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The Rational and the Mytho-poetic in Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago: 2/2
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2007-08-20 09:47:26
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At the other hand of the spectrum we have Pavel Pavlovich (Pasha) who later, as a leader of the revolution, assumes a pseudonym and is known as Stralnikov. He is an uncompromising purist, an ideologue longing for an ideal society that respects the equality and the dignity of all its citizens. He is passionate for justice and arrives at the conclusion that the best, most rational way to achieve it is by implementing the Marxian ideology as promoted by the Russian revolution. So he joins the communist party.

After her sad experience with Kamarovsky, Pasha looks all the more attractive and admirable to Lara. She ends up marrying him and they have a daughter. But their marriage is rather short lived because Stralnikov is really married to the ideology and gets very busy with his fellow-Bolsheviks, in performing their duties of judges and executioners of subversives and reactionaries to the revolution; they are the ideological doctors ridding society of its political cancer, all for the common good, or so it is rationalized.

Stralnikov is so passionate in his task of judge and executioner that he finds no time to visit his wife Lara and his daughter even when he is staying for a while in the very town they live in, in the Urals. In short, the man has become an ideological fanatic, one of those prophesized by Dostoyevski in his novel The Devils and, just like Komarovsky, he has effectively dehumanized himself. Unlike Komarovsky who acts out of impulse and instinct, he is a rationalist and continues to rationalize what ought never be rationalized. Eventually he realizes, to his horror, that besides his humanity he has also lost the love and respect of his wife Lara. At that point he shoots himself.

In philosophical Vichian categories Stralnikov represents “the barbarism of the intellect.” In the name of ideological purity and “justice” this kind of barbarian creates more injustice than what was there before. Both men have irreparably damaged Lara’s life but I would submit that of the two the one who has done the most damage is Stralnikov. Interestingly, while Stralnikov commits suicide, thus depriving his family of his love and care, Komarovsky, in his own misguided fashion, and perhaps motivated by guilt, attempts to help Lara escape from the clutch of the Bolshevics; an offer that Yura refuses for himself while allowing Lara to accept it. He is then left all alone and is effectively, slowly killed by the revolution that makes life very difficult for him, as in fact happened to Pasternak in his own life.

In between those two extremes of mythos without logos and logos without mythos there is Yura. He shares with Sralnikov the longing for a more just society but not his fanaticism and extremism in getting there. He also shares with Komarovsky his appreciation of imagination in the apprehending of the reality of the cosmos, the respect for feelings and for the intuitive which feeds his poetry, but his feet remain solidly on the ground because besides being an idealistic poet he is also an empirical scientist concerned with particulars and details: a good and responsible doctor. In him, science, poetry and philosophy come inseparably together. He is a whole man, and his view of reality is holistic. He never loses sight of the immanent because he is a doctor confronting daily the miseries wrought by a civil war. On the other hand, unlike the other two men, he never loses sight of the transcendent either. Indeed, his saving grace is the poetical which is a window to the spiritual and the unseen. It saves him form the extremes of sensuality and a rationalism justifying crimes in the name of an ideology; it helps him in preserving his integrity and humanity and discern a meaning and a purpose in the universe.

This ethical concern is in fact what gives power to Pasternak’s novel transforming it into a myth of sort and because of its mythic qualities tied to its logos the novel will undoubtedly remain a classic throughout the ages. Yet, Yura is not the perfect man Stralnikov thought he was. He is human being but a flawed one, and he errs but he acknowledges and takes responsibility for his sins. at one point he betrays the vows he made to his wife; but the betrayal is never cold and calculated and it never assumes the form of a seduction; it is rather a rash unreflective rushing beyond what C.S. Lewis characterizes as filia love (the deep appropriate friendship and admiration he felt for Lara) to enter the third more intimate kind, that of Eros, reserved for one’s spouse.

For this unfaithfulness he feels great guilt and decides to confess it to Tonia, who suspects it, and to ask for her forgiveness. This proves impossible when he is captured by a group of revolutionaries and forced to become their doctor. He then witnesses the incredible suffering and inhumanity wrought by the civil war, but unlike Stralnikov he manages to remain un-dogmatic, intuitive and a-rational (not to be confused with the irrational) always concerned with justice and doing the humane thing. He keeps a holistic view of reality at all times reflected in the novel: characters disappearing and suddenly reappear, people and events seem to be tied together at some fundamentally uncanny and providential level.

The novel feels like a myth and as such goes beyond even the events of the Russian revolution, something wholly lost on the rationalistic unimaginative political bureaucrats running the Soviet Union's political machinery at the time who mistook it for a mere historical novel. In point of fact the revolution in the novel feels like a mere unimportant interruption in a much larger more meaningful scheme of things (the logos of it all). That interruption of course manages to kill Pasternak along with many other worthy men, but there is a remnant: we are left with a story that will forever remain an inspiration and eventually assume the character of a myth.


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Jack2007-08-20 21:49:26
How nicely you summarized this classic in one short sentence...

"He keeps a holistic view of reality at all times reflected in the novel: characters disappearing and suddenly reappear, people and events seem to be tied together at some fundamentally uncanny and providential level."

I am certain there are no shortage of those whom would agree with his philosphy about their own lifes being so.

Matt Williamson2007-08-21 20:24:24
I loved the novel and the movie, in fact Lara's Theme (Somewhere My Love) is my grandfather's favorite song. so it has a special place in my heart too.

Irshad Kamal Khan2008-09-29 17:33:28
amazing! these words seem to reflect the inner feelings of the casual reader who would be surprised that their unexpressed feelings could be thus expressed.

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