Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pasternak: Not By The Rod, But By Music

I was flipping through a little notebook of mine. Some years ago, I had used it to keep track of bits of prose or verse that made an impression on me.

One of the most profound reading experiences I have ever had was in my reading of Boris Pasternak’s, Doctor Zhivago.

The first entry in that little notebook was from Zhivago. Yuri’s uncle, Nikolai Nikolaevich has been speaking with Vyvolochnov, who as I gather from the context, was a moralist and pragmatist. I quote the recent Pevear, Volokhonsky translation:

…Nikolai Nikolaevich began to explain what brought him close to certain writers of the symbolist school, and then went on to Tolstoy.

“I’m with you up to a point. But Lev Nikolaevich says that the more a man gives himself to beauty, the more he distances himself from the good.”

“And you think it’s the other way round? Beauty will save the world, mysteries and all that, Rozanov and Dostoevsky?”

“Wait, I’ll tell you what I think myself. I think that if the beast dormant in man could be stopped by the threat of, whatever, the lockup or requital beyond the grave, the highest emblem of mankind would be a lion tamer with his whip, and not the preacher who sacrifices himself. But the point is precisely this, that for centuries man has been raised above the animals and borne aloft not by the rod, but by music: the irresistibility of the unarmed truth, the attraction of its example. It has been considered up to now that the most important thing in the Gospels is the moral pronouncements and rules, but for me the main thing is that Christ speaks in parables from daily life, clarifying the truth with the light of everyday things. At the basis of this lies the thought that communion among mortals is immortal and that life is symbolic because it is meaningful.”