Pavel: Static and Pathetic

A look at Ivan Klima's book "Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light"
I wrote this essay for a class on Eastern European Literature at Grinnell College in 1998.
Previously published: © 2002 by Martin Kretzmann

In his novel, Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light, Ivan Klíma explores tedium and its effect on and relationship to the central character Pavel. He also explores the significance of Pavel's work and art on his psyche and development. The connection of these two, tedium and his work, is seen through the aspect of monotony in the book and Pavel's hope that he will progress as an artist, ironically he never does.

One of the many questions posed by Klíma in this novel is: "What was tedium?" The answer is "Time filled with encounters that leave no mark on us" (40). Throughout the novel, Klíma describes scenes in which Pavel participates, but is disengaged. For example, Pavel makes love to Eva in a dispassionate way. We also notice his art is continually produced in ways he despises, i.e. censorship of his television work and his move after liberation to the monotonous and meaningless filming of pornography. Pavel attempts to live his life, and correct his mistakes through screenplays he will never turn into films. He does not change, and what is most important to him is not what happens to him in his life, but what happens to him in his screenplays. His life does not contribute to his development; he remains static.

We can see the emptiness that his real life has left on him when he is finally abroad.

He was abroad, he was finally where he had once longed to be, and he had an expensive car and a mistress with him. He should feel some sense of satisfaction now, but what he noticed the most was the pain in his chest and the emptiness above him (232).
Pavel has reached the place where he has always yearned to be, but it has not affected him as he thought it would and all he experiences is pain and emptiness.

As the novel progresses, Pavel becomes more intertwined with his screenplay and becomes further detached and alienated from his real life. Perhaps Pavel uses his screenplays to break the monotony of his life, and his dissatisfaction with his television work. Even Pavel's mother can no longer differentiate what she sees on television; to her it is all the same; no matter what is on she insists that she has seen it before. This monotony has become tedious; the television has become meaningless.

The alienation Pavel feels later as an artist is representative of his role as a photographer, as an observer. In a most wonderful way, this role of the artist as an observer is explored in greater detail in Thomas Mann's Tonio Kröger. Tonio is a writer who considers himself an observer of the Bürger. (1) At the same time, however, he regards the Bürger with some degree of contempt. The novel ends with Tonio's realization that his love of life and his Bürgertum (2) are one and the same. For Pavel, however, his alienation is a result of his own staticity and is never fully resolved. He chooses instead to live his ideal through, and admit his mistakes through his art. He neglects his real life, which does not develop or grow.

Pavel, in fact, has the desire to "...go somewhere, do something, change something. Go back somewhere" (21). Since he can not change the past, and is uncertain about the future, he uses the screenplay to express his desires; in his screenplay he has control. This is the reason his screenplay is so personal to him: as he becomes more engrossed in this screenplay, his real life becomes secondary to this fiction. The influence of the real world on him decreases, driving him into alienation and dissatisfaction, which further encourages his desire to live his life through this screenplay.

Throughout much of the novel, Pavel is waiting for a time when he will be able to finally make his film. But as circumstances change, he acquires new excuses for not producing the film. First it is because of the government, then it is for economic consideration; he says he can not afford it. Pavel does not change; he does not make his film because it is too personal. To make this film would be an admission of his desires, of his inadequacy. About his screenplay he says, "The heroine is waiting for something the hero is unable to give her" (217). The film reveals all of Pavel's weakness, and attempts to justify some of it; just as Pavel tries to justify his television work, his pornography, his delay in the film, his failed love, his attempt to flee.

Pavel no longer knows who he really is. Is he the real Pavel, or the fictional? Significantly, the last line of the novel is: "Which life is really my own?" (234). Pavel is struggling between his tedious real life, and his fictional life. As a result he remains static and pathetic. Pavel is what he detests most in the totalitarian regime: pathetic, resistant to change, and living an untruth.

Pavel's life has become empty because he has allowed himself to become desensitized to the world around him. His most potent stimulation comes from his art, from his screenplay that will never be anything more than that, from his desire for somebody to love and his desire to change the past, none of which can be changed, none of which is real. For Pavel, truth lies in what is not true, in his screenplay. The end of the novel shows Pavel almost becoming the character in his screenplay, only to end up being himself, with no bride. "She presses close to him, embraces him and kisses him, and kisses him again.... He suddenly feels anxious and reaches beside him with his right hand, but his fingers close on a void. His bride has vanished" (234). Pavel has lost the ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy, whether through his training in totalitarian television, through his dependence on his screenplays for inspiration, through his stubbornness to admit he is mediocre or through a life that is tedious. Pavel knows not what he is, or what anything is; even the "countryside ...seems to have vanished" (234). The tedium of life has brought Pavel to nothingness.

1 German word whose closest English equivalent is citizen, but indicates some degree of ordinariness, perhaps drawn along lines of education and economic standing. For example, a rich businessman or a University Professor would not be considered a Burger.

2 Citizenship. See previous note.

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