‘An Immortal International Type’

If you’re a lucky artist, friends send proof that the project you’re working on is worth the time and effort. My pal Clifton Wiens did just that, emailing me some academic evidence he tracked down. (Among other things, Clifton is a crack freelance researcher.) It bolstered my spirit when I hit a rough creative patch this weekend.

"Off II" by Johan Rosenmunthe

8/14 from the series Off II, by Johan Rosenmunthe

This excerpt about the main character is from the introduction to the Project Gutenberg eBook edition of Dead Souls:

Chichikov himself is now generally regarded as a universal character. We find an American professor, William Lyon Phelps, of Yale, holding the opinion that “no one can travel far in America without meeting scores of Chichikovs; indeed, he is an accurate portrait of the American promoter, of the successful commercial traveller whose success depends entirely not on the real value and usefulness of his stock-in-trade, but on his knowledge of human nature and of the persuasive power of his tongue.” This is also the opinion held by Prince Kropotkin, who says: “Chichikov may buy dead souls, or railway shares, or he may collect funds for some charitable institution, or look for a position in a bank, but he is an immortal international type; we meet him everywhere; he is of all lands and of all times; he but takes different forms to suit the requirements of nationality and time.

This is exactly the quality that made me think of adapting Dead Souls in the first place: the timelessness of its characters. Not only did I inherit a great narrative structure from Gogol; he also created these archetypal personalities who are just as familiar and relevant in 2010 as they were in 1842.

I’d also like to draw your attention to the image above by Johan Rosenmuthe, who was kind enough to give me permission to use it here. It’s from his series Off II, which resonated with me in a big way when I was making this website. From Johan’s artist statement:

Through digital communication like Facebook, Twitter, online dating and personal websites, the representation of our personality becomes more and more streamlined. We have the possibility to project an idea of how we are as a person into the world around us, but with the constant option of censoring information and inventing fictional characteristics. Never have we had access to so much information about each other, and never has the information been so unreliable.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Many, many thanks to Clifton and Johan for their support and inspiration!

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