Tuesday, October 30, 2012
"Now that you know the background of what I am about to say, I may just as well say it: The way to develop good taste in literature is to read poetry. If you think that I am speaking out of professional partisanship, that I am trying to advance my own guild interests, you are mistaken: I am no union man. The point is that being the supreme form of human locution, poetry is not only the most concise, the most condensed way of conveying the human experience; it also offers the highest possible standards for any linguistic operation--especially one on paper." (Joseph Brodsky, "How to Read a Book" in On grief and Reason: Essays, p 100)
On Grief and Reason is a collection of twenty-one essays, all but one written since 1986. Of these, some are without question on a par with the best of his earlier collection, Less Than One. In “Spoils of War,” for instance—an essay classical in form, light in touch—Brodsky continues the amusing and sometimes poignant story of his youth, using those traces of the West—corned-beef cans and shortwave radios as well as movies and jazz—that found their way through the Iron Curtain to explore the meaning of the West to Russians. Given the imaginative intensity with which they pored over these artifacts, Brodsky suggests, Russians of his generation were “the real Westerners, perhaps the only ones.” The breadth of the essays is impressive ranging from topics unfamiliar to me like "Profile of Clio" to others that were closer to home; the latter included essays on reading, Horace, and Stephen Spender. While there were magnificent commentaries such as "Homage to Marcus Aurelius", a vision of the man that only someone with a poetic imagination could obtain. Brodsky sees through the ages into the loneliness and endurance of a good ruler. He ends the essay with the most appropriate words, those of Marcus Aurelius himself. This collection of essays is valuable for insight and inspiration, and I return to it as I do with any classic anticipating further encouragement on the road to wisdom.
On Grief and Reason: Essays by Joseph Brodsky. Farrar Straus Giroux, 1995.