Its very hard to find anything in Gogol, right up to the meaning; Gogol somehow shrinks from your touch, wriggles away. He hides, and when you finally find him it won’t be right, it won’t be him: it isn’t that you have found him, but that he thrust himself out where you didn’t expect him, where there was no place for your ideas of him, where he wasn’t yesterday. That Gogol is no longer where you remember him; this one is not where you expect him. – “Being Burried Alive, or Gogol in 1973 – Andrei Bitov
On the one hand, it is a mere coincidence that, as Marx was writing about windfallen wood in 1842, in Russia, a novel named Dead Souls was passed by Nicholas I’s censors and published. On the other hand, no Gnostic historican can afford to turn up his nose at mere coincidence – for are we not the slaves of intersignes? And surely this must be an intersigne, an exchange happening in the basement below universal history, where all the dealers in codexes are busy cutting them up and mashing them back together.
To look at windfallen wood from the aspect of whether it can be defined as private property, Marx claims, tells us a lot about what private property is defined as. The same can be said for buying dead souls – souls that exist on an equality with live ones on the tax rolls. What Chichikov has figured out (and was born to figure out – in Chapter XI, Gogol’s portrait of the birth and schooling of a rational choicer certainly shows us this much) – is what we now know in various other forms – the credit default swap, the leveraged buyout, etc. Which is that in capitalism, the nominal, given the right circumstances, easily triumphs over the substantial. One buys a company making real things – like mattresses – with debt itself. All of these brilliant financial innovations were not dreamt of in Nicholas I’s Russia; and yet, buying dead souls in order to take out a loan from the government to buy a substantial estate – Chichikov’s general plan – touched on the very essence of financialization. Touch on its intersection with the forces of life and death – which is why in the town of N. (a town Gogol describes in his notes as pure emptiness), a stout middle aged man, looking neither handsome nor ugly, having no real distinguishing trait about him, could, in the course of his business, eventually be mistaken by the townspeople for the Antichrist – that is, Napoleon – himself.
Meanwhile, in Köln, Marx is writing about dead wood and live ownership.