Conversing is recognised as one of the civilising activities par excellence. Knowing how to converse basically means knowing how to share and listen to someone else; knowing how to stand up for one’s beliefs and establish a spontaneous dialogue that includes the other. Holding a conversation requires respect, acknowledgement, culture, and, of course, wit (the Witz, so important for both Freud and Lacan). As a form of seduction, conversation can also be considered a combination of spontaneity with a will to discover.

Perhaps this is why since ancient times conversation has been considered an art: a discipline we can perfect by following advice and practising. In the 70’s, Russian poet Joseph Brodsky, who won the Nobel Literature Prize in 1987, arrived in the United States due to the strenuous situation he experienced in his home country. Since the age of 24 the author had been in the centre of numerous conflicts because of his profession and the impositions of the USSR’s totalitarian government. Thanks to the help he received from W.H. Auden and Professor Carl Proffer, who he’d previously met in Austria, Brodsky was granted exile in the U.S.A. He immediately started working as a university professor.

In one his lectures on 19th century Russian poetry taught in Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, the poet handed out a handwritten list with books that ‘every person should have read in order to have a basic conversation.’

The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Old Testament, Herodotus’ History Books, the tragedies by Sophocles and Aeschylus, Dante’s Divine Comedy, De Montaigne’s Essays, Don Quixote, Spinoza, Hobbes, Kierkegaard, Yeats’ poetry as well as that by Luis Cernuda, Reverdy and Seferis, books by his compatriots, Osip Mandelstam and Boris Pasternak were recommended by Brodsky as the essential texts and authors that any good conversationalist should have read.

By browsing Brodsky’s selection, without focusing on their intended and immediate purpose, we can see that the texts reflect a refined literary canon –– the rushed outline of a universe that fortunately is finite. If the world of books seems endless, immense and excessive, as is often the case, the route that Brodsky points out for us, under the premise of ‘holding a good conversation,’ reduces this task to achievable human limits.

Maybe by seeing beyond the poet’s intention we can see this list as a way of embarking ourselves on conversational journey with the authors that, although dead, prove to be the best interlocutors we could wish to have.

.

Conversing is recognised as one of the civilising activities par excellence. Knowing how to converse basically means knowing how to share and listen to someone else; knowing how to stand up for one’s beliefs and establish a spontaneous dialogue that includes the other. Holding a conversation requires respect, acknowledgement, culture, and, of course, wit (the Witz, so important for both Freud and Lacan). As a form of seduction, conversation can also be considered a combination of spontaneity with a will to discover.

Perhaps this is why since ancient times conversation has been considered an art: a discipline we can perfect by following advice and practising. In the 70’s, Russian poet Joseph Brodsky, who won the Nobel Literature Prize in 1987, arrived in the United States due to the strenuous situation he experienced in his home country. Since the age of 24 the author had been in the centre of numerous conflicts because of his profession and the impositions of the USSR’s totalitarian government. Thanks to the help he received from W.H. Auden and Professor Carl Proffer, who he’d previously met in Austria, Brodsky was granted exile in the U.S.A. He immediately started working as a university professor.

In one his lectures on 19th century Russian poetry taught in Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, the poet handed out a handwritten list with books that ‘every person should have read in order to have a basic conversation.’

The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Old Testament, Herodotus’ History Books, the tragedies by Sophocles and Aeschylus, Dante’s Divine Comedy, De Montaigne’s Essays, Don Quixote, Spinoza, Hobbes, Kierkegaard, Yeats’ poetry as well as that by Luis Cernuda, Reverdy and Seferis, books by his compatriots, Osip Mandelstam and Boris Pasternak were recommended by Brodsky as the essential texts and authors that any good conversationalist should have read.

By browsing Brodsky’s selection, without focusing on their intended and immediate purpose, we can see that the texts reflect a refined literary canon –– the rushed outline of a universe that fortunately is finite. If the world of books seems endless, immense and excessive, as is often the case, the route that Brodsky points out for us, under the premise of ‘holding a good conversation,’ reduces this task to achievable human limits.

Maybe by seeing beyond the poet’s intention we can see this list as a way of embarking ourselves on conversational journey with the authors that, although dead, prove to be the best interlocutors we could wish to have.

.

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