#40 – Dead Souls

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.
George Orwell

We normally wouldn’t engage in punditsationalism disrespectful of our chief executive, our comandante, el jefe supremo but nothing seems normal anymore sooooo.

The Kafkaesque Russian writer Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852) was the progenitor of the more well-known Bohemian Franz Kafka (1883-1924). Both were clever and courageous in skewering the oligarchs of their day. And Gogol had no less disdain for the bureaucrats in 19th century St. Petersburg than today’s American nativists have for Washington’s do-nothing policy-makers.

“In his most famous story, a preening St. Petersburg bachelor wakes up one morning without a nose. After days of searching, he finds it in church dressed like a high-ranking official. ‘There can be no close relationship between us,’ it superciliously informs him. ‘Judging by the buttons on your uniform, you must serve in a different department.’”  (1)

If he were alive in the U.S. today Gogol would have more than enough material for his short stories and plays. He would have been perfectly at home with America’s surrealistically absurd society. He understood what “perfect nonsense goes on in the world.”  (1)

In Gogol’s comic novel, Dead Souls, Pavel Chichikov plans to buy and mortgage Russian serfs “dead souls” thus speculating in defenseless human property. Even as early as Shakespeare’s King Leontes in “The Winter’s Tale” our 21st century greedy rulers and bureaucrats were foreshadowed: “When an autocrat, paranoid, narcissistic ruler sits down with a civil servant and asks for his loyalty, the state is in danger.”  (2)   That should sound somewhat familiar to Americans today.

Although the Czar himself was seen to laugh at the antics of Gogol’s characters on stage, Gogol eventually felt that he had better take himself off to Italy before the Czar had him taking a long walk to Siberia. We feel fortunate or maybe unfortunate that we don’t have to flee to Tuscany to finish this essay or, at least, not yet. Nevertheless, we might all reach up to feel and determine if our nose is in its accustomed location. Things are getting weird in America!

Things were also weird in Gogol’s Russia and he did his best to shine a light on the absurdity of human behavior as he experienced it. Back to Gogol’s character Chichikov who was an opportunist much like a certain chief executive we are all familiar with who would like all of us to be “apprenticed” to his vision of America. To put it succinctly both Chichikov and what’s his name were in full pursuit of plenty, pleasure and power. “He [Chichikov] scours the papers for news of fire, famine or epidemic—anything that might yield a bumper crop of souls in legal limbo. His spree has an almost gustatory zest; as one gentleman exclaims amid tense negotiations [and remember our “what’s his name” is also a super-negotiator], ‘Really, for you a human soul is the same as a stewed turnip.’”  (1)

So there you have it dear reader, we Americans are living in an absurd community ruled by oligarchs who regard us as little more than “stewed turnips” ready to be devoured and as “dead souls” to be harvested. Look at the “dead souls” of Baltimore recently devoured by Wells Fargo, the avaricious landlords of Manhattan, and the citizens of Flint Michigan undeserving of something as basic as clean drinking water.

And speaking of the racist Wells Fargo loan officers who pushed toxic subprime mortgages on black homeowners in Baltimore: “Alluding to the bank’s logo, they told reporters that selling ‘ghetto loans’ was like riding ‘the stage coach from hell.’”  (1)

If you would like to pursue how we arrived at this absurd behavior and how to resurrect your own “dead soul” you can click on the link below. It is the only way to avoid winding up in Siberia.

Click here to better understand how our souls “die” in Current Events # 41, Soul Sickness.

Insight # 40:  As long as we insist on the accumulation of material wealth, ephemeral pleasure and the pursuit of the illusion of power as the purpose of our life our souls will remain lifeless.


  • Absurdity in The ABCs of Simple Reality, in print and on this blog, by Roy Charles Henry, 2018.


  1. Lucas, Julian. “Gogol’s Fake News.” The New York Times Book Review. May 5, 2018, pages 20-21.
  2. Callow, Simon. “When I Am King, as King I Will Be” The New York Times Book Review. June 24, 2018, page 8.


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