Writing Catalog

Abby Gemechu

Grade: 11

Hathaway Brown School

Instructor: Elizabeth Armstrong

Artistic Control and Creative Ownership in Gogol's "The Nose"

Critical Essay

Artistic Control and Creative Ownership in Gogol's "The Nose"

Throughout the 19th century, art, music, and literature flourished, with creators and artists continuing to explore topics relevant to the world they lived in and its issues. Using their art to critique or comment on contemporary aspects of society and popular culture, authors in particular found ways to discuss different and similar viewpoints concerning aspects of their daily lives, forever preserving the time period's atmosphere and their thoughts in their works. One of such writers was Nikolai Gogol, who used the tragedies of his own life and art to construct tales that investigate different aspects of his artistry. In the short story "The Nose," author Nikolai Gogol explores the complications of creative ownership over art- and what it means for an artist to lose control of their work- using Kovalev's missing nose as a metaphor. Through this comparison, he provides a sharp critique of society's infatuation with status and class through the personification of the nose, and Kovalev's consequent loss of control over a piece of himself, and as a result, the entirety of his person and character.

One of the primary ways in which Gogol discusses creative ownership over art in "The Nose" is through its clear and direct personification, through which he in turn illustrates how easily a piece of oneself can escape an individual's control. For example, these themes are especially prevalent when Kovalev finally works up the courage to confront his nose in public, and alert it to their situation, saying, "My dear sir…" Kovalev said with dignity, "I don't know how to understand your words… The whole thing seems perfectly obvious… Or do you want to… But you're my own nose!" The nose looked at the major and scowled slightly. "You are mistaken, dear sir. I am myself. Besides, there can be no close relationship between us. Judging by the buttons on your uniform, you must serve in a different department." (308) Here, Kovalev's nose, which was once a part of him, has developed its own character and persona, now operating successfully without its previous owner, to his disbelief and near denial. His repeated emphasis on referring to the nose specifically as "his own" highlights this. Furthermore, the nose's lack of awareness of his own personhood "belonging" to Kovalev continues to illustrate how it has completely escaped his control. Furthermore, one of the most important aspects of the Nose's personification that Gogol explores is the immense loss on Kovalev's side of the situation, and how he deals with this jarring series of events. An instance in which this is especially present is when the realization of his missing nose sinks in, and the feeling of loss hits Kovalev all at once, saying, "But he suddenly jumped back as if burnt. He remembered that in the place of a nose he had absolutely nothing, and tears squeezed themselves from his eyes." This moment not only shows readers more insight into his feelings concerning the situation, but also explores the possibility that he sometimes is given the space to forget that such a crucial piece of him is gone, and this makes it so that he has to come crashing back down to reality like he does in this scene. He also emphasizes that an important part of this story is also being forced to live without the things we consider important to us, and that is what Kovalev must learn to do here. Additionally, this theme is also prevalent as Kovalev tells the newspaper his situation, saying, "I said nose, not Nossov. You are making a mistake. There has disappeared, goodness knows whither, my nose, my own actual nose. Presumably it is trying to make a fool of me." Here, the repetition of "my," and "my own" to describe the nose emphasizes its belonging to Kovalev. When he insists that, "presumably it is trying to make a fool of me," readers are given insight into the notion that his nose is acting outside his wishes or orders, despite it being his nose. This proves to be a very scary possibility to Kovalev- and it highlights the fact that his nose can live without him but he can't live without his nose. Through this sort of analogy, Gogol introduces the idea that your own art can work against you.

Throughout the duration of "The Nose," Kovalev also provides a sharp critique of society's infatuation with status and class, and how it permeates the interactions characters have, even with, in this case, their own noses. Furthermore, there is also a significant exploration of themes of class in the first passage mentioned (308), specifically relating to how Kovalev's own nose has surpassed him in societal status, and this is most evident when Gogol writes, "the nose looked at the major." Here, Kovalev is not referred to by name, but rather by his vocation and position in the council, placing an emphasis on his status in relation to how his own nose now views him. Moreover, the nose itself is shown to be hyper-aware of this class difference, saying, "'Besides, there can be no close relationship between us. Judging by the buttons on your uniform, you must serve in a different department.'" This highlights the fact that their societal statuses immediately rule out the possibility of them having ever conversed previously, even though the nose used to literally be a part of Kovalev. Through this particular dynamic, Gogol highlights the ways in which Kovalev's nose has formed a life of its own, and how it has come to flourish without his lifeblood, which is in many ways applicable to artwork's "life" outside of its creator's grasp. In addition, ideas of class and status are also prevalent before Kovalev even approaches his nose in disguise, as he's initially apprehensive to confront him, given his newfound status. "How, even so, am I to approach it?" Kovalev reflected. "Everything about it, uniform, hat, and all, seems to show that it is a State Councilor. now. Only the devil knows what is to be done!" He started to cough in the Nose's vicinity, but the Nose did not change its position for a single moment." Here, Kovalev still refers to his nose as "it," even as it presents in human form, showing he still views it as an extension of himself, despite the fact that it is a fully-fledged person on the outside. At the same time, Gogol's capitalization of "the Nose" negates Kovalev's perspective, setting it apart as its own person or character, which sets up an interesting contrast between the two viewpoints.

Through the metaphor of the nose, Gogol sets up a clear comparison of it with art, pointing out its (art's) significance in a society concerned with class and status, and how participation in said society can often result in artists losing creative ownership or control over their work. Seeing as art is oftentimes an extension of oneself, something a creator can put their heart and soul into creating, the fact that it can often begin to exist outside of their control, similar to Kovalev's nose, proves to still be prevalent in today's world, and for this reason, "The Nose"'s analysis of the lifeblood artists pour into their work and how it translates into intellectual property will always be a timeless and invaluable exploration.