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Cultural Transformation as Transdisfiguration in Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago

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This article offers an innovative reconsideration of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago by examining the author’s understanding of Orthodox asceticism. Kelly shows how Pasternak opposes traditional Orthodox notions of asceticism with the cold materialism of Marxism. But the author does more than merely prefer the former over the latter. According to Kelly, Pasternak poses an asceticism rooted not in the severe abnegation of carnal desires, but in the embracing of the passions and full acceptance of humanity. Kelly argues that Doctor Zhivago offers a timely and necessary tweak of Orthodox asceticism (ascesis) and religious transfiguration (theosis) as a palliative and possible salvation for a Russia torn apart intellectually and spiritually, as well as politically and militarily, by revolution.

Affiliations: 1: University of Missouri-Columbia,


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