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Thursday, 22 May 2008

DR ZHIVAGO

A marked change from the normal fare here is this passage from Boris Pasternak's famous novel Dr Zhivago. It is also a good description of our politically-correct age, except that the consequential deaths are generally psychological and spiritual not physical. Larissa Fyodorovna Antipova is talking to Yuri Andreyevich Zhivago.

'I can still remember a time when we all accepted the peaceful outlook of the last century. It was taken for granted that you listened to reason, that it was right and natural to do what your conscience told you. For a man to die by the hand of another was a rare, an exceptional event, something quite out of the ordinary run. Murders happened in plays, newspapers and detective stories, not in everyday life.

'And then there was the jump from this calm, innocent, measured way of living to blood and tears, to mass insanity and the savagery of daily, hourly, legalised, rewarded slaughter.

'I don't suppose this ever goes unpunished. You must remember better than I do the beginning of disintegration, how everything began to break down all at once--trains and food supplies in towns, and the foundations of home life and conscious moral standards.'

'Go on. I know what you'll say next. What good sense you make of it all! It's a joy to listen to you.'

'It was then that falsehood came into our Russian land. The great misfortune, the root of all the evil to come, was the loss of faith in the value of personal opinions. People imagined it was out of date to follow their own moral sense, that they must all sing the same tune in chorus, and live by other people's notions, the notions that were being crammed down everybody's throat. And there arose the power of the glittering phrase, first tsarist, then revolutionary.

'This social evil became an epidemic. It was catching. And it affected everything, nothing was left untouched by it. Nor did we escape its influence in our home. Something went wrong in it. Instead of being natural and spontaneous, as we had always been, we began to be idiotically pompous with each other. Something showy, artificial, forced, crept into our conversation--you felt you had to be clever in a certain way about certain world-important themes.'

'Children are more honest. They aren't frightened of the truth, but we are so afraid of seeming to be behind the times that we are ready to betray what is most dear to us, and praise what repels us, and say yes to what we don't understand.'

Or say no to good things because we cannot be bothered considering them.