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To Lose a Nose is to Lose Face?

To Lose a Nose is to Lose Face?

The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol

“The world is filled with the most outrageous nonsense.” – Gogol 

A hypothetical for you: Imagine waking up one morning and going about your usual routine – snoozing the alarm four times, giving up on said alarm, getting out of bed, stumbling your way to the bathroom. Now, somewhere between the toothbrush strokes and the gargling and the rinsing and rehashing of your morning anxieties and deadlines and life goals and existential crises, you momentarily glance in the mirror.

Moment of truth: What would be your first and honest reaction upon realizing that, in true Lord Voldemort fashion, your nose had absconded from your face?

In Nikolai Gogol’s The Nose, Major Kovalyov is served precisely this identity crisis for breakfast: He wakes up one morning without a nose. Kovalyov’s chief concern? His appearance to others. Without a nose, he frantically realizes, it would be rather difficult to fulfill his goals of marrying and gaining rank on his shiny bureaucratic career ladder. He reasons that the most horrific body part to have lost is a nose. Forget that it likely serves as the least functional human organ. Its value derives from being the most noticeable body part. To lose a nose is to lose face. And Kovalyov is prepared to exchange an arm or a leg or even his ears for his characteristic, pimple-prone nose. His impulse is to frantically scurry to search all of St. Petersburg for his missing nose – really, to him, his missing sense of identity. And Gogol’s impulse is to set this absurdist nose hunt against the backdrop of a stark reality that reveals exactly what is under our own noses: our societal obsession with appearances. An obsession that may mistakenly conflate our outer appearances with our inner core, our physical looks with our underlying identity. 

Once again, moment of truth: Is it absurd, outrageous nonsense to think that in losing a nose, we lose our identity?

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Nikolai Gogol Quote, Illustration by Obvious State


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