Joseph Brodsky

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The surest defense against Evil is extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality, even — if you will — eccentricity.

Iosip Aleksandrovich Brodsky (Russian: Ио́сиф Алекса́ндрович Бро́дский, usually anglicized as Joseph Brodsky) (24 May 194028 January 1996) was a Russian-American poet, winner of the 1987 Nobel Prize in Literature, and Poet Laureate of the United States for 1991–1992.


He’d be a ruin by now, both physically and mentally. Physically because of the bottle. . . .
Mentally because of that mixture of impotence and cynicism that corrodes everyone there — the stronger you are the worse it is.
~ on what would have become of his friend Mikhail Baryshnikov, had he stayed in Russia
  • The surest defense against Evil is extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality, even — if you will — eccentricity. That is, something that can't be feigned, faked, imitated; something even a seasoned imposter couldn't be happy with. Something, in other words, that can't be shared, like your own skin: not even by a minority. Evil is a sucker for solidity. It always goes for big numbers, for confident granite, for ideological purity, for drilled armies and balanced sheets. Its proclivity for such things has to do with its innate insecurity, but this realization, again, is of small comfort when Evil triumphs.
    • "A Commencement Address" (1984), delivered at Williams College; As quoted in: Robert Inchausti (2014) Thinking through Thomas Merton. p. 110
  • For darkness restores what light cannot repair. There we are married, blest, we make once more the two-backed beast and children are the fair excuse of what we're naked for.
    • Quoted in: Drusilla Modjeska, ‎Beth Yahp (1995) Picador New Writing. Vol. 3-4, p. 13
  • It is better to be a total failure in democracy than a martyr or the crème de la crème in tyranny.
  • You know, when you go outside on the streets after having spent the day writing, you feel like a foreign body, even in your own country. This sensation perhaps feels more natural when you are really outside your country.

Less Than One: Selected Essays (1986)

  • This is just one example of the trimming of the self that — along with the language itself, where verbs and nouns changed places as freely as one dare to have them do so — bred in us such an overpowering sense of ambivalence that in ten years we ended up with a willpower in no way superior to a seaweed’s.
    • p. 14
  • The formula for prison is a lack of space counterbalanced by a surplus of time. This is what really bothers you, that you can't win. Prison is lack of alternatives, and the telescopic predictability of the future is what drives you crazy.
    • p. 28
  • It is the army that finally makes a citizen of you; without it you still have a chance, however slim, to remain a human being.
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