Friday, January 15, 2010

Joseph Brodsky: Life Under Communism

There have been countless accounts of life under the Lenin-Stalin versions of Communism.  None, including The God That Failed (comprised of essays by Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone, Richard Wright, and Andre Gide), which I read back in 1961, comes close to what a great Russian poet, Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) accomplishes in relatively few words in his 1976 essay "Less Than One".

This country, with its magnificently inflected language capable of expressing the subtlest nuances of the human psyche, with an incredible ethical sensitivity (a good result of its otherwise tragic history), had all the makings of a cultural, spiritual paradise, a real vessel of civilization.  Instead it became a drab hell, with a shabby materialist dogma and pathetic consumerist gropings.

My generation, however, was somewhat spared.  We emerged from under the postwar rubble when the state was too busy patching its own skin and couldn't look after us very well.  We entered schools, and whatever elevated rubbish we were taught there, the suffering and poverty were visible all around.  You cannot cover ruin with a page of Pravda.  The empty windows gaped at us like skulls' orbits, and as little as we were, we sensed tragedy ... the amount of goods was very limited, but not having known otherwise, we didn't mind it ... we didn't develop a taste for possessions ... somehow we preferred ideas of things to the things themselves ....

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