Did we all came out of Gogol’s “Overcoat”?

March 15, 2008 at 6:32 am 3 comments

There are few lines from books that have proved eternal, and we all know them. “To be or not to be” and “what a work of Art man is”, from Shakespear. “What a tangled web we weave”* by Sir Walter Scott. And “We all came out of Gogol’s overcoat”, by either Turgeneve or Dostyovsky.

It was only yesterday that i realized the very un-eternal quality of the last line. After watching a movie: “The Namesake” (the story of an indian’s boys journey through life, and America, after his father named him “Gogol” – who was reading “The Overcoat” when he went through a train accident, and got spared because of it… I know.. very indian) I wanted to read more on the subject. And what a bummer it was to learn the word “we all came out of Gogol’s overcoat” was referring to neither life, nor anything aesthetic. It was referring to the effect “The Overcoat” had on russian literature, as being the first and foremost of what they are known to become, i.e. “Natualist”!

So next time you go about quoting lines from a movie, think twice. So you won’t end up like “The Namesake”, which just made it to my “$tupid movies” list :-).


*For all of you able to read amharic, here is my attempt at translating “What a tangled web we weave”.


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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. sistu  |  March 23, 2008 at 7:07 am

    i like the taste of leza in the translation

  • 2. The Money & the irony « My e-Shoe Box  |  May 6, 2008 at 9:37 am

    […] So I needn’t be told how our country spends hard earned gold to have every one of them printed to have my heart break whenever I see them papers disfigured by ‘mastaweshas’ to either self or receivers, protests and/or long lines of mathematical calculations. Not to mention the gums, the rude plasters and staplers one finds stuck on them. I even fancy our paper money seems to be the only thing, next to those poor ‘woyalas’ on minibuses (about whom even journalists make dumb and degrading jokes on national radio) that Ethiopians of all age, sex, race and religious affiliation take part in the abuse of. Infact, next to bank tellers, the same ‘woyalas’ we mistreat indiscriminately seem to be the only class of people who treat our paper money with any respect. [Kind of like fellow sufferers, perhaps?!] Maybe because they are only too aware it’s the lack of this very commodity that makes them suffer, mostly silently, through all types of abuse in a long and hard day but also because they are the ones who face shit if the look of one appears lacking in grace to any one traveler (who, as we know, is only too eager to polish his ‘Woyala’-abusing skills for the benefit of smiling & approving fellow travelers). My asking, of a P.R. person from the National Bank of Ethiopia (who was invited to part wisdom on one of our Public Relation classes at the AAU), why our paper money doesn’t seem to get half the publicity spas and pedicure centers almost 98% of Ethiopians can’t afford to be in seems to be getting didn’t result in a satisfactory reply. He admitted much work should be done there, sure, but like everybody else that adopted the expression from our P.M. and started using it as his own, didn’t say who would do them and when. Calling this method of dodging responsibility a proof of Dickens’s theory on the ‘art of how not to do it’ the bureaucrats of his time were engaged upon the hot pursuit of  may sound .. a little too harsh (Especially coming from a sister who isn’t “minus any-who” when it comes to divining ways of “how not to do it”. Or atleast is disposed to not doing them willingly or timely due to, she’d like to think, her not having much of a life and the rather mundane nature of her paying job). But it certainly is the kind of thing that makes you sigh “Oh, what a tangled web we weave…” as Sir Walter Scott might have done just minutes before getting his inspiration for his well known line in stanza and screaming “eureka!” as Archimedes is said to have done. (My attempt to translate same to Amharic can be found under the post: Did we all came out of Gogol’s ‘overcoat’?)  […]

  • 3. Gogolita  |  March 3, 2009 at 7:25 am

    I just watched the namesake, and was equally curious to know more about the quote ” we all came from Gogol’s undercoat”.. but different from what you said, I think the line does have specific implications.. this is how I understood it..

    changing a new coat doesn’t change who you are, and good books and movies are about the essence of human existence.. the son, despite being so different from his father’s generation in experience and perspectives.. nontheless has to go through the same themes in life.. love, marriage, family, personal fulfillment, death.. when we were young, we feel we are very different from our parents but as we are older, you understand more of the similarities.. because of life experience.. I think that is what his father meant.. because he saw the youth and immaturity in him but knows that one day he will need to learn…
    it is the same with understanding why Russian writers would say that, because good literature explore all the common themes in life..sometimes through very little details of a new coat…
    just my two cent…

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The blogger tries to think outside the box, or wonder why she sometimes can't.

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"I will speak for you, Father. I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint." - Antonio Salieri, from the movie "Amadeus"

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