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Joseph Brodsky and the Creation of Exile

Joseph Brodsky and the Creation of Exile

David M. Bethea
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 340
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    Joseph Brodsky and the Creation of Exile
    Book Description:

    Joseph Brodsky, one of the most prominent contemporary American poets, is also among the finest living poets in the Russian language. Nevertheless, his poetry and the crucial bilingual dimension of his poetic world are still insufficiently understood by Western audiences. How did the Russian-born Brodsky arrive at his present status as an international man of letters and American poet laureate? Has he been created by his bilingual experience, or has he fashioned the bilingual self as a necessary precondition for writing poetry in the first place? Here David Bethea suggests that the key to Brodsky, perhaps the last of the great Russian poets in the "bardic" mode, is in his relation to others, or the Other.

    Brodsky's master trope turns out to be "triangular vision," the tendency to mediate a prior model (Dante) with a closer model (Mandelstam) in the creation of a palimpsest-like text in which the poet is implicated as a triangulated hybrid of these earlier incarnations. In pursuing this theme, Bethea compares and contrasts Brodsky to the poet's favorite models--Donne, Auden, Mandelstam, and Tsvetaeva--and analyzes his fundamental differences with Nabokov, the only Russian exile of Brodsky's stature to rival him as a bilingual phenomenon. Various critical paradigms are used throughout the study as foils to Brodsky's thinking.

    Originally published in 1994.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6374-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. A Note on the Transliteration
    (pp. xix-xx)
  6. Principal Abbreviations
    (pp. xxi-2)
  7. 1 Joseph Brodsky and the Creation of Exile: A Polemical Introduction
    (pp. 3-47)

    Thus begins one of the many forewords and afterwords that Joseph Brodsky has written for fellow poets since arriving on the shores of his adoptive country twenty years ago. Almost all these celebratory framings, these sturdy and sometimes antique-sounding bookends placed on the shelf of time to shore up a worthy volume against the “moral deafness” of contemporary reader expectation, reveal the same sensibility and tone of voice (“Beyond Consolation,” 14). But this instance is particularly fascinating, and perhaps for that reason is as good a place as any to make our entry. This foreword was penned for a Polish...

  8. 2 Brodsky’s Triangular Vision: Exile as Palimpsest
    (pp. 48-73)

    For anyone who has halted among the ruins of Western civilization that is Joseph Brodsky’s poetry, a question often poses itself: what is the func tion of these shards from the past, these Martials, Ovids, Virgils, Horaces, and Dantes? Are they primarily decorative, verbal Elgin Marbles lifted out of their settings in order to grace the British Museum of a latetwentieth-century text? Is Brodsky simply interested, à la Khodasevich, in grafting the “classical rose to the Soviet wilding” (seeLess, 395–96) or in modernizing Mandelstam’s famous “nostalgia for world culture” formula? What poetic economy is at work here?


  9. 3 The Flea and the Butterfly: John Donne and the Case for Brodsky as Russian Metaphysical
    (pp. 74-119)

    Joseph Brodsky has never been one to come by poetic or ontological truths straightforwardly. He is less afraid of heights and depths than he is of level ground, especially the flatland of cliché. His prosodic footfall is reminiscent of the movement of Mandelstam’s little peasant horse in “Clacking on purple granite” (O porfirnye tsokaia granity, 1930), whose hoofs scrape defiantly against verbal (and existential) matter in their ascent up the mountainside of the Russian lyric tradition. Brodsky, too, tends to halt before the beaten path and prefers the steep incline of new and ever more difficult challenges. A single frontal...

  10. 4 Exile, Elegy, and “Auden-ticity” in Brodsky’s “Verses on the Death of T. S. Eliot”
    (pp. 120-139)

    “[D]eath,” writes Brodsky in his 1982 essay on Akhmatova, “is a good litmus test for a poet’s ethics. The in memoriam genre’ is frequently used to exercise self-pity or for metaphysical trips that denote the subconscious superiority of survivor over victim, of majority (of the alive) over minority (of the dead). Akhmatova [in her poetic cycleRequiem] would have none of that” (Less,50). This statement, as it turns out, is itself a kind of litmus test for the author’s own ethics and aesthetics. Versions of it reappear at strategic moments in important essays on Tsvetaeva and Auden (Less,195...

  11. 5 Judaism and Christianity in Mandelstam, Pasternak, and Brodsky: Exile and “Creative Destiny”
    (pp. 140-173)

    At what point does a writer of verse become “the Poet,” find his creative path” (tvorcheskii put’), first walk in step with “destiny”? Where and how does an individual come to see that he has a contractual relationship with fate, a relationship implicating his biography and his word not only in a past and present but in a future? The questions are not fatuous ones but go to the heart of such notions, crucial to Russian poetry, assud’ba poeta(fate of the poet). Mandelstam “accepted life as it was,” wrote his widow; “I believe this was because he saw...

  12. 6 “This Sex Which Is Not One” versus This Poet Which Is “Less Than One”: Tsvetaeva, Brodsky, and Exilic Desire
    (pp. 174-213)

    To judge by the essays inLess Than One,as well as by other statements in and out of print, no other Russian poet is closer to Joseph Brodsky, to his self-image asizgoi(outcast), and indeed to his entire creative enterprise than Marina Tsvetaeva (1892–1941). The only other writer to occupy an equivalent place in his thinking is not Russian—W. H. Auden. This is of some importance, particularly when we realize that the remarkable kinship between Tsvetaeva and Brodsky has been little attended to and that Brodsky himself has played a not insignificant role in the reestablishment...

  13. 7 Exile as Pupation: Genre and Bilingualism in the Works of Nabokov and Brodsky
    (pp. 214-251)

    In a 1925 story entitled “Christmas” (Rozhdestvo), the young Russian émigré writer V. Sirin presents the feelings of a character who has come to his manor house outside Petersburg to collect the belongings of his son. The boy has just died unexpectedly, and the father, Sleptsov, is wracked by an overwhelming sense of loss and confusion. The character’s loneliness and disorientation are compounded by the setting: he wanders about the vacant house and grounds, as recently as the previous summer alive with the movements of the lepidopterist son but now suspended in thoughts of death, as in a daze. Toward...

  14. Afterword
    (pp. 252-254)

    What might we say in parting about this poet who has always insisted not only on his own sovereign agency but oncreating his own exile,both linguistic and experiential, even as he has been created by it? And though his life is still unfolding, what does his “vector” yet promise? Why, finally, does Brodsky’s instance strike us as poignantlyexemplary?

    Nadezhda Mandelstam once wrote about the role of poetry in Russian culture: “People can be killed for poetry here [in Russia]—a sign of unparalleled respect—because they are still capable of living by it” (Hope Abandoned,11). It...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 255-298)
  16. Works Cited
    (pp. 299-312)
  17. Index
    (pp. 313-317)