Writer as a Lonely Tourist: Iosif Brodskij and the End of Travel

Sanna Turoma, Columbia University

The topic of this paper arose after a reading of Iosif Brodskij's essay "A Place as Good as Any". In the course of the short essay Brodskij repeats the word "traveler" so many times that it becomes a textual anomaly, the text's ungrammaticality that attracts the reader's attention. Why does the repetition of this familiar word defamiliarize the text? My paper is an attempt to answer this question. Brodskij's travel writings reflect a realization of the exhaustion of crucial modernist literary conventions. Although Brodskij did not directly engage in theoretical or philosophical discourses, his works of the 1970s and 80s do reflect many of the concerns that characterized the social and cultural debates of the period. Relating my discussion to Caren Kaplan's Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses of Displacement, I will argue that while Brodskij draws from the romantic/modernist discourses of travel and exile, his travel writings can also be read as a reflection of a contemporary tourist experience. The tourist experience cancels out the individuality of the modernist position; the tension between the Eurocentric modernist position and the postmodern condition results in the ambiguous irony characterizing the authorial voice of these writings. Among Brodskij's texts discussed in the paper are the 1972 letter to the New York Times Magazine titled "A Writer is a Lonely Traveler"; the essays "A Place as Good as Any", "A Flight from Byzantium", and "Watermark"; and poems written both before and after Brodskij left the Soviet Union.