Thursday, July 30, 2009

Three dimensions of Chekhov's Sea Gull

Dreams, as well as literature and language, consist of characters or, rather, symbols; all three phenomena rely on signifiers that are compounded into structures. Thus it will not be a stretch to use the same tool of psychoanalytical analysis to proceed through the deconstruction of the works of all these three phenomena. “Something has occurred in the history of the concept of structure that could be called an event,” asserts Jacques Derrida, one of the seminal theorists of the poststructuralism, “What would this event be then? Up to the event which I wish to define, structure has always been neutralized or reduced […] by giving it a center, a fixed origin” (Derrida, LT, 196). Further Derrida reclaims a classical thought that the center of the structure is, “paradoxically, within the structure and outside it” (Derrida, LT, 196). To comprehend Derrida’s and other poststructuralists’ idea about the “structurality of the structure” we have to suggest what the center of each structure is. Along with Freud, I would argue that the center of the dream is the experience and the subtle wishes of the individual, the center of language is necessity to distinct the processes and things in the reality and the center of literature is the web of symbols directly tied to the author’s personality.
The play Sea Gull by Anton Chekhov is but one great metaphor that is announced by the author as early as in the title. In the play the world of provincial intelligentsia is depicted, and the major interest of this circle is focused in the literature and theater. On the first level the title corresponds to the name of the play that the family of Zarechny puts on the family stage; by that play the seagull is being shot. But on the inner level the image of the seagull is also referred to Nina Zarechnaya, who carries out the main role both in the home performance and in the Chekhov’s play overall. The association of Nina with the dead sea gull suggests that her partner in the family performance, that will become her lover, Trigorin sees her as victim, not a human being enough to feel sympathy to her when he ruins her life: “I rush from one side to the next like a fox hunted down by dogs. I see that both life and science keep on striding ahead, onward and forward. […] I feel that I have the ability just to describe landscapes, and that everything else is false – false to the marrow of my bones.” The dead seagull becomes the symbol of Trigorin’s poeticizing the ugliness of reality.
Events in Chekhov’s own life, as pointed out by biographers, coincide with some core elements of the play’s narrative. The image of the shot seagull was apparently connected to the episode in Chekhov’s life during a hunting trip, when Chekhov killed a woodcock that had been winged by Levithan, his close friend and impressionist artist. This event apparently became one of Chekhov's personal gestalts, and in order to close it he lets the characters to resolve it. When the character Trigorin sketches an idea for a story, “A man happens to come by, sees her and, having nothing else to do, destroys her like that seagull there”, the story seem to correlate to an actual event. Potapenko, the writer, and Chekhov’s friend, Lika Mizinova, had a love affair resulted into a birth of a child. But, as critics point out, some of the Trigorin’s features relate to Chekhov himself, rather than to Potapenko – for instance, the attitude towards art and craft of writing. Also, the names that Chekhov gave to his characters were thoroughly selected in accordance to their meaning and the characters to bear it. For example, Nina’s last name, Zarechnaya, incorporates in Russian the meaning “over” or “beyond the river”; thus the first verbal reference to Nina connects her to the water image in the play.
Freud has stated that “replacing something by an allusion to it is a process familiar in our waking thought as well […] jokes, too, often make use of allusion. They drop the precondition of there being an association in subject-matter and replace it by unusual external associations such as similarity of the sound, verbal ambiguity, and so on” (Freud, LT, 27). The play Sea Gull is stitched with allusions inside the play itself and the allusion tied to the Chekhov himself, although none of them are deliberately highlighted in the work.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting--there's a nicely sophisticated center here. I'm surprised you're not more suspicious of the biographical connection you're making between the author's life and the events in the play--aren't the post-structuralists you're quoting (Derrida for example) suspicious of exactly that move? But still, good work.