Despite several really popular poems (“Don’t leave the room – don’t make a mistake …”, “I’m not only going crazy, but I’m tired over the summer …” and others), many of which were also set to music, Joseph Brodsky has never been a mass poet. He was and remains a complex author from an aesthetic point of view. Difficult to interpret, reflect and evaluate the context. All the more strange are the persistent attempts to give a simplified binary, stereotyped, black-and-white assessment of his work in general and his philosophy of life based on essentially just one (and not published) poem – "On the Independence of Ukraine" (1992).
And everyone is trying to do it. On the one hand, the pro-Kremlin jingoistic patriots are trying to write down Brodsky as “their own”. And now the nationalist Yegor Kholmogorov's film about Brodsky's "Russian view" is being released on the RT propaganda channel.
On the other hand, the liberal Facebook, which has thinned since the beginning of the war, is tearing up after the resonant column of Ekaterina Margolis in Novaya Gazeta – Europe, where Brodsky's imperial lyrics are evaluated through post-colonial and femoptics.
And all this, I repeat, because of one poem, which is evaluated in essence exclusively as a political statement. Interest in him has been undulating since 2014, and since February of this year, commentators have been returning to him regularly, trying to answer the question of Brodsky's personal responsibility for the horrors of war.
The poem is evaluated essentially exclusively as a political statement.
It is curious that both ideological camps agree that yes, this responsibility exists. Only conclusions are drawn from this with diametrically opposite signs.
If conditional liberals put a bold minus sign on everything Brodsky, writing him down as imperials and supporters of the war, then conditional "patriots" are only glad that the last great Russian poet and the last Nobel laureate is almost shoved into his standards – even posthumously, which is especially convenient (he can't disown).
Neither one nor the other look at the context of this poem – literary and biographical. Moreover, they do not analyze the very phenomenon of Brodsky's aesthetic imperialism.
I talked about this poem a couple of months ago with Tomas Venclova, a Lithuanian classic, poet and close friend of Brodsky (for example, Brodsky has a “Lithuanian Nocturne” dedicated to Venclova).
Venclova told me that the poem "For the Independence of Ukraine" was an unfortunate joke, a hooligan trick that Brodsky sometimes allowed himself. And he added (later he repeated this in an interview with the Baltic edition of DELFI) that he personally warned a friend not to publish these poems and not to read them publicly, but unfortunately, Brodsky did not listen to him. These poems were indeed never published (it was an important moment for Brodsky what to print and what not), but he still read them twice – at the Jewish center in Palo Alto (California) and later at Queens College in New York.
"For the independence of Ukraine" was an unsuccessful joke, a hooligan trick
As the literary critic Gleb Morev, a researcher of Brodsky's work, rightly notes , Brodsky is not an intellectual by birth. He grew up in roughly the same Leningrad alley as Vladimir Putin ten years later (Morev uses the mild expression "democratic origin").
Brodsky has poems with the words "boys", "buffers" and "bitches". There are very organic poems on behalf of the workers (despite the political trial about parasitism, he had quite a personal proletarian experience). There are obscene and sometimes obscene rhymes created for friends like the dancer Baryshnikov.
Despite the excellent technique of mastering the Russian word and phenomenal erudition, Brodsky is certainly not an ideal and not a god in the flesh. He is a man with his weaknesses and flaws. Sometimes grumbling, not bothering to hide his pessimism and skepticism, sometimes a snob – to some rudeness (you can remember how he scolded Chukovsky's daughter visiting Akhmatova) and, moreover, sometimes misses and falters even from the point of view of taste ("The best view of this city, if you get into a bomber "to the same place).
It is important to understand that Brodsky built his own aesthetic picture of the world. He was a man without a systematic education, who read books at odds – and he had English baroque poets side by side with the classics of natural science in his northern exile, for example.
Brodsky was a man without a systematic education, who read books out of order
In short, his aesthetic program is the Empire from the point of view of culture, not some specific Empire (for example, Tsarist Russia, to which he seemed to reach through the same Akhmatova), but the Platonic idea of the Empire in general – where ancient Roman motifs are combined , and Italian revival, and St. Petersburg classicism. This is a program in which there is no place for postmodernity, new ethics, feminism, postcolonial optics. And including independent Ukraine.
But this is not a program of fascism or communism at the same time, no. Exiled to the Arkhangelsk village and later expelled from the USSR, Brodsky was a consistent opponent of Soviet and other authoritarianism. In his poems, he constantly speaks with a collective tyrant caustically and caustically (“He has been here: not yet in riding breeches – in a coat of drape; restrained, round-shouldered // Having ended world culture with the arrest of cafe regulars”).
In his poems, he constantly talks with a collective tyrant, caustically and caustically.
For Brodsky, the abstract Empire is, as it were, an inevitable frame for a great culture, which he elevates to an absolute. Therefore, there are passages like "if it happened to be born in the Empire, it is better to live in a remote province by the sea." A kind of Stockholm syndrome: the empire both attracts and repels.
Does this context mean that Brodsky should be handed over in 2022 to supporters of an aggressive war in Ukraine? It seems to me that no. If desired, something like this can be found in the entire corpus of Russian culture – from Pushkin (with his "Slanderers of Russia") to Tsoi, who are now happily enrolled in their ranks by pro-Kremlin militarists from the information servants.
“The battle, thank God, is lost,” Brodsky writes in the poem “Not the independence of Ukraine.” And now it turns out that there was not even a battle for Brodsky: he is handed over to Putin without a fight.