Central European literary life

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Literary roundup: Polish vampires, Russian apartment sellers and German inadequates (take your pick)
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Literary roundup: Polish vampires, Russian apartment sellers and German inadequates (take your pick)

Continue Reading

On May 24, 1940 the great Russian poet and essayist Joseph Brodsky was born in Leningrad. And while the 71st birthday of the man who was viewed by many, including Anna Akhmatova, as pulling the country’s poetic tradition out of the Stalinist ashes may not be occasion for parades on the streets of Moscow or St. Petersburg the winds in Russia are blowing in quite the opposite direction.

Just five days earlier Petersburg city authorities unveiled a plaque to Soviet-era Communist Party boss Grigory Romanov, the anti-Semitic communist hardliner behind the persecution of Brodsky and other Leningrad dissidents.

In his magnificent essay Flight from Byzantium Brodsky wrote a section on his Forty-fifth birthday, May 24, 1985, in the Lykabettos Hotel in Athens. Here is the last paragraph, where he refers to his parents those now celebrated communist authorities cruelly kept from ever seeing their son again after his expulsion from the Soviet Union:

“Forty-five years ago, my mother gave me life. She died the year before last. Last year, my father died. I, their only child, am walking along the evening streets in Athens, streets they never saw and never will. The fruit of their love, their poverty, their slavery, in which they lived and died – their son walks free. Since he doesn’t bump into them in the crowd, he realizes that he is wrong, that this is not eternity.”

A return to the non-existence of Central Europe

Interviewing Michael Scammell last week reminded me that the first literalab post on Czech Position referenced (and linked to) a panel he chaired back in 1988 on which an extremely impressive list of writers argued fairly heatedly over the existence of Central Europe. Danilo Kiš, Joseph Brodsky, Czeslaw Milosz, Susan Sontag, Tatiana Tostoya and Salman Rushdie were among the combatant/participants, and because I never posted the article here, I am doing so now.

Photo - Café Dobner, Vienna, 1909