834, during Tsar Nicholas I's oppressive regime. Gogol wrote, ironically, to Pushkin: "Diary of a Madman met with a rather unpleasant little snag from the censor yesterday. But thank God things are a little better today. At least, all I have to do is throw out the best parts."

The story is set in imperial St Petersburg, my favourite Russian city. Gogol mocks Russian government offices, clerical staff, and social hierarchy through the insignificant eyes of the protagonist. Ivanovich, the Madman who writes these entries in his diary, sometimes refrains from writing about his love for the General's daughter.

The protagonist, in some ways, reminded me of the recurring character on SNL, Penelope, played by the amazing Kristen Wiig. Penelope is awfully hilarious yet a very annoying one-upper, whose brags miraculously turn out to be true, in the end.

The layout of the story reminded me of blogging. Ivanovich's journal entries begin with the corresponding date. In one of the entries he states that our desire to write comes from our innate need to share with others. As my high school English teacher used to say, "People inquire about your day not because they care. They ask so they can ramble about their own day."

There was an article published in the Atlantic a few months ago, wondering about the existential question many bloggers have faced: Why I blog? Here is my favourite excerpt from the article:

"As you read a log, you have the curious sense of moving backward in time as you move forward in pages—the opposite of a book. As you piece together a narrative that was never intended as one, it seems—and is—more truthful. Logs, in this sense, were a form of human self-correction. They amended for hindsight, for the ways in which human beings order and tidy and construct the story of their lives as they look back on them. Logs require a letting-go of narrative because they do not allow for a knowledge of the ending. So they have plot as well as dramatic irony—the reader will know the ending before the writer did."

My first posts were more impersonal, more about the impending humanitarian crises that concern me, such as Darfur. But with time I have been able to relinquish personal inhibitions, and, embarrassingly enough, have succeeded in broadcasting my single-status boo-hoos here. Blogging has also allowed me to connect with people who share similar interests, allowing me to associate with like-minded people. In some ways you guys know more about this so-called nerdy/dorkish side of me that I don't really reveal in real-life encounters. The reason I started this blog was because I realized I was running a risk of losing friends :). You see, I was boring them with my regular political rants. In fact, I have only told a couple of my friends about my existence in the blogosphere. I would find it really embarrassing if people who I associate with read my Random Ramblings.

"You can try to hide yourself from real scrutiny, and the exposure it demands, but it’s hard. And that’s what makes blogging as a form stand out: it is rich in personality. The faux intimacy of the Web experience, the closeness of the e-mail and the instant message, seeps through. You feel as if you know bloggers as they go through their lives, experience the same things you are experiencing, and share the moment."

Blogging, dorkishly enough, also defies the space-time continuum. People in the blogosphere are linked by time, but separated in space. (Sounds cheesy, right?) For instance, look at the time when Obama got elected, almost all of us wrote our myriad views on what his victory meant to us. This one event in time linked us, and prompted us to write something - positive or negative. A few years from now we can go back, and comb through our blog posts, and experience the immediate rawness we felt when these significant events, we blogged about, were unfolding...


Lavender Rose said...

That's very insightful about why we blog. It makes a lot of sense.

Btw, I really like your blog layout. Were'd you get it?

And ohmygosh! You know about Greg Mortenson? I read Three Cups Of Tea and I loved it, and have been wanting to do something, but after a while it just kind of slipped out of my mind. And then I saw his name on your blog... wow. That's amazing.

sorry if this comment is random and makes no sense ;)

changetheworld360 said...

That's a really great take on blogging. I remember talking with kibberon about this topic when she mentioned it in one of her posts a while back. Bloggers just have to be unique and make their blog their own, I guess. It's a fine line between being too impersonal and being too personal, i.e. posting about every little thing that happens to you. I'm sorry, but I've read blogs where people do just that, and it annoys me. We don't need to know every detail about a person's life.
Btw, still waiting on your Revolutionary Road review. I seriously cannot stop thinking about that movie; it truly sticks with you. I am anxious to hear your thoughts! :)
And Russian literature! I need to become a more diverse reader.

Zany said...

Lavender Rose,

I really appreciate your comment, and it was not random at all :).

I got the layout from this website here:

Yes, I have also read "Three Cups of Tea", and found it awe-inspiring. Here are my thoughts regarding the book (a bit of self-promotion, here):


Did you ever blog about this topic? Because it would be interesting to read your stance on this topic.
As Maria pointed out in the previous post's comment box that blogging is personal regardless of how much we want to hide ourselves with the anonymity this medium allows us. I guess this is what makes blogging so mind bogglingly unique :).
I am afraid my "Revolutionary Road" review might not be as meticulously thorough as yours :). It might be very sappy. I'll post it soon. Sorry, I keep getting distracted by dead Russian dudes :).