Pasternak and Revolution: Lyric Temporality and the Intimization of History
Pasternak in Revolution: Lyric Temporality and the Intimization of History
The relationship between the individual and historical processes was one of Boris Pasternak’s persistent and central concerns, from his earliest lyrics, to his experiments with long-form poems and prose at mid-career, to his late masterwork, the novel Doktor Zhivago (Doctor Zhivago). Pasternak’s oeuvre poses the questions of what the lyric poet can say about history, and how to say it. Among his earliest, most complex and perhaps least critically understood attempts to answer these questions is the 1920-23 poetic cycle “Bolezn'” (“Illness”). In particular, the third poem of this cycle, “Mozhet stat'sia tak, mozhet inache” (“It can happen like that, or otherwise”), is among Pasternak’s most dense and enigmatic works. To our mind, it also contains the central keys to reading the cycle “Bolezn'” and to Pasternak’s earliest attempts to make lyric sense of historical experience. The present article is a contextualization and analysis of this poem, of the cycle that contains it, and through this, of the counterintuitive potential of the lyric mode as an instrument for historical thought. Our work is based on an examination of the construction of the poem and its web of allusions to Russian and world literature from Lermontov and Tiutchev to Dickens, as well as to the contexts of Pasternak’s biography, in light of recent work on lyric and avant-garde temporality. In this manner, we describe “Mozhet stat'sia tak, mozhet inache” as an evocation of the complex fabric of temporal linkages binding Russian culture together at a moment when the temporal sequence itself had been upended in what Pasternak envisioned as a “purga” (“blizzard”) of revolutionary transformation.