Creating Creation: Readings of Pasternak's Doktor Zhivago

By Swift, Megan | Canadian Slavonic Papers, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Creating Creation: Readings of Pasternak's Doktor Zhivago


Swift, Megan, Canadian Slavonic Papers


Susanna Witt. Creating Creation: Readings of Pasternak's Doktor Zhivago. Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis: Stockholm Studies in Russian Literature, 33. Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell International, 2000. 157 pp. Bibliography. Index. SEK 182.00, paper.

Does the world need another book on Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago? If the critic finds a fruitful perspective from which to view this in/famous novel and supports it with thoughtful close readings, as Susanna Witt does, then certainly. The arguments in this work are as graceful and productive as the hands which adorn its cover. In this latest addition to the Stockholm Studies in Russian Literature series, Witt investigates the novel's moments of self reflexivity. In her own words: "The methodological starting-point for the present study is that Doktor Zivago constitutes a work that in different ways refers to itself and thus represents a type of text which largely provides the critical tools necessary for its own analysis" (p. 11). Of course various critics have approached Pasternak's writing as an instance of avtometaopisanie (Timenchik, 1975), or text that tells of its own creation, yet none have produced a book-length study of the novel Doctor Zhivago from this critical vantage point. The result is a nuanced textual analysis refreshingly free of conjectures about Lara's real-life prototypes and Pasternak's likeness to Yury Zhivago.

Witt's first chapter, "Creation as dopisyvanie," is her strongest. Here she views Doctor Zhivago as a text which "continues to write" (dopisyvaet) Revelations. Witt refers to the penetration of one text by another as a "text juncture" and shows the moments in the novel in which writing is revealed as transparent and multi-layered, the text becoming a palimpsest. This life-affirming dopisyvanie, which eradicates borders between texts in order to create an unbroken continuum, is opposed to "onesided writing," the official publications and political newspapers which are pasted on walls.

The second chapter "Creation as ivopis"' plays on the double meaning of pisat', to write and to paint. Witt argues that throughout the novel "writing is modelled semantically as painting" (p. 52) and makes a convincing case for a sustained link between Zhivago's writing and icon-painting. She goes on to show how artistic media are continually blended in the novel, prose becoming verse and verse becoming drawing. As elsewhere, Witt uses substantive passages in the original Russian to make her case. …

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