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Art and freedom

· Boris Pasternak, protagonist at the Rimini Meeting in the exhibition 'My Sister - Life' ·

32nd Rimini Meeting opens on 21 August. The exhibitions presented include "My Sister - Life", dedicated to Boris Pasternak. The display - anticipated with texts and photographs in the July issue of "La Nuova Europa" - is edited by Giovanna Parravicini and Adriano Dell'Asta. We publish excerpts from the Catalogue (Seriate, Fondazione Russia Cristiana, 2011, 10 euros), of the memoirs of the writer's son and of the final essay.

In his book, Disputed Questions , the Trappist monk, poet and theologian, Thomas Merton, inserted a chapter entitled, “The Pasternak Affair.” In the summer of 1959, he had sent Pasternak his essay, “The People with Watch Chains.” The two had exchanged letters in the summer of 1958, before the publication of the English edition of Dr. Zhivago .

Merton’s interest had been piqued by a reading of Safe Conduct and some of the poems of Dr. Zhivago , and the brief exchange of letters contributed to enhancing his view of Pasternak.

In his essay, Merton wrote: “The impact of this great and sympathetic figure has been almost religious, if we take that term in a broad and more or less unqualified sense. It is true that there are striking and genuinely Christian elements in the outlook of Pasternak, in the philosophy that underlies his writing. But of course to claim him as an apologist for Christianity would be an exaggeration. His “religious” character is something more general, more mysterious, more existential. He has made his mark in the world not so much by what he said as by what he was: the sign of a genuinely spiritual man. Although his work is certainly very great, we must first of all take account of what is usually called his personal “witness.” He embodied in himself so many of the things modern man pathetically claims he still believes in, or wants to believe in. He became a kind of “sign” of that honesty, integrity, sincerity which we tend to associate with the free and creative personality. He was also an embodiment of the personal warmth and generosity which we seek more and more vainly among the alienated mass-men of our too organized world. In one word, Pasternak emerged as a genuine human being stranded in a mad world….If Pasternak’s view of the universe is liturgical, it is the cosmic liturgy of Genesis, not the churchly and hierarchal liturgy of the Apocalypse, of pseudo-Dionysius and of the Orthodox Church. And yet Pasternak loves that liturgy and belongs to that Church.”

Merton’s great appreciation of the artist is both benevolent and exact in its vision.

In a letter to American Miriam Rogers, Pasternak affirmed Merton’s analysis: “The fundamental spirit of my experiences or attempts is a conception of art, a creation and inspiration understood as sacrifice or self-abnegation, in a remote and humble similarity to the Last Supper and the Eucharist. In fact, the representative expression of our culture, the heroes and protagonists of European history are in some way an imitation of Jesus Christ, or they are closely linked and the Gospel is the foundation of that which we call the kingdom of literature and realism.”

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