Brodsky’s Love Affair with Venice
Joseph Brodsky, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Poetry, was interviewed in New York in December 1979 by Sven Birkirts. Paris Review published the interview as “Joseph Brodsky, The Art of Poetry No. 28”. In that interview, ranging over Brodsky’s life and work, Birkirts asked him to specifically address his “…love affair with Venice.” Brodsky stated, in part,
“…the place is so beautiful that you can live there without being in love. It’s so beautiful that you know that nothing in your life you can come up with or produce—especially in terms of pure existence—would have a corresponding beauty. It’s so superior.
“It is interesting to watch the tourists who arrive there. The beauty is such that they get somewhat dumbfounded. What they do initially is to hit the stores to dress themselves—Venice has the best boutiques in Europe—but when they emerge with all those things on, still there is an unbearable incongruity between the people, the crowd, and what’s around. Because no matter how well they’re dressed and how well they’re endowed by nature, they lack the dignity, which is partially the dignity of decay, of that artifice around them. It makes you realize that…
what people can make with their hands is a lot better than they are themselves.
Birkirts asked if, when in Venice, Brodsky had a sense of “history winding down,” and if that was “part of the ambience”. Brodsky replied,
“Yes, more or less. What I like about it apart from the beauty is the decay. It’s the beauty in decay. It’s not going to be repeated, ever. As Dante said: ‘One of the primary traits of any work of art is that it is impossible to repeat.’”
The beauty is in decay, an impossible to repeat primary trait of the work of art that is Venice.