Empire, Tourism, Nostalgia
Publication Year: 2010
Expelled from the Soviet Union in 1972 and honored with the Nobel Prize fifteen years later, poet Joseph Brodsky in many ways fit the grand tradition of exiled writer. But Brodsky’s years of exile did not render him immobile: though he never returned to his beloved Leningrad, he was free to travel the world and write about it. In Brodsky Abroad, Sanna Turoma discusses Brodsky’s poems and essays about Mexico, Brazil, Turkey, and Venice. Challenging traditional conceptions behind Brodsky’s status as a leading émigré poet and major descendant of Russian and Euro-American modernism, she relocates the analysis of his travel texts in the diverse context of contemporary travel and its critique. Turoma views Brodsky’s travel writing as a response not only to his exile but also to the postmodern and postcolonial landscape that initially shaped the writing of these texts.
In his Latin American encounters, Brodsky exhibits disdain for third-world politics and invokes the elegiac genre to reject Mexico’s postcolonial reality and to ironically embrace the romanticism of an earlier Russian and European imperial age. In an essay on Istanbul he assumes Russia’s ambiguous position between East and West as his own to negotiate a distinct, and controversial, interpretation of Orientalism. And, Venice, the emblematic tourist city, becomes the site for a reinvention of his lyric self as more fluid, hybrid, and cosmopolitan.
Brodsky Abroad reveals the poet’s previously uncharted trajectory from alienated dissident to celebrated man of letters and offers new perspectives on the geopolitical, philosophical, and linguistic premises of his poetic imagination.
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
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In 1995 Joseph Brodsky visited Finland and read his poetry at the Helsinki Festival. Watermark, his book-long essay on Venice, had just been translated into Finnish. I was present at a press conference and witnessed the nervous fingering of cigarettes and idiosyncratic English, which had by then become his trademark....
Note on Translations and Abbreviations
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In the 1989 documentary film Joseph Brodsky: A Maddening Space, there is a scene where the filmmakers arrange a viewing of photographs taken seventeen years earlier in Leningrad on the day of Brodsky’s departure from the Soviet Union. The obviously moved and somewhat emotionally distressed Brodsky is asked...
1. Exile, Tourist, Traveler
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The first critical approaches to Brodsky’s post-1972 travel texts were overshadowed by the modernist mystification of exile.1 Taking their cue from Brodsky’s own poetic similes, the critics would repeatedly make the same literary analogies and cultural references: Ulysses, Ovid, Dante, Pushkin, Mandelstam— the canonized prototypes of Western and Russian literary exiles. Peter Vail’s review of what he calls...
2. A Travel Guide to Imperial Mythologies: Leningrad
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The concept of empire emerges in Brodsky’s works as one of the essences structuring his historical and geographical imagination, as well as his understanding of cultural signification. Brodsky’s experience of Soviet Union, and his understanding of the country as an empire, was crucial to his understanding of empire both as a historical fact and a metaphysical concept. In his creative imagination empire was a...
3. A Postcolonial Elegy: Mexico
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If one were to look for historical analogies in Russian writers’ encounters with Latin America, Mayakovsky’s visit to Mexico in 1925 and Brodsky’s in 1975 would provide an interesting one. Both Mayakovsky and Brodsky visited Mexico as successful Russian-language poets, and both were received by leading Mexican intellectuals and artists of their time—Mayakovsky’s host was Diego Rivera...
4. The Metropolitan Man and the Third World: Rio de Janeiro
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The myth of the gentleman traveler, and his belated desire to resurrect the imperial past, has been recognized by many critics as the dominant tendency in much of contemporary Western travel writing.1 Discussing the 1960s generation of Soviet intellectuals, Petr Vail’ and Aleksander Genis argue that the myth had little use in the Soviet Union. They outline a paradigm of imperial experiences, on one end of which is the myth of the “gentleman-colonizer,” which, they claim...
5. Time, Space, and Orientalism: Istanbul
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There are two versions of Brodsky’s travel account of Istanbul: the Russian-language “Puteshestvie v Stambul” (“Journey to Istanbul”) was translated into English by Alan Myers under the title “Flight from Byzantium.”1 Both versions of the essay were published in 1985, the Russian in the Paris-based émigré journal Kontinent, and the English...
6. Staging Cultural Differences: Venice
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In a book-length essay on Venice titled Against Venice (Contre Venise) and published some years after Brodsky’s Watermark, the French writer and philosopher Régis Debray attacks Venice as an icon of Western cultural values promoted by a narrow privileged elite, while he also writes against the touristic Venice, the “culture boutique” of popular consciousness—not that the two are entirely unrelated.1 Rather than being directed against the city itself...
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There is a curious moment in Prince Viazemsky’s notes describing the first days of his visit to Venice in 1853. After mentioning that “since my arrival I have been to St. Mark’s basilica almost every day,” he goes on to name the other famous tourist sites he has seen—the Doge’s Palace, the Public Gardens, Ponte Rialto, and Lido. He then stops to describe...
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Page Count: 292
Publication Year: 2010