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John Edward MacKinnon BORIS PASTERNAK'S CONCEPTION OF REALISM To desire truth is to desire direct contact with a piece of reality. To desire contact with a piece of reality is to love. —Simone Weil, The Needfor Roots According to czeslaw milosz, Boris Pasternak "did not pluck fruits from the tree of reason, the tree of life was enough for him. Confronted by argument, he replied with his sacred dance." Pasternak's poetry, he concludes, is "antispeculative, anti-intellectual," and though he was compelled to make certain concessions in the course of writing Doctor Zhivago, speculative thought nonetheless remained for him a perennial and decided "adversary." ' However, the familiar and conveniently stark distinction between lyricist and thinker upon which such judgments depend is in fact both naive and tiresome since, plainly, creativity and reflection need in no way necessarily subvert one another. Accordingly, while it is indeed likely that the most valued feature of Pasternak's poetry and best prose is its detailed recording ofthe world's incessant change, of the magic and movement of weather and gardens, seasons and landscapes, Milosz is far from just in so readily and categorically dismissing any attribution of poetic thought to Pasternak. For as much as the whole of his poetry amounts to a celebration of life's small wonders, unrivaled in their greatness, there remains at bottom the inspiration of the thinker, of one who has seen and felt, but who at the same time has had to compile and consider in an attempt to make sense of the whole. As if in open challenge to Milosz, CM. Bowra notes that Pasternak's poetic sensibility is "both physical and intellectual." The mental states described in his poems, Bowra writes, "begin with sensations of the eye and ear but contain something else in their mental appreciation of the 211 212Philosophy and Literature situation," namely, his "gift for grasping abstract problems." 2 If Milosz remains unconvinced, and if Wladimir Weidle dismisses Pasternak's poetic thought as "puny and piteous," still more poets and critics have shared Bowra's view.3 Henry Gifford refers to Pasternak's "philosophical habit of mind," Ronald Hingley to the "pyrotechnics" ofhis "darting intellect," and Yury Lotman to his personal and "thoroughly professional philosophical culture." 4 In her review ofPasternak's My Sister, Life, meanwhile, Marina Tsvetaeva observes that "thought is what works in him, burrows in subterranean passages . . . ." 5 And though Nadezhda Mandelstamclaims that the word of all poets "flows from a general, integrated view of the world," she acknowledges too that poets "vary in the range and depth of their understanding" and proceeds to cite Pasternak as her one example of a poet with a particularly unified worldview.6 If we were to agree with Francis Sparshott that "the fiercest hatreds spring from the closest relationships," we could assume in turn that the fundamental antagonism customarily alleged to obtain between the creative and critical faculties in fact indicates only some common, if confused, origin or inspiration.7 In creating, after all, it is predictable rather than idiosyncratic that the artist will be led to investigate the roots ofart within himself, tiiat he will be tempted by the urge to define, to entertain, that is, some rudimentary theory. And indeed, in Pasternak 's case, it is not simply a matter of his poetry and prose having been informed by certain tacit, if stray, aesthetic conceptions, but rather of his having supplemented his intensely thoughtful artwith aconcurrently developed theory. In this article, I want specifically to consider Pasternak's conception of realism, that standard of achievement which, according to his theory, constitutes the touchstone of all great art. In order more firmly to ground this notoriously vague and unwieldy notion, I will appeal not only to complementary theoretical conceptions of Pasternak's, but also to those central ideas advanced by Iris Murdoch in The Sovereignty of Good. My intention will be to locate Pasternak's brand of realism within what I take to be an identifiable tradition, or at least a conspicuous and pervasive theoretical tendency, according to which the most crucial criterion of artistic realism is judged to be not any properly physical aspect ofthe completed work, and certainly...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 211-231
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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