The Philosopher’s Poet: Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago, and Whitehead’s Cosmological Vision

by Strachan Donnelley

Strachan Donnelley is presently teaching in the Seminar College at the New School of Social Research, New York, NY.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 45-58, Vol. 13, Number 1, Spring, 1983. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Pasternak speculated that forms are creatively engendered by the protean nature of life itself, in its active self-renewal with concrete worldly settings. This is more radical and "unPlatonic" than Whitehead’s speculative adventures.

Alfred North Whitehead, the author of the monumental and tortuous Process and Reality, is our century’s foremost philosophical cosmologist. His speculative thinking is marked by a keen sense for aesthetic experience and art. In particular, he has a love for philosophy in art and for that rare phenomenon, the philosopher’s poet. For example, Whitehead finds Milton in Paradise Lost performing poetic service for Plato -- perhaps without cause, Whitehead is quick to point out, because Plato was more than capable of giving concrete and lively poetic expression to his own philosophic insights (PR 96).

This native love for aesthetic experience, for art, and for philosophy in art is wholly consonant with Whitehead’s fundamental philosophic vision of the universe. Given this passion and understanding, it is a shame that he missed a more recent philosopher’s poet, whose art is very closely related to the philosophical orientation of Whitehead himself -- Boris Pasternak in Dr. Zhivago, if not directly expressing Whiteheadian thought, is certainly the poet-novelist of a modern philosophical cosmology which shows striking parallels to Whitehead’s own. Without bending the truth too far, we may claim that Pasternak is Whitehead’s poet.

The philosophic dimension of Dr. Zhivago is all too often passed over or insufficiently considered. Dr. Zhivago is not a mere literary or aesthetic event, but the human document of an artist who himself was early a student of philosophy. Philosophic thought is absolutely central to the novel. Any attempt to appreciate Dr. Zhivago without grappling with the philosophy which permeates it would be like trying to comprehend Whitehead without reflecting on his imagery and metaphors. Both can be done, but not without distorting the respective visions. With varying degrees of emphasis, for both Pasternak and Whitehead art and philosophic thought are indissoluble.

Moreover, Dr. Zhivago stands as a significant philosophic event in its own right. The whole question of philosophical cosmology -- and of the particular brand adopted by Pasternak and Whitehead -- is radically reopened. Philosophical cosmology and the cosmological sensibility in general have recently been on the run, hounded from a central position in civilized thought. Yet, as shown by Whitehead and Pasternak, this philosophic perspective and sensibility spring forth again and again, irrespective of prevailing intellectual moods. Philosophical cosmology has a long, distinguished past, reaching back to pre-Socratic thinkers, and no doubt has a future. It is inextinguishable. It is endemic to a certain mode of thinking life, reflecting a certain relation of man to his world. Pasternak vividly retells us what this ongoing tradition is about, while offering his own original contributions. In short, he deserves our philosophic attention.

I. Pasternak and the Cosmological Vision

Whitehead wears his speculative cosmology on his sleeve. Pasternak cloaks his philosophy in his art, in his characters and their conversations, and in the imaginative world he creates. Nevertheless, the cosmological character of his vision is no less apparent. All of Dr. Zhivago’s major protagonists are infused with a cosmological sensibility. In a culminating meditation over the dead body of Yurii, Lara, aided by the explicit intervention of Pasternak, disclaims:

Ah, that was just what had united them and had made them so akin! Never, never, even in their moments of richest and wildest happiness, were they unaware of a sublime joy in the total design of the universe, a feeling that they themselves were a part of that whole, an element in the beauty of the cosmos.

This unity with the whole was the breath of life to them. And the elevation of man above the rest of nature, the modem coddling and worshipping of man, never appealed to them.

"The riddle of life, the riddle of death, the enchantment of genius, the enchantment of unadorned beauty -- yes, yes, these things were ours [and not the small problems of practical life, like reshaping the planet]." (DZ 417-18)1

In an earlier effort to extricate herself from the nightmarish liaison with Komarovsky, Lara turns to the silent, flower-scented, broad expanse of a nature "dearer than her kin, better than a lover, wiser than a book." (DZ 63). She rediscovers the purpose of her life: to grasp the meaning of the earth’s wild enchantment, to call each thing by its right name, or to give birth, out of a love for life, to those who could. Nikolai, Yurii’s maternal uncle and the novel’s resident professional philosopher (Lara and Yurii considered too much philosophizing like a steady diet of horseradish), has his sister’s "aristocratic sense of equality with all living creatures and the same gift of taking in everything at a glance" (DZ 11). His speculations on the interconnections of life, religion, art, history, and Christ establish philosophic themes taken up again and again.

Yet it is left to Yurii Zhivago to move decisively beyond cosmological sensibility to more or less sustained cosmological reflection proper, to speculation on the relation of the natural universe to human life in all its facets. The same man who is repeatedly overcome by the sound of waterfalls, the smells of wild cherry and old linden trees, and the color patterns of butterflies undertakes a dual career in art and science, attempting to yoke the two in practice and in theory. Yurii is natively drawn to art and history, has interests in physics and the natural sciences, and chooses medicine as a profession because of its practicality and social usefulness (DZ 57). He has a specialist’s knowledge of the eye and writes a paper on the nervous elements of the retina, which he feels as somehow importantly relevant to imagery in art, to the logical structure of ideas, and to artistic creativity (DZ 69). He meditates on the relation of will and purposiveness to the mechanism of natural adaptation, of mimicry to protective coloring, and of the emergence of consciousness to natural selection. He thinks together Darwin and Schelling, the butterfly and modern painting, and envisions the vegetable kingdom as the key to human history and to human life itself (DZ 289, 377). In the dissecting room Yurii is stunned by the beauty of the human body, dead and dismembered, and is overcome by the riddle of life and death and of the fate of individuals. He dreams about writing a culminating book about life, for which his poems are but a preparation (DZ 57).

What are we to make of these catholic interests and tastes and of these bold connections of disparate realms of existence? According to Whitehead, they are endemic to the philosophic spirit. The felt importance of the universe, the world abroad, has many species, provoking a variety of interests irreducible to one another, no one species claiming an ultimate supreme value at the expense of the others. Yet none are alien to the human spirit. We are essentially constituted by our experience of a world of things felt as variously important and by the interests they provoke (MT 16).

Amidst these varied interests, the essence of philosophic rationality is connection, seeing patterned connections within and between things, yoking together analogous patterns in disparate realms, thereby discerning their underlying rational relation (MT 58ff., 203). The discovery of general patterns or interconnections uniting seemingly disjoined facts is the cosmological enterprise. Like Yurii, Whitehead thinks together the natural universe and human civilization, living creatures and art, logical and aesthetic experience.

Granted that Pasternak is a philosophic cosmologist, what does it all come to? What is at the bottom of this cosmological outlook? The clues have already been given, and they concern not so much the universe in general as man in particular. The core conviction, I believe, is that man is wholly in nature. We are integral members of a natural community which is the cosmos. This seemingly innocuous and ostensibly sensible conviction establishes the cosmological perspective from which all philosophical problems are to be raised and resolved.

Such a perspective carries philosophically fateful consequences. If man is in nature, nature must be so construed as to accommodate man. A status in nature must be found for the life, emotions, mentality, and creativity of man. Correlatively, if human activity is natural activity, then civilized life, ethical and intellectual activity, artistic creativity, aesthetic experience, and religious vision must have an essential relation to this newly construed nature, specifically to organic life.

The essential relation of organic life to all human activity is just what we find asserted in both Whitehead and Pasternak. It accounts for the originality of their visions and for their fundamental quarrel with other metaphysical positions.

According to Whitehead, the problem of life, specifically the status of life in nature, is the problem of modern science and philosophy (MT 202). Our conceptual and practical grasp of life has suffered at the hands of modern thinkers, whose conceptions are importantly traceable to Descartes’ deadly dualism of mere mind and mere matter with life -- all life -- banished to a metaphysical limbo (MT 204). This banishment of life from a central place in philosophic thought is precisely why philosophies starting with the Cartesian assumptions fail to gain a reasonably coherent and adequate view of the universe and ourselves.

According to Pasternak, life, the opportunity freely to live concrete, individual human lives, is the problem of modern sociopolitical existence. This is central to the tragic vision which is Dr. Zhivago. For Whitehead, notwithstanding practical problems, life faces the deadly abstractions of modern science and philosophy. For Pasternak, notwithstanding theoretical problems, life faces the practically fateful, no less deadly abstractions of political rhetoric and ill-informed ideology. The interrelation of the two problems is a fascinating and important topic which we must pass over. Nevertheless, "life and motion" threaten to be lost to our modern civilized existence. Whitehead and Pasternak intend to return them to their rightful places.

This central focus on life, human and nonhuman, rather than on mind or mere matter, seems to make the cosmological perspective philosophically inevitable. For notwithstanding Descartes and his modern followers, life is in nature -- how in nature is the fascinating philosophic problem. Life is Whitehead’s "nature alive." And, to repeat, if all modes of human activity are modes of life, then nature and human civilization must be brought together rationally. Life is the grand "go-between," the mediator, the concrete link between nature and culture. Culture and civilized life are only further creative elaborations of nature alive, with principles of civilization and human individuality adumbrated in organic life itself. Or so would claim both Whitehead and Pasternak.

We find ourselves in nature. We ourselves are concrete instances of life in the cosmos and thus are essential clues to its fundamental character and its natural achievements. We are natively equipped with an epistemic arsenal with which to comprehend reality. We need only to attend to ourselves understandingly. This is the inherent, persuasive logic of the philosophical cosmologist’s position, of the thinker who refuses to divorce nature, life, and man.

Given this philosophical persuasion, the fundamental character of life and how concrete instances of "nature alive" are essentially interconnected within the universe become cardinal speculative problems. With these problems in mind, we may approach Pasternak’s philosophy proper.

II. Life and Cosmos in Dr. Zhivago

Early in Dr. Zhivago Pasternak describes life in rural Russia and the bustle of passengers at a local train station -- good Tolstoyan themes (DZ 15). Abruptly he shifts into philosophical speculation. Taken separately, every motion in the world is calculated and purposeful. People are set in motion by the mechanism of their own personal cares. But taken together these motions are "spontaneously intoxicated with the general stream of life which united them all." The individual mechanisms of care only work because they are "regulated and governed by a higher sense of an ultimate freedom from care." This sense is derived from the nature of life itself.

This freedom came from the feeling that all human lives were interrelated, a certainty that they flowed into each other -- a happy feeling that all events took place not only on the earth, in which the dead are buried, but also in some other region which some called the kingdom of God, others history, and still others by some other name. (DZ 15)

The other name of this region is arguably life itself, which properly understood, comprehends the kingdom of God and history.

Whatever, we are told that all lives are essentially interrelated and flow into one another. And the sense of this interrelation harbors a freedom from care -- from a concern over mortality and death. The ongoing general stream of interconnected, individual lives itself is immortally alive. The immortal one is in the many, and the mortal many are in the one.

Pasternak delves further into this fundamental theme in Yurii s impromptu lecture at the sickbed of Anna Ivanova (DZ 59ff.). Anna is concerned about the immortality of her soul, the survival of her personal consciousness. But, says Yurii, consciousness is a light turned outwards, to help us move about in the world. Consciousness is a function of life in its commerce with the world, not an individual, independent substance. (Whitehead agrees.) And what, Yurii continues, do you know of your self? It is always knowledge of an external, active manifestation of yourself in others, in some work of your hands, in your family and friends. "You in others," that is your soul and will be your immortality.

The active manifestation of the self in others is the concrete, temporal mechanism interconnecting individual lives. The self essentially matters to the very qualitative liveliness of others. This is the only kind of individual immortality Pasternak will allow. Upon Anna s death, Yurii writes a poem in her memory. This is his active, immortalizing" response to her life in him.

This basic mechanism of "life in others," which means that life essentially involves both worldly activity and worldly "suffering" or undergoing, is behind the bewildering interconnections and mutual influences of Dr. Zhivago’s characters. The mutual penetration and real connection of lives, each in the other, is the backbone of the novel, undergirding its tragic vision. Lara and Yurii are a real source of life to one another; Komarovsky and Lara essentially influence one another, for worse and for better; Lara, Yurii, and their families cannot escape the savagery of the war, the revolutions, and their champions. Nor can postwar Russia fully escape the persuasive, fateful voice of Yurii’s poems. Dr. Zhivago is the story of individual, interconnected lives crucifying and resurrecting one another, again and again.

Life "crucified and resurrected" is no mere metaphor but, for Pasternak, a central character of life itself. After denying the traditional religious conception of personal immortality, Yurii tells Anna she should not be concerned. For "all the time, life, one, immense, identical throughout its innumerable combinations and transformations, fills the universe and is continually reborn" (DZ 60). You rose from the dead when you were born and never noticed it. St. John holds the key. There is no death, because life ever renews itself. It resurrects itself out of death, which is the past, the over and done with.

Here is adumbrated an important theme which runs throughout Dr. Zhivago: death is (ontologically) a friend of life. Life requires death for its own vital regeneration or resurrection. Concrete instances of life spontaneously arise out of the dead, the already become, which provokes life’s novel immediacy or activity. (Again, this is good Whitehead -- the parallel with the perpetual perishing of actual entities, and their subsequent role as objectively immortal, is too clear to require further elaboration.)

Interestingly, this particular conception of life in nature necessarily implies a notion of natural causation which breaks the hegemony of efficient causation, the complete determination of the consequent by the antecedent. For Pasternak, the present is not, or need not be, totally determined by the past. "By nature" there are authentic revolutions, personal and social. These are spontaneous events, breaking right into the middle of things "without cause," wiping away old habits, unjust and just alike (DZ 164). Such events are the backbone of history, which follows the pattern of the vegetable kingdom, spontaneously changing itself without our notice or without our willful interventions (DZ 377). True revolutions, historical change, the vegetable kingdom -- all are life aboriginally resurrecting itself out of death, the worldly past. This, in part, is the originality of life.

III. History, Art, Eros, and Ethics

Life resurrecting itself out of death, the worldly past, and "life in others" are the metaphysical bones of Pasternak’s cosmology. On the basis of these conceptions, all else must be interpreted, and his singular vision fleshed out. The fundamental theme which runs through his articulated cosmological vision is the central significance of lively individuals in worldly relations. All more specific reflections -- on history, art, religious leaders, women, politics, ethics, etc. -- are but elaborations of this theme.

For the speculative Nikolai, the ultimate importance of individual lives in their immediate, worldly settings was first emphatically recognized by life’s consummate genius, Christ. Christ transformed a blinding preoccupation with the old world abstractions of tribes, nations, and overweening sociopolitical projects into a lively concern with the mystery of the individual and of life itself. "The most important thing is that Christ speaks in parables taken from everyday life, that He explains the truth in terms of everyday reality" (DZ 39). The creative elaboration of everyday, concrete reality, an instance of life’s vital resurrection, culminates in "the irresistible power of unarmed truth," the inward music which subdues the beast in man and persuasively leads him to goodness by the power of its example.

The idea that underlies this, says Nikolai, is "that the communion between mortals is immortal, and that the whole of life is symbolic because it is meaningful" (DZ 36). Christ natively grasped that life is a primary and ever-recurring ontological drama. It continually carries itself forward by actively renewing itself and its goodness in and through its interrelated, concrete vehicles, worldly individuals.

This idea also underlies Nikolai’s conception of history. History is "the centuries of systematic explorations of the riddle of death, with a view to overcoming it. That’s why people discover mathematical infinity and electromagnetic waves, that’s why they write symphonies (DZ 13). Human life actively meditates on the given, past world, thereby resurrecting itself. The dead is overcome understandingly or creatively, in science, art, or concrete practice. The past is taken up in an atemporal concept or a newly created form.

Further, this recurrent process is necessarily individual. There are only concrete instances of life, only individual, more or less creative transformations of the given. By the "immortal communion between mortals," "life in others" (ontologically the only way the historical project can be carried out), individual men participate in the creation of ongoing history, influenced and influencing. They do not "die in a ditch like a dog" (DZ 13). History is man’s true home in which he creatively springs beyond mere animal life. Yet man’s home is in the house of the cosmos, for human history is cosmic life’s own creative transformations. History is life endowed with human memory of the past and human aspirations for the future.

For Nikolai, Christ is at the font of truly human history precisely because he emphatically underscores its requisite principles: love of one’s neighbor, the supreme form of vital energy (the "immortal communion between mortals"), the idea of free personality (only individuals seek and are persuaded by the truth), and the idea of life as sacrifice, ultimately to life itself (DZ 13).

Christ’s genius for life likewise establishes him as the consummate artist, who decisively sets the course for modern art. This is a contribution of primary importance. For Pasternak, art is a crucial ingredient of man’s historical project, the overcoming of death and the resurrection of life.

Art, speculates Yurii, is not a category, but a vital principle, a force, a truth realized in its concrete instances. Art is not so much form as a hidden, secret part of content which is always essentially the same. It is "a statement about life so all-embracing that it can’t be split up into separate words" (DZ 235). Further, "Art always serves beauty, and beauty is delight in form, and form is the key to organic life, since no living thing can exist without it, so that every work of art, including tragedy, expresses the joy of existence" (DZ 378).

Art has its ultimate root in organic life. We are back at our fundamental theme of life, "one, immense, ever-changing, ever the same, concretely renewing itself. Art is a mode of life’s vital resurrection. However, an important new note has been sounded which increasingly will occupy us. Life, in art as elsewhere, engenders new forms of itself, out of itself, in its vital resurrection within concrete worldly settings.

Life implies and requires death. Life also implies and requires form. Life, death, and form must philosophically be brought together. This is just what we find in Yurii’s further meditations on art.

At Anna Ivanova’s funeral, Yurii notices in a glance peach-colored washing hanging in the monastery yard and how attractive his future wife, Tonia, is in black. In answer to the desolation of others, he is irresistibly drawn into poetic activity, to work out new forms and to create beauty. "More vividly than ever before he realized that art has two constant, two unending concerns: it always meditates on death and thus always creates life. All great, genuine art resembles and continues the revelation of St. John" (DZ 78). Art echoes history, for both are constitutive modes of cosmic life.

The theme of life, death, and form is deepened in Yurii’s curious typhus dream. Passing through the crisis of his illness, Yurii dreams of writing a poem about Christ, specifically about the three days of turmoil, the raging earth assailing "the deathless incarnation of love" between His entombment and resurrection (DZ 174). Directly or indirectly, Tonia and Lara are present in the dream, nurturing him back to physical and artistic health. But the dream’s most striking feature is the presence of the enigmatic Evgraf, Yurii’s half brother, who is helping him write the poem. Yurii recognizes Evgraf as his death. Yurii asks, how could death be useful, a help in creative activity?

Evgraf is the son of Yurii’s suicide father, of the unregenerative legacy Yurii explicitly renounced, his "over and done with." Significantly, Evgraf himself is not creative, yet he recurrently pops up in the novel as Yurii’s benefactor, temporarily stemming the tide of the havoc wrought by the revolution and civil wars, putting things in order, providing Yurii an opportunity for pursuing his family life and creative talents. Evgraf effectively embodies a vestige of prerevolutionary order and resourcefulness. This is how "death" can finally be a true friend of life, and thus of art. The past world, including the artist’s personal past, must have a requisite order if life is humanly to renew itself. Death, the past, must have its definite concrete forms if important and original forms are to merge.

This fundamental insight was originally expressed through and by Christ. Art’s "timeless" history was deflected and deepened by Christ’s creative attention to the mystery of the individual and to the importance of everyday life. "Only the familiar transformed by genius is truly great" (DZ 237). Art requires the familiar and ultimately serves everyday life. The great object lesson is Pushkin, who opened the windows and let concrete reality, with its life and motion, storm into the lines of his poetry, "driving out the vaguer parts of speech" (DZ 237). This was more than aesthetic service. Pushkin reaffirmed the sanctity of everyday, "bourgeois" existence -- housewives, quiet lives, and big bowls of cabbage soup. With form and content indissoluble, the works of Pushkin (and later Chekov) become irresistible powers of unarmed truth, "like apples picked green, ripening of themselves, mellowing gradually and growing richer in meaning" (DZ 237). They concretely realize the unchanging aim of art: "homecoming, return to one’s family, to oneself, to true existence" (DZ 139).

Pushkin performs the same function as Christ. They have the same office and duty: to express the highest native talent, the talent for life, thereby resurrecting a truly human way of life. In some form or other, Christ’s passion must be authentically reenacted again and again. We repeatedly must be called back to everyday life and its requisite forms. There will always be a Pushkin, a Yurii, or a Hamlet, whom chance has allotted "the role of judge of his own time and servant of the future," the high destiny of "a life devoted and pre-ordained to a heroic task" (TS 129). In Pasternak’s cosmos, Christ and man are equals, each serving the same master, life itself.

This brings us to a final ingredient of Pasternak’s cosmic harmony, without which we cannot fully understand the interrelations of life, death, form, and art. This is eros, love. With love, Pasternak’s women emphatically enter the cosmic picture.

The theme of eros and women is explicitly sounded in the eccentric Sima’s conversations with Lara, with her original reformation of Nikolai’s speculative theses on religion and history. Mary replaces Christ as the inaugurator of modern, truly human history. The everyday girl gives birth to "universal life" by miraculous inspiration (DZ 342). "Universal life," God, becomes man, and henceforth individual lives and the creative elaboration of everyday reality become the life story of God (DZ 343).

Sima ponders why Mary Magdalene is mentioned on the eve of Easter, as a timely reminder of what life is before the ensuing death and resurrection of "universal life." This reminder is of concrete life, temporal, sensual, and passionate; crucified and seeking renewal; boldly speaking in bodily, everyday images. Magdalene embraces Christ in the waves of her hair, thirsting after his forgiving mercy. Sima exclaims, "What familiarity, what equality between God and life, God and the individual, God and a woman!" (DZ 345). Sima’s Christ is curiously silent. Who is resurrecting whom? Who is the consummate artist, creatively speaking the truth in terms taken from everyday life? The Magdalene of Yurii’s poems speaks in the same earthly erotic voice, with the same effect.

Sima’s speculations suggest that eros, as embodied in individuals, is the true artist, that eros is essential to the renewal of life, to art, and to the origination of form. For Pasternak, this is indeed so, as we see with Lara.

Lara is crucified by world events, by her womanly erotic impetuousness, and by her sensual embroilment with the "pagan" lawyer Komarovsky. Yet in her worldly involvements, she is a first daughter of the living cosmos, its natural work of art, and a living example of what Pasternak envisions human art should be. She is a creature of grace and vital harmony -- a dark, husky voice speaking a current of spontaneously flowing words, commanding by their truthfulness.

She was lovely by virtue of the matchlessly simple and swift line that the creator had, at a single stroke, drawn all around her, and in this divine form she had been handed over, like a child lightly wrapped in a sheet after its birth, into the keeping of Yurii’s soul. (DZ 307)

Lara is eros and form indissoluble.

What precisely did Lara mean to Yurii, to his personal and creative life? Practically everything. For Yurii, Lara was a deep electric current, charged with all the femininity in the world; a spring evening punctuated with the sound of children; vast Russia herself, his incomparable mother, splendid in all her extravagant contradictions, the blessing of his existence (DZ 325). Lara was existence itself.

This was exactly what Lara was. You could not communicate with life and existence, thank them as one being to another, but she was their representative, their expression, in her the inarticulate principle of existence became sensitive and capable of speech. (DZ 325)

Eros is the basal energy of life. Lara is Yurii’s gateway to the universe abroad and his means for understanding everything in the world.

On one side, erotic liveliness is essential to wisdom. Life, for Pasternak, can be intimately and finally known only by true lovers. In Translating Shakespeare, commenting on Romeo and Juliet, Pasternak explicitly asserts that love is an elemental cosmic force, simple and unconditional, wearing a disguise of meekness. It is not a state of mind but the foundation of the universe (TS 132). For Yurii and Sima, certain individuals, particularly women, are primary embodiments of this universal, sensuous eros, with an instinctive knowledge of life’s erotic ways. Final wisdom is understanding the nature of great love: what it requires, what nourishes it, what damns it. This in part is the philosophic significance of Lara’s and Yurii’s relation, of the two who are "by nature" compelled to love.

Most people experience love without becoming aware of the extraordinary nature of this emotion. But to them -- and this made them exceptional -- the moments when passion visited their doomed human existence like a breath of eternity were moments of revelation, of continually new discoveries about themselves and life. (DZ 328)

Thus we have the "immortal" Platonic dialogues of Yurii and Lara, the modern Socrates and Diotima. Lara, the incarnation of life’s universal eros, intuitively comprehends love’s need for an orderly, domestic world and for a childlike vision that can grasp life’s beauty. She understands that the havoc brought by the war, the overthrow of all old customs and order, the modern reign of untruth and bombastic rhetoric, and the fear of following one’s own conscience have destroyed all real love and family life, including her marriage with Pasha (DZ 335). To these reflections, which embody the genius of Nikolai’s Christ, Yurii, the "hero of his times," can add little.

Eros, as a fundamental cosmic force, is no less central to art and the creative engendering of form. Yurii’s poems are invariably inspired by Lara or other women, by their life in him and his nerve-wracking jealousy over their fateful, suffering involvement in the world. Nevertheless, his poetry is universal and cosmological in tone. The logic is straightforward. Women are particular embodiments of life’s universal eros and rekindle the same in Yurii. The fate of his women is importantly the fate of life itself, the final subject of his poems. The universal is in the particular, and it is Yurii’s office as a poet to bring the universal forth by transforming the particular (DZ 377).

Most significantly, awakened eros is itself responsible for the poet’s creative engendering of new forms. We get a first glance at this in Pasternak’s comments on Romeo and Juliet.

Being thus basic and primordial, [love] is the equal of artistic creation. Its dignity is no less, and its expression has no need of art to polish it. The most that an artist can dream of is to overhear its voice, to catch its ever new, ever unprecedented language. Love has no need of euphony. Truth, not sound, dwells in its heart. (TS 132)

Romeo and Juliet speak to each other in blank verse. The measure is never stressed nor obvious. There is no declamation. Form never asserts itself at the expense of infinitely discreet content. "This is poetry at its best, and like all such poetry it has the simplicity of prose" (TS 132).

The theme of eros and the artist’s creative engendering of form is further developed in Dr. Zhivago. At Varykino, during what proves to be their last moments together, Lara urges Yurii to return to his poems. Yurii writes "inspired" poetry and speaks of poetic creation. After several stages of necessary, preliminary preparation, language takes over the poet and the creative process.

Language, the home and receptacle of beauty and meaning, itself begins to think and speak for man and turns wholly into music, not in terms of sonority but in terms of the impetuousness and power of its inward flow. Then, like the current of a mighty river polishing stones and turning wheels by its very movement, the flow of speech creates in passing, by virtue of its own laws, meter and rhythm and countless other forms and formations, which are even more important. . . . (DZ 363)

This is precisely like the "language of love" that Pasternak finds in Romeo and Juliet. Furthermore, the erotic, impetuous, and powerful Lara is the home and receptacle of beauty and meaning. There is no paradox. Language is a mode of cosmic, organic, erotic life, which "creates its own forms in passing." Language is life expressing itself and being expressed, becoming "sensitive and capable of speech." Yurii is taken over by "the movement of universal thought and poetry in its present historical stage and the one to come" (DZ 364). He assumes his creative role in the historical project which is man’s true home. He feels a rare moment of vital peace and blesses his entrance into the incredible, pure realm of existence, which includes the stars, the fields, and Lara and her daughter Katenka in the bed beside him.

The origin of created form in erotic life is finally and most emphatically asserted in the culminating moment of Dr. Zhivago mentioned earlier. In Lara’s momentary resurrection over Yurii’s dead body, she takes leave of him in a spontaneous, original monologue, informed by her instinctive knowledge of life, love, and death. She addresses Yurii

. . . in the direct language of everyday life. Her speech, though lively and informal, was not down-to-earth . . . its logic was not rational but emotional. The rhetorical strain in her effortless, spontaneous talk came from her grief . . . [her tears] seemed to hold her words together in a tender, quick whispering like the rustling of silky leaves in a warm, windy rain. (DZ 417)

This seems what Yurii always aimed at, but which cost him so much effort. Here are nature, individual human being, and art merged in a way that makes sense only in a cosmos governed by life, and only if this fundamental cosmic principle is erotic and engenders its own forms. Human creativity, feeling, and thinking are in nature, and nature is alive in man.

Such is Pasternak’s cosmological vision. Individuals are essentially involved with one another and with the universe abroad life renews itself out of death, with human love and creative activity the truest and fullest expression of cosmic reality. This vision is founded on Pasternak’s deep passion for the particular, the concrete, the truly lively. Only real, individual lives are ultimately important, and these lives always find themselves in particular worldly relations with one another.

Pasternak’s cosmology, in all its developments, supports this passion for the individual and for life. Without understanding his passion and the cosmological vision which philosophically justifies it, we cannot appreciate a final aspect of Dr. Zhivago. This is the novel’s ethical dimension, Pasternak’s emphatic indictment of Soviet Russia and our modern world.

Above all else, Pasternak is deeply repelled by social and political "blueprintism," the willful foisting of rigid, unyielding forms on humanly communal life, and by individuals denying their original, native personalities in favor of imitating someone or something else (DZ 147,418). He is repelled by all those who are unwilling to attend to life’s aboriginal ways and who give up on their individually unique lives in favor of grand poses, public or private. He is repelled by those who treat life as a substance to be molded (an attitude which only reveals their profound misunderstanding of life), and by all who delight in marching to deadly, "world-important" causes, the abstract issues of ironfisted, uncreative wills (DZ 208, 248, 282). Life cannot be treated with such impunity without disastrous consequences and without sinning against the very goodness of existence.

We might be inclined summarily to dismiss Pasternak on the grounds that an eccentric ethical passion has warped his vision and capacities, cosmological and artistic. This would be a mistake, philosophically if not practically. In his passion for life and the individual, Pasternak was pushed to wrestle with the most ancient of philosophic problems, in particular the problem of form. He speculated that forms are creatively engendered by the protean nature of life itself, in its active self-renewal within concrete worldly settings. This is more radical and "unPlatonic" than Whitehead’s speculative adventures. It assumes something Whitehead claims we cannot assume-that there are no uncreated, fixed forms, whether these be Platonic "realities" or Whiteheadian possibilities. Pasternak’s insight may prove the better road to evermore adequate philosophical cosmologies. Whatever, it has the widest possible ramifications, running the whole gamut of ultimate philosophical questions and concerns. Pasternak and his speculation deserve our further serious attention.



1 The key for references to the cited works of Pasternak is as follows:

DZ -- Doctor Zhivago. Translated by Max Hayward and Manya Harari; Signet Books, The New American Library; New York; 1958.

TS -- Translating Shakespeare. Included in I Remember, translated by Manya Harari; Pantheon Books; New York; 1959.