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.
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"A sympathetic, inward account of its subject, showing the grandeur, yet modesty, of Brodsky's stance, and finnishing with a suggestive afterword on the future for a bardic veiw of poetry and an umpoetic world . . . [Bethea] does justice to a phenomenally giffted writer who is one of the voices most worth listening to as our millennium slips away."--Times Literary Supplement
"Bethea's book is nothing less than brilliant. It is dazzling in its insights, scope, and methods. In the process of contextualizing Brodsky, and not at all as an afterthought, Bethea also addresses major issues of literary biography, literary history, and literary theory."--Vladimir E. Alexandrov, Yale University
Table of Contents:
A Note on the Transliteration
1 Joseph Brodsky and the Creation of Exile: A Polemical Introduction 3
2 Brodsky's Triangular Vision: Exile as Palimpsest 48
3 The Flea and the Butterfly: John Donne and the Case for Brodsky as Russian Metaphysical 74
4 Exile, Elegy, and "Auden-ticity" in Brodsky's "Verses on the Death of T. S. Eliot" 120
5 Judaism and Christianity in Mandelstam, Pasternak, and Brodsky: Exile and "Creative Destiny" 140
6 "This Sex Which Is Not One" versus This Poet Which Is "Less Than One": Tsvetaeva, Brodsky, and Exilic Desire 174
7 Exile as Pupation: Genre and Bilingualism in the Works of Nabokov and Brodsky 214
Works Cited 299
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by David M. Bethea: