Sunday, 1 September 2013

The Following (5) "Today is publication day..."

Today is publication day of The Following,  about an Australian politician and his line of descent, a few days out from an Australian election where parliamentary democracy will return a party majority of one sort or another, and as a writer under the sway of either, I will be free to insist on my own metaphorical take on anything I like (and have).

It was very different for Boris Pasternak in 1936, addressing the Minsk congress of the USSR Writers' Union, a petrified and obedient assembly of writers whose lives literally depended on denying their interior intuitions and giving themselves over to political instructions on what they should or should not write. And who can blame them? I fear I would have been one of them.

Pasternak spoke about the poeticising of experience, hardly a threat, you might think, to the might of a tyranny, yet it takes no effort of the imagination to sense the hall hushed to the danger of the writer's words: 

"The unforeseen is the most beautiful gift life can give us. That is what we must think of multiplying in our domain. That is what should have been talked about in this assembly, and no one has said a word about it…Art is inconceivable without risk, without inner sacrifice; freedom and boldness of imagination can be won only in the process of work, and it is there that the unforeseen I spoke of a moment ago must intervene, and there no directives can help."

Pasternak survived this moment of dare inexplicably. He lived through European politics played out in what he called "the bestiality of facts" by "the left and right wings of a single materialistic night."

Gearing up as he was even then to write Doctor Zhivago or something along its lines, Pasternak conveys the strangeness a writer feels facing "the novelty of the themes and situations" he wishes to address. This he must accomplish "in a space rarefied by abstractions and the language of journalists."

He added, "I will deal with subjects that are common to us in a language different from from yours. I will not imitate you, I will dispute with you..."

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