Die Forschungsstelle Osteuropa (FSO) ist als An-Institut eine außeruniversitäre Forschungseinrichtung an der Universität Bremen. Sie wird gemeinsam von der Kultusministerkonferenz und dem Land Bremen finanziert. Im Jahre 1982 mitten im Kalten Krieg gegründet, versteht sich die FSO heute als ein Ort, an dem der Ostblock und seine Gesellschaften mit ihrer spezifischen Kultur aufgearbeitet sowie aktuelle Entwicklungen in der post-sowjetischen Region analysiert werden.
Archivale des Monats Joseph Brodsky’s “The Procession”
Our document of the month – a notebook of Joseph Brodsky’s long poem “Shestvie” [The Procession] – commemorates twenty years since the poet’s death in New York on January 28, 1996.
The notebook is held at Forschungsstelle Osteuropa as part of Minna Sergienko’s archive. It is a bound typescript of more than 50 pages, with corrections and marginalia, chapter titles and recitation notes inserted by the author in longhand. The cover features Brodsky’s original drawing in blue ink.
Brodsky worked on “Shestvie” for three months from September until November, 1961, and shortly after the poem was finished, he read it to a narrow circle of friends at the apartment of Boris Ponizovsky, a Leningrad artist and stage director. The envelope in which the notebook came to the archive mentions that the reading took place in the second half of November and that the notebook was “returned” to Minna Sergienko after the reading.
“Shestvie” is subtitled “a poem-mysteria in two parts/acts and 42 chapters/scenes.” In the early 1960s, Brodsky experimented with the genre of a long poem, and “Shestvie” may be read as a “sequel” to his “Peterburgskii roman” [A Petersburg Novel] written several months earlier and dedicated to Anatolii Naiman. Here, however, Brodsky defamiliarizes the setting of his native Petersburg-Leningrad and inscribes it into the world literary tradition by turning his text into a carnivalesque procession of conventional characters: Dostoevsky’s Prince Myshkin (from The Idiot
), Blok’s Harlequin and Colombina (from his play “Balaganchik”), Grin’s (or perhaps Tsvetaeva’s) Ratcatcher, Cervantes’s Don Quixote, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, etc. The roots of Brodsky’s poem have also been traced to Anna Akhmatova’s “Poem Without a Hero,” whose “vanished protagonist” – the city of St. Petersburg – is nevertheless encrypted in the original Russian title: “Poema bez geroia” (PBG). But the idea of “Shestvie,” as the author states in his preamble, is to personify our conceptions of the world, and “in this sense it is a hymn to the banal.”
The conventionality of the characters and the carnivalesque nature of “Shestvie” as a whole is counterbalanced by the comments of the narrator, who is depicted as both a participant and a witness to this literary procession. By observing it “from afar,” the young poet thus searched for his own place in this pantheon of Russian and foreign classics marching through the streets of his native city and historical era. In some sense, it anticipated Brodsky’s own imminent movement through space and time without ever returning to his native Leningrad or to the early poetic experimentation that “Shestvie” so vividly exemplifies. By 1996, his poetry had become highly laconic, condensed and even hermetic, and in this 35-year-long journey “Shestvie” serves as one of the points of departure.
David MacFadyen. Joseph Brodsky and the Baroque
. Montreal: Mc-Gill-Queen’s University Press, 1998.
Lev Loseff. Joseph Brodsky. A Literary Life
. Tr. by Ann Miller. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.