Notes from “Doctor Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak

I started this book because I’m a fan of the movie and wondered how much the book differed, or if it had more back story. I bought this version because I read that the translation into English was much better than the old one. I wasn’t disappointed. It still feels like a Russian book, but it isn’t as tiring to read. The book has everything that is in the movie, only some of it was tweaked a bit to fit the format. There is more about the Russian revolution and his feelings about what was going on. The symbolism of the relationship between Yuri and Lara was more clear in the book, but I still don’t get it all, mostly because I know very little about the era. I’ll probably read it again in a few years when I watch the movie again!

Page 10 “You come across talented people, but now various circles and association are the fashion. Every herd is a refuge for giftlessness, whether it’s a faith in Soloviev, or Kant, or Marx. Only the solitary seek the truth, and they break with all those who don’t love it sufficiently.”

Page 14 “This carefreeness came from a sense of the cohesion of human existences, a confidence in their passing from one into another, a sense of happiness owing to the fact that everything that happens takes place not only on earth, in which the dead are buried, but somewhere else, in what some call the Kingdom of God, others history, and still others something else again. To this rule the boy was a bitter and painful exception. His mainspring remained a sense of care, and no feeling of unconcern lightened or ennobled it.”

He could not understand a situation in which, if you were worse than others, you could not make an effort to correct yourself and become better.” “He was convinced that when he grew up, he would untangle it all.”

Page 48 “for centuries man has been raised above the animals and borne aloft not by the rod, but by music: the irresistibly of the unarmed truth, the attraction of its example. It has been considered up to now that most important thing in the Gospels is the moral pronouncements and rules, but for the main thing is that Christ speaks in parables from daily life, clarifying the truth with the light of everyday things.”

Page 59 Unions…”We’re not angry with you, we’re very grateful to you. But the talk’s not about you and us. It’s the same now with everybody, the whole world. And how can you go against everybody?”

Page 71 In the movie I felt that Lara was unwillingly with Komorovski but the book seems different. And he is already connect to Zhivago by being the lawyer that ended up getting his father killed.

Page 79 “Consciousness is poison, a means of self-poisoning for the subject who applies it to himself. Consciousness is a light directed outwards, consciousness lights the way before us so that we don’t stumble. Consciousness is the lit headlights at the front of a moving locomotive. Turn their light inwards and there will be a catastrophe.” Is he saying we must use our consciousness to think of others and not ourselves? That sounds right. It’s Yuri talking to his aunt/adopted mother as she’s afraid to die.

Page 101 “Then (when a child at his mother’s grave) he was hardly aware that there was some him, Yura, who had a separate existence and was of interest or value.” The death of a mother to young child is tragic for just that reason. They are so emotionally connected. There is no line between mother and child for many years. It’s as if half of you, more than that, you yourself has died and gone away.

Page 106 Komorovsky thinking about Lara after she shot him, “You could see at once that she was not like everyone else. There had always been something extraordinary about her. Yet how painfully and, apparently, irreparably he had mutilated her life! How she thrashes about, how she rises up and rebels all the time, striving to remake her fate in her own way and begin to exist over again!” This man has done this to others probably. I’m not sure if he is really evil or just so selfish with his own need to control young women. He knows he’s done something terribly wrong and I believe tries to make up for it in the movie, but in the book it seems he just does it again. But I think he really knows he’s wrong and can’t control himself. He’s a coward.

Page 125 “Pavel Pavlovich had graduated in classics. He taught Latin and ancient history in the high school. But suddenly the almost extinguished passion for mathematics, physics, and the exact sciences awakened in him, the former progressive school student. By self-education he acquired a command of all these disciplines at a university level. He dreamed of passing examinations in them at the first opportunity in the district capital,” This is before the internet! He had to go to the library and read all these books to learn this stuff. I think you still can take exams to pass classes at university and have a degree without actually going to the school.

Page 142 The tsar greeting his soldiers “was pitiable on that fray and warm mountain morning, and it was eerie to think that such timorous reserve and shyness could be the essence of an oppressor, that this weakness could punish and pardon, bind and loose.” The sovereign is typically not, in person, what he and his government project.

…why is he offended at the cannon? What a strange pretension, to demand diversity from a cannon! Instead of the cannon, why isn’t he astonished at himself, firing off lists, commas, phrases, day in and day out, why doesn’t he stop this barrage of journalistic philanthropy, as hasty as a hopping flea? How is it he doesn’t understand that it’s he, not the cannon, who should be new and not repeat himself,”

War and violence will always have the same outcome. It is us, the humans, that can change what we do.

Page 142 This stunned me. It’s a phrase I’ve heard from the bible all my life but never realized if you read it without the context you could take it to mean the exact opposite of what I think it means. “When it said that in the Kingdom of God there are no Greeks and Jews, did it merely mean to say that everyone is equal to God? No, there was no need for that; the Greek philosophers, the Roman moralists, the prophets of the Old Testament knew that before. But it said: in that new way of existence and new form of communion, conceived in the heart and known as the Kingdom of God, there are not peoples, there are persons.” You could actually take it as Greeks and Jews aren’t allowed into the Kingdom of God. But in the larger context it wouldn’t make sense. Jesus changed the rules, made everyone one “people” and brought us all into the kingdom of God. There are no differences between groups of people.

Page 148 This bit reminded me of today but I guess it’s going on at any time. “strange information came from headquarters,m alarming rumors arrived from home, from inside the country. Telegraph connections with Petersburg kept being interrupted. Everywhere, at every corner, political conversations went on.”

Page 149 “Suddenly everything has changed, the tone, the air; you don’t know how to think or whom to listen to. As if you’ve been led all your life like a little child, and suddenly you’re let out – go, learn to walk by yourself. And there’s no one around, no family, no authority.” I feel like this will happen here eventually. The general public has been treated as children for so long. Those that refuse to submit or balk at the restraint are deemed problem makers. The whole country is so blind to their own slavery.

Page 161 “They may be rebels, even deserters, but they’re the people, gentlemen, that’s what you forget. And the people are children, you must know that, you must know their psychology.”

Page 162 This is just pretty and heartfelt. “Oh how one wants sometimes to go from such giftlessly high-flown, cheerless human wordiness into the seeming silence of nature, into the wordlessness of deep sleep, of true music, and of a quiet, heartfelt touch grown mute from the fullness of the soul!”

Page 170 “Just think what a time it is now! And you and I are living in these days! Only once in eternity do such unprecedented things happen. Think: the roof over the whole of Russia has been torn off, and we and all the people find ourselves under the open sky. And there’s nobody to spy on us. Freedom! Real, not just in words and demands, but fallen from the sky, beyond all expectation.” This is what people right here, right now believe that “democratic socialism” will bring them today. They are good, kind, hopeful people, that have had history hidden from them and actually believe the wolves are here to protect and defend them.

Page 187 I’m having a hard time putting this part into my own words. He’s describing the “new”, the reality of what revolution is doing to the people and country, so different than what he had been led to believe would occur. It breaks my heart to read it.

Page 192 “This was what life was, this was what experience was, this was what the seekers of adventure were after, this was what art had in view – coming to your dear ones, returning to yourself, the renewing of existence.” Knowing the end through the movie, this just is so sad. He’s about to learn that you can never return to the old.

Page 205 The family is reveling in some found real alcohol and a duck but they can’t find real joy in it because the world around them is suffering. “isolated happiness is not happiness”

Page 213 “It’s petty to rummage around for the causes of cyclopean events. They don’t have any.” “But everything truly great is without beginning, like the universe. It does not emerge, but is suddenly there, as if it always existed or fell from the sky.” I think I’d agree with the first part. History is a cycle of events that never ends. Or is it a spiral? Up or Down? Getting Bigger or Smaller? The second part I can’t come to terms with. I guess it could be correct if you were thinking of the whole of history as the “truly great” thing. History as the universe has no beginning, it just exists.

Page 216 “Mortality rates, sick rates, the property status of the employees, the level of their civic consciousness and participation in elections, the unsatisfiable needs for fuel, provisions, medications – the central office of statistics was interested in all of it, and answers had to be provided for it all.” Yes, it makes them look like they are doing something, justifying their existence, but it doesn’t get anything done. It just employs people at busy work financed by the state. It’s useless and it’s happening here now.

Sometimes by snatches, besides periodic notes for his medical work, he wrote here his Playing at People, a gloomy diary or journal of those days, consisting of prose, verse, and miscelanea, suggested by the awareness that half of the people had stopped being themselves and were acting out who knows what.” This reminds me of my journal and blog. It’s just a running commentary of the things I’m experiencing and seeing around me. Maybe some day it will be useful to someone?

Page 254 “He sees straight off – propertied class, and what’s more a doctor, from the former masters.” I’m seeing this now. People have been conditioned (by who knows what) to see successful people as “masters” and told they need to throw those people out, not to attempt to emulate them. It’s nuts. This country is filled with opportunity, you just need to work for it, find your niche and make a living. But now people don’t just want the opportunity to better their lives, they want it handed to them by someone else’s labor.

Page 258 There’s an exchange (a black market) at a train stop. Free trade is a equal opportunity. You have something I want and I have something you want. I value the thing less than what you have and vice versa. When we trade, we are both better off. These people have been trained to believe that it is wrong. That it should be an even trade, not trade at all. One person owns everything and doles it out equally. Who makes that person or group better at doing that than everyone else? Their guns? Their election?

Page 264 Man I wish more people would read this and more history about the communist revolutions. “When the revolution woke him (the peasant) up, he decided that his age-old dream was coming true, of life on his own, of anarchic farmstead existence by the labor of his own hands, with no dependence and no obligation to anyone at all. But, from the vise grip of the old, overthrown state, he’s fallen under the still heavier press of the revolutionary superstate. And now the countryside is thrashing about and finds no peace anywhere. And you say the peasants are flourishing. You know nothing, my dear man, and, as far as I can see, you don’t want to know.”

Page 294 A high school aged boy, wounded in the head, was being arrested and led to the station. “He and his two escorts attracted one’s gaze by the senselessness of their actions. The cap kept falling off the student’s bandaged head. Instead of taking it off and carrying it in his hand, he would straighten it and pull it down further, to the detriment of his dressed wound, and the two Red Army men readily helped him. In this absurdity, contrary to common sense, there was something symbolic. He wanted to cry out to the boy and to the people in the car that salvation lay not in faithfulness to forms, but from liberation from them.” This just gives me chills reading it. If only we could get more people to see this truth. It’s hard to put my finger on why it touches me so much. I can only relate it to the home education movement. So many of us are bucking the public education system only to bring those forms into our homes and enforce them on our families voluntarily, instead of liberating ourselves from the forms and choosing or creating new ones that fit our lives.

Page 304 “this civil hydra, this plague of counterrevolutionists” “It’s run among us like a black cat, this class war, and see what it does!”

Page 310 “Haven’t such relations been abolished? (business, trade, etc.) Nominally, of course. But in reality there’s a need at the same time for mutually exclusive things…Peculiarity of the transitional period, when theory doesn’t coincide with practice yet.” It never will because it’s not possible, it’s not reality. It’s like abolishing gravity.

Page 311 “Or does it seem to you that a radical break could have been achieved in the dumas, by parliamentary ways, and that it can be done without dictatorship?” “I used to be in a very revolutionary mood, but now I think that we’ll gain nothing by violence. People must be drawn to the good by the good.” If it’s good at all it will do that. People seem to have this idea that most humans will not do what is good, that they are not drawn to it and will always, generally, do what is bad. They must be forced from birth to do what is good. But who decides what that good is? And if it is true, who are these special power holders who are different, better than the general people that decide and enforce this so called good?

Page 329 “What happiness to work for yourself and your family, from dawn to dusk,” “you think so much that is new, while your hands are busy with the muscular, corporeal work of digging or carpentry” “And that these thoughts, surmises, and juxtapositions are not set down on paper, but are forgotten in all their passing transience, is not a loss, but a gain.” You life must be a pretty poor existence to believe this is a step up in the world, a goal for everyone to attain. I hear people talk like this now. These things are truly good when you doing it voluntarily, when your needs for shelter, food, and safety are already met, not when you are forced to it from a place of fear and desperation. He and his family are happier and better off than they have been in a while because of the war and famine. It’s a relative statement. If I (from my current situation) were to move to this place, I’d be stepping down and very unhappy.

Page 333 “On every woman giving birth there lies the same reflection of solitude, of being abandoned, left to her own resources.” That’s true. It’s not the reality, it’s the feeling.

Page 334 “To me it is clear as day, I feel it with my every fiber, but how to express and formulate this thought?” I feel this way every day. Right now, while I re-read my notes and write this, I feel it. This says something to my heart, but for some reason I can’t express it in words.

Page 338 “What then prevents me from working, treating, and writing? I think it is not privations and wanderings, not instability and frequent change, but the reigning spirit of bombastic phrases so widespread in our day – such as: the dawn of the future, the building of a new world, the lights of mankind. You hear that and at first you think – what breadth of imagination, what wealth! But in reality it is pompous precisely in its lack of talent. Only the ordinary is fantastic, once the hand of genius touches it.” That’s it exactly! It’s the every day thing worked by someone extraordinary that moves the world. That thing that already exists which someone changes to make it better or work in a way it was never intended. That is the genius.

Page 352 “The arbitrariness of the revolutionaries is terrible not because they are villains, but because it’s a mechanism out of control, like a machine that’s gone off the rails.” That’s what revolution is, isn’t it?

Page 353 I’ll try to paraphrase this one. Yuri is talking about the “inspirers of the revolution”. They know nothing else but to prepare this new world they seek. They only educated enough to know they are unhappy and want change. But they are only prepared for the changing and don’t know how to bring it back down to just living again. Therefore the wars go on and on until someone else reigns it in. “Man is born to live, not prepare for life. And life itself, the phenomenon of life, the gift of life, is so thrillingly serious!” I know everything reminds me of education, but this really hit home. School is “preparing for life”. We are meant to live and learn, not sit on the sidelines and prepare for it.

Page 354 “It’s only in bad books that living people are divided into two camps and don’t communicate. In reality everything’s so interwoven!” Bad books and Facebook, social media today would have you believe there are good guys and bad guys, that there is right and wrong. The two never are both, or switch sides, and we never have friends and family members that are part wrong and part right.

Page 357 – He’s talking about the Jews, after they began to slaughter them (yes, the Russians did it too). “The people who once delivered mankind from the yoke of paganism, and have now devoted themselves in such great numbers to freeing it from social evil, are powerless to free themselves from themselves, from being faithful to an outlived, antediluvian designation, which has lost its meaning; they cannot rise above themselves and dissolve without a trace among others, whose religious foundations they themselves laid, and who would be so close to them if only they knew them better.” This is one of those comments that I feel right on the edge of understanding. Is he saying that if they Jews did not keep themselves so separate from everyone else, other people would not be able to do what they do to the Jews? If more people were close, knew Jews better, closer, then we wouldn’t be able to cut them off and destroy them as we do. Could that be similar to what’s happening today with the Muslim countries in the world?

Page 381 “Civil institutions should grow from below, on democratic foundations, the way tree layers are set in the ground and take root. They can’t be hammered in from above like fence posts.” This sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But for some reason the people cannot see that they are hammering in from above when they clamber to have laws made to control those around them. “Democratically” by political vote doesn’t work. Democratically by controlling your self and what you do.

Page 384 “The Emancipation of the Person” I need to look that up.

Page 393 “As it happened, Tyagunova worked as a dishwasher in the Pazhinsk pharmacy, the property of which the doctor was about to requisition. The requisition meant ruin for everyone who fed off the pharmacy, including Tyagunova. But it was not in the doctor’s power to cancel it.” I just cannot imagine being forced into an army and then having to do things that you know will mean a slow death for an entire town.

Page 400 “You weren’t at the study group again yesterday. Your social nerve has atrophied, as in illiterate peasant women or inveterately narrow-minded philistines or bigots. And yet you’re a doctor, well-read, and it seems you even do some writing yourself. Explain to me, how does that tally?” This also reminds me of today. If you are questioning what’s going on you must me an idiot, when really it’s the other way around. But how do you go against a mob?

Page 401 “The rulers of your minds indulge in proverbs,but they’ve forgotten the main one, that love cannot be forced, and they have a deeply rooted habit of liberating people and making them happy, especially those who haven’t asked for it.”

Page 414 “At the beginning of the revolution, when, after the example of the year 1905, it was feared that this time, too, the revolution would be a brief event in the history of the educated upper classes, and would not touch the lowest classes or strike root in them, everything possible was done to propagandize the people, to revolutionize them, alarm them, arouse and infuriate them.” See. This is where I wonder if those that are stirring up people to take down “the rich” and set up a “people’s government” haven’t read and studied history and communism and doing exactly this. The people haven’t and don’t even know they are being led like sheep.

Page 431 “A Russian song is like water in a mill pond. It seems stopped up and unmoving. But in its depths it constantly flows through the sluice gates, and the calm of its surface is deceptive.” I just love the image here!

Page 447 This is the stuff that terrifies me because I can see it coming in our future. “Another announcement reported on the sufficiency of food supplies available in the city, though they had supposedly been concealed by the bourgeoisie in order to disorganize distribution and sow chaos in the matter of provisioning.” Or it was kept by those that foresaw what was happening and want for stop their families from starving with what they had rightfully earned and saved.

Those caught hoarding and concealing food supplies will be shot on the spot.” “those not belonging to the exploiter elements are to unite into consumers’ communes.” What about “creator” communes? That’s what these people don’t understand. Someone needs to create the food and supplies. They don’t just appear out of nowhere. And if those who create are punished time and again, how long do you think anyone will continue to do so?

Page 448 “This time justified the old saying: Man is a wolf to man. A wayfarer turned aside at the sight of another wayfarer; a man would kill the man he met, so as not to be killed himself. There were isolated cases of cannibalism. The human laws of civilization ended. Those of beasts were in force. Man dreamed the prehistoric dreams of the caveman.” This is exactly what is happening on Walking Dead! It troubles me because it seems there is not end to the violence. The world has crumbled and instead of creating something better, it’s come around and begun the cycle of violence again. Maybe that is the plight of mankind. Maybe there is no general peace in this world, only the hope of the next. I don’t want that vision of the future. It depresses me. It’s probably why I’ve lost interest in the show. I’ve lost hope for their future. It brings hope to some though. They seem to think, like the Russian peasants, if they just get through this violent, painful part, civilization will return and then they can make it more peaceful. But they don’t see, starting with violence, ends in violence. Only a few people in the show see that they cannot start down this path and get to the place they want to be.

Page 452 “Information about famine testifies to the incredible inactivity of the local organizations. The facts of abuse are obvious, the speculation is monstrous, but what has been done by the bureau of the local trade union leaders, what has been done by the heads of municipal and regional factory committees?” “unless we take severe measures of terror, down to shooting speculators on the spot, there will be no escape from famine.” “What obliviousness to their own designs and measures, which have long left no stone upon stone in life!” They believe that people are holding out on the people’s government when in reality there nothing to give because no one is creating anymore. This is the natural result of a tyrant taking everything anyone makes and redistributing it. It’s what’s happening here and will only get worse. I’m already coming across it in my classes I try to create and no one else can see the cause. It’s maddening!

Page 476 “A living human face had turned into the embodiment, the principle, the portrayal of an idea.”

Page 477 “All that’s productive, settled, all that’s connected with habitual life, with the human nest and its order, all of it went to rack and ruin along with the upheaval of the whole of society and its reorganization.” This is what happened to Yuri’s career, wife, and family.

And you and I are the last reminder of all those countless great things that have been done in the world in the many thousands of years between them and us, and in memory of those vanished wonders, we breathe and love, and weep, and hold each other, and cling to each other.” His relationship with Lara is the new order, chaos and passion.

Page 488 “a maiden – an ordinary thing, the ancient world wouldn’t have paid attention to it – secretly and quietly gives life to a child, brings life into the world, the miracle of life, the life of all, He who is ‘the Life of all,’ as he was later called. Her childbirth is unlawful not only from the point of view of the scribes, being outside wedlock. It also contradicts the laws of nature. The maiden gives birth not by force of necessity, but by miracle, by inspiration.” I feel like Jack Skellington…what does it mean?!

Page 494 Yuri’s wife, “I was born into this world to simplify life and seek the right way through, and she in order to complicate and confuse it.” speaking of Lara. That’s right. Lara is the revolution. Yuri wants both worlds. He wants his steady and orderly life and the new life the revolution promises to be even better. It’s beautiful and alluring, but not real.

Page 518 Yuri contemplates his love of Lara and her daughter. When I look at this story as a love story, I’m repulsed. How can he feel this way about Lara, knowing his wife and children will suffer without him? How can he sleep at night knowing what he has done? But when I look at it as an analogy for the revolution he is living through, it seems more clear and understandable, not what he is doing is right or something forgivable, but that it’s a symbol.

Page 522 “All his life he had dreamed of an originality that was smoothed over and muted, externally unrecognizable and hidden under the cover of conventional and habitual form; all his life he had striven to elaborate this restrained, unpretentious style, through which the reader and listener would grasp the content without noticing what enabled them to do so.” The difference between his pre-war life as a doctor and his post-war life as a poet.

Page 538 “No one makes history, it is not visible, just as it is impossible to see grass grow.” You could also say that everyone is making history, constantly. You just don’t know what action or inaction will end up affecting what. You don’t know what will end up in a history book.

Page 539 “With this sketching out of various odds and ends, he again verified and noted down that art always serves beauty, and beauty is the happiness of having form, while form is the organic key to existence, for every living thing must have form in order to exist, and thus art, including tragic art, is an account of the happiness of existing.” Yuri “journals” because he exists.

Page 555 “The fields were orphaned without man, as if they had fallen under a curse in his absence. Delivered from man, the forests stood beautiful in their freedom, like released prisoners.” “It seemed to the doctor that the fields he saw were gravely ill, in a feverish delirium, but the forests were in a lucid state of recovery, that God dwelt in the forests, but the devil’s mocking smile snaked over the fields.” Civilization is the devil and the wild state of man is God?

Page 571 “The unfree man always idealizes his slavery.” This. I see it regularly in homeschool circles. “It’s only a few hoops to jump through and look what I get!”

Page 572 “Our soul takes up room in space and sits inside us like the teeth in our mouth. It cannot be endlessly violated with impunity. It was painful for me to hear you tell about your exile, how you grew during it, and how it re-educated you. It’s as if a horse were to tell how it broke itself in riding school.” This just makes me cry.

The end. I’m so glad I read this book. I’m happy I’m getting back into fiction. I’ve been neglecting it, thinking that history and philosophy were far more important, but the fiction is what brings it all into focus!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s