Olfactory images and creation of meaning in Gogol's "The Nose" and Rushdie's Midnight's Children Thesis uri icon


  • In my thesis I argue that Gogol's "The Nose" and Rushdie's Midnight's Children are texts in which both authors are acutely aware of the fact that they write within a larger discursive framework, supported and developed by the privileged and ruling class of both societies. These grand narratives are in fact selected interpretations of reality, which circulate in the public sphere, designating the desired 'readings' of various sociocultural phenomena. By means of reiteration and enforcement through governmental powers, the privileged narratives produce and inscribe meaning onto objects and events, turning them into icons with very specific and restricted signification. In this way, truth and meaning are under control of select individuals and interest groups. I propose that Gogol in "The Nose" and Rushdie in Midnight's Children use nasal discourse to discern the manipulative process of ideological intervention, which selectively labels specific discourse and interpretation as the truth, and imposes it upon the life and history of the governed community. To utilize the olfactory in a manner challenging the dominant narratives, the authors construct nasal images as essentially ambiguous. In this way they point out to the fluid and unstable nature of reality. In the world of their fiction, reality does not have a singular meaning; every sign is open to interpretation, producing a new meaning, depending on the circumstances of the interpretative act. The nose itself is chosen for this symbolic function for two reasons: the physiognomic tradition of reading faces nests moral ambiguity in the nose, and scent is the most ambiguous of sensory stimuli. Chapter I focuses on the structural role of the olfactory, in Chapters III and IV I discuss how Rushdie and Gogol employ and adapt physiognomic theory to constitute the olfactory as ambiguous images. In Chapters V and VI show that both authors install the olfactory-introduced ambiguity into the very foundations of their texts.

publication date

  • November 2004