Gary Shteyngart reads/performs a bit from Gogol’s Dead Souls; he first reads in English and then in Russian. Really fascinating to hear it in Russian. The reading was part of 92Y Poetry Center’s celebration of Gogol’s 200th birthday on March 30th.
Gogol’s Nevsky Prospect
There is nothing better than Nevsky Prospect, at least not in Petersburg; for there it is everything. What does this street – the beauty of our capital – not shine with! I know that not one of its pale and clerical inhabitants would trade Nevsky Prospect for anything in the world. Not only the one who is twenty-five years old, has an excellent mustache and a frock coat of an amazing cut, but even the one who has white hair sprouting on his chin and a head as smooth as a silver dish, he, too, is enchanted with Nevsky Prospect. And the ladies! Oh, the ladies find Nevsky Prospect still more pleasing. And who does not find it pleasing? The moment you enter Nevsky Prospect, it already smells of nothing but festivity. Though you may have some sort of necessary, indispensible business, once you enter it, you are sure to forget all business. Here is the only place where people do not go out of necessity, where they are not driven by the need and mercantile interest that envelop the whole of Petersburg. A man met on Nevksy Prospect seems less of an egoist than on Morskaya, Gorokhovaya, Liteiny, Meshchanskaya, and other streets, where greed, self-interest, and necessity show on those walking or flying by in carriages and droshkies. Nevsky Prospect is the universal communication of Petersburg. Here the inhabitant of the Petersburg or Vyborg side who has not visited his friend in Peski or the Moscow Gate for several years can be absolutely certain of meeting him. No directory or inquiry office will provide such reliable information as Nevsky Prospect. All-powerful Nevsky Prospect! The only entertainment for a poor man at the Petersburg feast! How clean-swept are its sidewalks, and, God, how many feet have left their traces on it! The clumsy, dirty boot of the retired soldier, under the weight of which the very granite seems to crack, and the miniature shoe, light as smoke, of a young lady, who turns her head to the glittering shop windows as a sunflower turns toward the sun, and the clanking sword of a hope-filled sub-lieutenant that leaves a sharp scratch on it – everything wreaks upon it the power of strength or the power of weakness. What a quick phantasmagoria is performed on it in the course of a single day! How many changes it undergoes in the course of a single day and night!
–The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol, “Nevsky Prospect” (trans. Pevear & Volokhonsky)
June 22nd, 2009 / 10:45 pm