One of the things I left behind in my epic move to the land of freedom and hamburgers was a five-volume complete collection of Brodsky’s writings. I have since acquired enough of him in Russian, but lately I started reading things he wrote in English. A nice collection of essays called Less Than One is a real delight, I think. Here’s a random quote:
I have always envied those nineteenth-century characters who were able to look back and distinguish the landmarks of their lives, of their development. Some event would mark a point of transition, a different stage. I am talking about writers; but what I really have in mind is the capacity of certain types of people to rationalize their lives, to see things separately, if not clearly. And I understand that this phenomenon should not be limited to the nineteenth century. Yet in my life it has been represented mostly by literature. Either because of some basic flow of my mind or because of the fluid, amorphous nature of life itself, I have never been capable for distinguishing any landmark, let alone a buoy. If there is anything like a landmark, it is that I won’t be able to acknowledge myself – i.e., death.
Certain this is partly an outgrowth of your profession. If you are in banking or if you fly an aircraft, you know that after you gain a substantial amount of expertise you are more or less guaranteed a profit or a safe landing. Whereas in the business of writing what one accumulates is not expertise but uncertainties. Which is but another name for craft. In this field, where expertise invites doom, the notions of adolescence and maturity get mixed up, and panic is the most frequent state of mind. So I would be lying if I resorted to chronology or to anything that suggests a linear process. A school is a factory is a poem is a prison is academia is boredom, with flashes of panic.
(Joseph Brodsky, Less Than One: Selected Essays, 16, 17)