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Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago. // Faith and Knowledge. A lecture by Andrey Velikanov

Andrey Velikanov’s Lecture Cycle: Ideas and Forms
1 October 2017


The lecture is dedicated to the interrelation between faith and rational knowledge in a fictional character or image.

Thomas Aquinas stated that the scientific truth and that of faith cannot contradict each other—there is harmony between them instead. In his interpretation, both truths serve for apprehending the God. In contemporary philosophy, this thought has transformed into the idea that the truth of science and the truth of faith are articulated in different languages (or, endure in different discourses) and thus cannot deny each other. A deliberate or non-deliberate violation of this principle would most likely lead to a comic effect in the perception of the observer. However, an attempt to band faith and rational knowledge together may be useful in creating fictional characters and tropes. Boris Pasternak ends his famous novel with a collection of short poems by the protagonist, Yuri Zhivago. Both the novel and these poems mark the author’s intention to live a life that would, in its sacrifice, match the horrible events of the revolution and the civil war. The fairly realistic descriptions of nature in the poem August apparently can be seen as proof of the author’s sublime emotional experience of his transition—in death and resurrection.

“It was necessary for man's salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because man is directed to God as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason…”

(Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica)

“This was its promise, held to faithfully:
The early morning sun came in this way
Until the angle of its saffron beam
Between the curtains and the sofa lay,

And with its ochre heat it spread across
The village houses, and the nearby wood,
Upon my bed and on my dampened pillow
And to the corner where the bookcase stood.”

(Boris Pasternak, August (abstract), 1953. Translated by Henry Kamen)


Andrey Velikanov is a philosopher, art theorist, and artist. His publications on art and cultural theory include Am I a Trembling Simulacrum, or Do I Have the Right? (NLO, 2007). He has taught at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Russian State University for the Humanities, UNIC Institute, Wordshop Communications Academy, Moscow 1905 Art Academy, MediaArtLab Open School, Center of Avant-Garde at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, and Free Workshops Art School, and regularly gives talks and takes part in discussions at various venues. He is also a recipient of several media art awards and prizes including Ostranenie (Germany), DADANET (Russia), Art on the Net (Japan), TrashArt (Russia), Southwest Interactive Festival (U.S.A.), and Split (Croatia).


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