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The Captive Mind

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The Captive Mind begins with a discussion of the novel Insatiability by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz and its plot device of Murti-Bing pills, which are used as a metaphor for dialectical materialism, but also for the deadening of the intellect caused by consumerism in Western society. The second chapter considers the way in which the West was seen at the time by residents of Central and Eastern Europe, while the third outlines the practice of Ketman, the act of paying lip service to authority while concealing personal opposition, describing seven forms applied in the people's democracies of mid-20th century Europe.

The four chapters at the heart of the book then follow, each a portrayal of a gifted Polish man who capitulated, in some fashion, to the demands of the Communist state. They are identified only as Alpha, the Moralist; Beta, The Disappointed Lover; Gamma, the Slave of History; and Delta, the Troubadour. However, each of the four portraits were easily identifiable: Alpha is Jerzy Andrzejewski, Beta is Tadeusz Borowski, Gamma is Jerzy Putrament and Delta is Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński.

The book moves toward its climax with an elaboration of "enslavement through consciousness" in the penultimate chapter and closes with a pained and personal assessment of the fate of the Baltic nations in particular.

272 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1953

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About the author

Czesław Miłosz

302 books747 followers
Czesław Miłosz was a Nobel Prize winning poet and author of Polish-Lithuanian heritage. He memorialised his Lithuanian childhood in a 1955 novel, The Issa Valley , and in the 1959 memoir Native Realm . After graduating from Sigismund Augustus Gymnasium in Vilnius, he studied law at Stefan Batory University and in 1931 he travelled to Paris, where he was influenced by his distant cousin Oscar Milosz, a French poet of Lithuanian descent and a Swedenborgian. His first volume of poetry was published in 1934.

After receiving his law degree that year, he again spent a year in Paris on a fellowship. Upon returning, he worked as a commentator at Radio Wilno, but was dismissed, an action described as stemming from either his leftist views or for views overly sympathetic to Lithuania. Miłosz wrote all his poetry, fiction, and essays in Polish and translated the Old Testament Psalms into Polish.

Awarded the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature for being an author "who with uncompromising clear-sightedness voices man's exposed condition in a world of severe conflicts."

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Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,379 reviews12k followers
August 7, 2022

Beginning with Hitler and Nazi Germany in 1933 up until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 counts as one of the most brutal, nightmarish periods in history for such Eastern European countries as Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary and Poland. The Captive Mind is Polish poet and Nobel prize winner Czeslaw Milosz's astute 1953 work of non-fiction speaking to the attraction of totalitarianism for writers, artists and intellectuals.

In his first chapter Czeslaw Milosz explores how the vision of Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz 's novel Insatiability written during the 1920s became a reality for much of Eastern Europe. In the novel, along with nearly everybody else in Poland, writers and artists start popping Murit-Bing pills that pushers are selling on the street. These Murti-Bing pills completely change an individual - one becomes happy and tranquil and adopts what hippies in the US in the sixties termed a "hang easy, dangle loose" philosophy of life. Transformed by Murti-Bing, men and women raise no objection to the takeover of their civilization by a foreign power.

And why take Murti-Bing pills in the first place? Why would intellectuals and creative artists adapt themselves to invaders and their totalitarian regimes? Czeslaw Milosz goes into much depth here, examining the phenomenon in terms of a longing for harmony and happiness within the specific historical context, a world where religion has lost its power and where people feel isolated and cut off from one another.

However, although there is a measure of contentment when one has swallowed Murti-Bing Marxism, swallowing that turns an individual into no more than "an instrument in an orchestra directed by the muse of History," problems and anxieties remain. For as one young Polish poet admitted to the author, "I can't write as I would like to. . . . I get halfway through a phrase, and already I submit it to Marxist criticism. I imagine what X or Y will say about it, and I change the ending."

There's a lengthy chapter addressing how those engaged in literature and the arts living in Easter Europe under the influence of Marxist Murti-Bing view the West, particularly the United States. Standing as they do shoulder to shoulder with their fellow comrades, producing their poems, essays or visual arts within the context of Soviet dialectics, the culture of the "free" Western countries can appear as either shockingly bad or decidedly appealing, depending upon how you look at it. At one point Mr. Milosz writes: "Fear of the indifference with which the economic system of the West treats its artists and scholars is widespread among Eastern intellectuals. They say it is better to deal with an intelligent devil than with a good-natured idiot."

I can appreciate what an Eastern poet or painter might think living in the US. Unlike back in their home country, the government does not require any adherence to a particular ideology; rather, you can think or believe, write or paint whatever the hell you want. Go for it! However, whatever you create will not even reach the point of being taken seriously since it will not be taken at all; quite the contrary - you will be completely ignored.

Separate chapters are devoted to specific authors: the very racist French diplomat Joseph Arthur de Gobineau, Jerzy Andrzejewski (called "Alpha") who worked in close collaboration with Polish Stalinism, Tadeusz Borowski (called "Beta"), a Jew sent to Nazi concentration camps, Jerzy Putrament (called "Gamma"), a Polish politician as well as writer and Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński (called "Delta"), a Polish poet who swallowed the Communist party line.

To share a more specific taste of Czeslaw Milosz's extensive reflections on these authors, here are three quotes along with my comments:

Re Jerzy Andrzejewsk: "We used to feel strangely ashamed, I remember, whenever Alpha read us his stories in that war-contaminated city. He exploited his subject matter too soon, his composition was too smooth. Thousands of people were dying in torture all about us; to transform their sufferings immediately into tragic theater seemed to us indecent."

Bulls-eye, Czeslaw! I know from first-hand experience the truth of your words. Following the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, everyone in the US was in a state of shock. I attended a theater/dance performance days after this tragedy. As unbelievable as it might seem, this troupe took the 9/11 attack as the theme of their evening performance. What outrage! Aesthetics in this case can be cast aside - what that theater troupe did was highly immoral.

Re Tadeusz Borowski: "I have read many books about concentration camps, but not one of them is as terrifying as his stories because he never moralizes, he relates."

No question - reading this chapter is an intense, wrenching experience. Borowski is quoted at length. What Czeslaw Milosz has to say about Tadeusz Borowsk and concentration camps is penetrating, one of the most powerful pieces of writing I've come across, ever.

"He is proud to succeed when others, less clever, perish. There is no small amount of plain sadism in his repeated emphasis of the fact that he is well-dressed, well-fed, and healthy."

I included this quote to let readers know that Czeslaw Milosz doesn't pull any punches; it is as if the author has poured his heart and inner fire into every single sentence.

The author concludes The Captive Mind with two chapters featuring his overarching, philosophical observations on what it means to live under the jackboot of totalitarianism. So as to let Czeslaw Milosz speak for himself, I have coupled my personal comments with his actual words:

"Whoever reads the public statements of the four writers discussed in the previous chapters might say that they sold themselves. The truth is, however, more involved. These men are, more or less consciously, victims of a historical situation."

During this period men and women in Eastern Europe have been taken by the scuff of the neck and immersed in the caldron of history. As Czeslaw Milosz points out, even more than physical restraints, the transformation of the inner life was profound. No more are artists and writers and intellectuals able to separate themselves from those over and around them; silence and seclusion has been obliterated.

"Now I am homeless - a just punishment. But perhaps I was born so that the "Eternal Slaves" might speak through my lips. Why should I spare myself? Should I renounce what is probably the sole duty of a poet only in order to make sure that my verse would be printed in an anthology edited by the State Publishing House?"

The Captive Mind is a work of courage.

The three stunning images included here are from the Lithuanian born artist Stasys Eidrigevicius

Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004)
Profile Image for StefanP.
148 reviews79 followers
August 4, 2023

Čovjek je funkcija Božje sile i funkcija društvenih sila na zemlji. Ko ushte da bude sam, propašće.

U svojoj knjizi “Smisao života” Semjon Frank kada govori o sunovratu revolucionarnog rušenja starog poretka i zavođenju novog, ističe 1917. godinu i naziva je katastrofom, barem iz njegovom ugla posmatranja, shodno reperkusijama koje su te, a i kasnije godine donijele Rusiji i njenim žiteljima. Tada se znatan dio ruskog stanovništva borio sa najvećom upornošću i strastvenošću misleći da će sve biti dobro ako se zavede demokratija i komunistički poredak. Bezobzirno su sakatili i svoj i tuđi život, i na kraju su se izborili. I kada je cilj bio postignut, kada je stari poredak bio oboren, a komunizam pronašao svoje utočište u tom ogromnom prostranstvu, ispostavilo se da svijet ne samo da nije spasen, niti da je život postao osmišljen, već je umjesto prethodnog, relativno sređenog i organizovanog života koji je barem davao mogućnost traganja za nečim boljim, nastao potpuni besmisao, haos krvi, mržnje, zla i bezumlja – život kao sušti pakao. Da bi ste kroz jedan dinamičan komoditet i malo suptilnije uvidjeli taj sušti pakao kojeg izuzetni bogotražitelj Frank spominje, možete da uzmete Milošev “Zarobljeni um”. Ta knjiga predstavlja vodič kroz pakao totalitarnog režima, te kako mu se oduprijeti, a da ne budeš vješan, proganjan i slično.

Miloš započinje knjigu uobličavanjem romana Nezasićenost, Stanislava Vitkjeviča. Službeni glasnik je kod nas izdao ovu knjigu pod naslovom Nezasitost. Vidna je Miloševa težnja da se što je moguće čistije i preciznije, izdvoji ono što je specifično za nju, a koja bi možda mogla posredno uticati na sveobuhvatnost njegove priče. Samo da napomenem, da nisam zapazio da se u romanu Vitkjeviča, barem ono što je Miloš pisao o njoj, govori o bilo kom ratnom periodu. Junaci tog romana su u deliričnom ambijentu. Oni su nesrećni, jer nemaju nikakvu vjeru niti osjećaju smisao svoje djelatnosti. Ta atmosfera krajnje inercije i besmisla širi se po čitavoj Poljskoj. Iz ovoga se može vidjeti da se ne mogu samo totalitarni režimi okriviti za čitav haos koji nastane u jednom društvu, on postoji, postojaće i van njega. Međutim, on može da bude jedan od okidača za rat. Što se u Vitkjevičevom romanu potvrđuje. Inače, Stanislav Vitkjevič je neko ko je bio oficir u Ruskom carstvu za vrijeme Prvog svjetskog rata. Preživio je prvi komunistički udar. Kada su 17. septembra Crvenoarmejci prešli istočnu granicu Poljske, Vitkjevič je progutao veliku dozu veronala, presjekao sebi vene i tako izvršio samoubistvo. Miloš navodi da je Zapadni svijet, svijet iz Vitkjevičevih romana.

Česlav Miloš kao jedno od najdubljih i najučinkovitijih sredstava protiv totalitarizma uzima za primjer Ketman. Biblija i Kuran govore da Bog gleda na srce čovjekovo, a ne na ono što je spolja. On cjeni ono što je u srcu čovjeka, a ne ono što mu je na jeziku. Ketman na arapskom znači “obezbjediti zaštitu.“ Nisam nešto naročito islamski pismen, i ne znam koliko je Ketman rasprostranjen u Islamu, pa i danas. Ali ovo učenje govori da su se muslimani njim koristili kroz istoriju. To znači da je musliman imao pravo da laže, koristi mimikriju i prikriva svoje vjerovanje i osjećanja, kao i svoje namjere koje želi da sprovede, u onoj situaciji za koju on smatra da je opasna po njega. Dakle, sva lukavstva su dozvoljena samo da se protivnik zavara. Prema Ketmanu, on stiče pravo da u situacijama kada je ugrožen porekne svoju vjeru i ispovijeda vjeru tuđu. Ovo bi trebalo da je kontradiktorno Islamskom učenju, pa sam se na gorepomenuto ogradio. Jer je po islamu najgrđi haram da izađeš iz vjere zbog bilo čega, to je čak gore od ateizma. Ali eto, kao što vidite, Ketman to omogućava. U tom pogledu, Miloševo stanovište obuhvata Poljake koji su koristili Ketman tokom boravka u totalitarnom režimu kakav je bio SSSR ili u kontekstu svih totalitarnih režima, te govori kako su pojedini Poljaci držali pod miškom neke ruske autore, pjevušili ruske pjesmice i slično, ne bi li izbjegli kaznu koja bi ih slijedila. Ketman je bio svojstveni nacionalizam za poljske žitelje tog vremena. Jedna od bitnih odrednica Ketmana jeste sadejstvo i prilagodljivost.

Miloš će za primjer da uzme četiri poljska pisca koji su mjenjali svoje političke, filozofske, ideološke i druge poglede i tako se prilagođavali u totalitarnom sistemu. On ih je nazvao Alfa, Beta, Gama i Delta. Miloš dovodi potencijalno univerzalne iskaze u vezi sa njihovim psihičkim karakteristikama koristeći svojstvena umjetnička sredstva. Oni su rastrzani razočaranjem i nemirom, i svaki od njih da bi opstao i uhvatio se u koštac takvog sistema koristi Ketman. Njihov Ketman je možda bijedan, tužan i opskuran, ali Miloš je zaista nevjerovatan, iscrpan je i posjeduje jedan poetski senzibilitet. I s tim u vezi, sve dolazi na svoje, ništa ne izmiče. Čak je u svom maniru na jednoj od stranica potvrdio i savršenu formu smrti.
Profile Image for Szplug.
467 reviews1,259 followers
March 25, 2012
This is a book of acute psychological understanding, commiserative rumination, and towering moral fibre. Miłosz, a Lithuanian-Pole—a member of the untermenschen that Hitler deemed so pernicious to the rightful ascendancy of the Master Race—was raised imbibing enough of the West, whilst soaking in the East, to enable a judicious and sagacious appraisal of the Soviet Totalitarianism that overwhelmingly blanketed the entirety of Central and Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the Third Reich's collapse. Having survived six years of Nazi terror only to subsequently witness another half dozen spent establishing a new variety with a Russian flavor, Miłosz was perfectly situated to offer a diagnosis of this apparently unstoppable Historical force that had swept aside the greatest war machine ever assembled and was seemingly poised to bring the fruits of the revolution to the oppressed masses across the globe. Although always susceptible to the lure of Historical Materialism and its pitiless iron laws, Miłosz—a poet to the depths of his soul—simply was unable to accept the illusory as real, the lie as truth; and thus, after resigning himself to a life of exile, wherein his beloved Polish language would be unreachable, this remarkably clear-sighted individual would write The Captive Mind as a textual lesson for those of the West who doggedly sought to understand the all-encompassing, mesmerizing allure of this brutally conformist, collective mindset loudly declaiming the imminent victory of inexorable necessity.

Though the author's experience was of Stalinist communism, his analysis of the mental and spiritual attractions that totalitarianism presents to the intellectual are of such a sound structure that they further elucidate the hold authoritarian rule of all stripes exerts upon the allegiance of those seemingly best disposed to oppose such constricting bonds. While Miłosz acknowledged that physical violence, and an ever-present threat of the same, formed a vital component of Soviet despotism, he deemed of much more importance the Method by which the Russian Centre implemented the New Faith. In particular, he stressed the incredible strength inherent in Dialectic Materialism—the Leninist-Stalinist improvement upon Marx's improvement upon Hegel—when opposed by the Eastern European intelligentsia, a doomed assemblage of bourgeois thinkers, who had no means of denting the logical strictures of this rational religion and its bewildering dialectics based upon a life in eternal motion, and hence conflict. By its various appeals to these undisciplined minds—clouded by The Void, The Absurd, Necessity, and Success—the Method possessed the beguiling ability to justify any amount of cruelty, dismiss any amount of suffering, as merely the painful-but-unavoidable breaking of a historically-insignificant number of eggs on that glorious road to a future omelette of global equality and collective responsibility; ignore those screams, this implacably reasonable and rational voice demanded, and concentrate upon the bounteous laughter just over the horizon. Miłosz brilliantly and patiently explains all of the ways and means the New Faith possessed of persuading these intelligentsias—the mind, the author posits, can be brought to rationalize anything. He further describes how the West was perceived as a foolishly naïve and contemptibly chaotic enclave of frightened and strident reaction, of short lifespan and of no use to the intellectually rigorous true believer in the Stalinist utopia.

In what may be the most interesting chapter, the author outlines the origins of Ketman, a system of dissimulation originally conceived in medieval Persia as a method of concealing the inner self and its true beliefs behind a naturalistic-but-false façade; to the outside world of infidel overlords, Ketman hid a seething, rebellious spirit in the flesh of a model citizen. Miłosz explains how this Ketman was embraced in the Eastern Marches of the Imperium in seven different variations, as doubts about the New Faith bubbled-up continuously underneath the surface of these recent converts. The following four chapters tie together Ketman with his opening thesis in the examination of a tetrad of fellow Poles: Alpha, the Moralist; Beta, the Disappointed Lover; Gamma, the Slave of History; and Delta the Troubadour. These portraits—all of real men that Miłosz knew and, in some of the cases, loved—combine an immense insight and perceptive wisdom with deep compassion and understanding; he does not hold back from rigorously detailing all of their faults, delusions, and cruelties, but neither does he self-righteously condemn. At all times Miłosz is aware of the horrors his native country had endured (and was still enduring), of the appeal of a system that promised solutions to the endless violence and oppression and chaos that trampled Poland underfoot throughout the modern age. As the author cautions:

It is not my place to judge. I myself traveled the same road of seeming inevitability. In fleeing I trampled on many values that may determine the worth of a man. So I judge myself severely though my sins are not the same as his. Perhaps the difference in our destinies lay in a minute disparity in our reactions when we visited the ruins of Warsaw or gazed out the windows at the prisoners.

The book closes with a pair of chapters examining Man as the enemy of Historical Necessity, via the smoldering embers of hope, faith and creativity that refused to be stamped out, and the fate of the Baltic nations as a microcosm of all that was wrong, and perhaps doomed, in the New Faith and its self-contradictory Method.

It is difficult, in the space of a review, to do justice to the moving and potent genius of The Captive Mind. It is not just the sheer quality of the writing, which strides hand-in-hand with the thought, nor the fact that Miłosz is endlessly quotable, producing lines that translator Jane Zielonko has rendered beautifully into English; it's the manner in which Miłosz, having lived through the times and the Soviet implementation, continually stresses and shows the appeal of the Totalitarian lure, the rational and logical framework that allowed it to grow so high and so massive, before deftly and relentlessly undermining the entire edifice by exposing its hypocrisy and contradiction, its falsehoods and chimeras, its unsupportable weight and hollow core. He especially destroys the Method in the realm of art and the creative impulse, showing the inevitable sterility and mediocrity that ensues when spontaneous, spiritual impulses are smothered by predetermined, methodical ends. Art produced in the service of totalitarian demand can never be aught but propaganda; and if the drab, lifeless prose, the insipid, barren realism of the official Soviet literary and artistic elite was the end demanded by Progressive History, it raised the unavoidable question of whether such progress should not be halted in its grey-enshrouding tracks.

The Captive Mind, of course, remains as timely today as it was when first published to a mixed reception of praise and scorn; the world is still rife with systems that demand obedience from their flock above all else, systems wherein the ends justify the means and a truth that deviates from the system's dogma must perforce be declared a lie, whatever the internal pressure such an act brings to bear on the conscience of the true believer; where evidence must be altered, or denounced, if it does not support the regnant ideology. These systems can—and do—arise on all sides of the political and ideological spectrum. Armed with the enduringly wise and methodically brilliant perceptions and observations of this Polish Solon, the shrill cries of tendentious vehemence that resound around the world will continue to be understood for what they are: the noisome utterances of some new Method in the service of yet another New Faith.
Profile Image for William2.
759 reviews3,077 followers
October 8, 2019
The Captive Mind was first published in English translation by Secker and Warburg in 1953. The work was written soon after the author's defection from Stalinist Poland in 1951. While writing The Captive Mind Milosz drew upon his experiences as an illegal author during the Nazi Occupation and of being a member of the ruling class of the postwar People's Republic of Poland. The book attempts to explain the allure of Stalinism to intellectuals, the thought processes of those who believe in it, and the existence of both dissent and collaboration within the post-war Soviet Bloc. Miłosz describes the book as having been written "under great inner conflict." —excerpt from Wikipedia.

Like Orlando Figes’s The Whisperers: Private Life In Stalin’s Russia, this book gives an insiders’ view of Stalinism as it was lived in post-World War II Poland. I also find it a useful work to read after Richard Pipes’s 970 page The Russian Revolution. The book’s another stake of truth driven into the heart of Stalinism. As stated, much of it is an explication of the mindset of Eastern intellectuals of the mid-20th century and their voracious appetite for contradictory rationalization.

“Still, he [the intellectual thinks] is not altogether sure whether He [Stalin] is necessary or not. Perhaps in extraordinary periods the appearance of a tyrant must be considered desirable. Mass purges in which so many good communists died, the lowering of the living standard of the citizens, the reduction of artists and scholars to the status of yes-men, the extermination of entire national groups—what other man would undertake such measures? After all, Russia stood firm against Hitler; the Revolution weathered the attack of enemy armies. In this perspective, His acts seem effective and even justified, perhaps, by an exceptional historical situation. If He had not instituted an exceptional terror in the year 1937, wouldn’t there have been more people willing to help Hitler than there actually were? For example, doesn’t the present day line in scholarship and art, no matter how at odds it may be at times with common sense, effectively raise Russian morale in the face of the war that threatens? He is an infamous blot on the bright New Faith, but a blemish we must tolerate for the moment. And indeed we must even support Him. The “sacred fire” has not gone out. When victory [world Revolution] is achieved, it will burst forth again with its old strength, the bonds He imposed will fall away, and relations between nations will operate on new and better principles.” (p. 64)

After this general introduction to the mental challenges of Stalinism for intellectuals, Milosz begins to write of specific college friends who were twisted by its exigencies. Chapter IV, “Alpha, the Moralist,” provides the poet’s assessment of Polish novelist and friend Jerzy Andrzejewski’s career—especially his major post-war book Ashes and Diamonds—his esthetic concerns, stylistic strengths, and accommodation of the USSR’s communist takeover of Poland.

Chapter V, “Beta, The Disappointed Lover,” is about Tadeusz Borowski, author of This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen. Milosz reminds us here of something too easily forgotten: “For Beta, as for many of his companions, the reign of Hitler was the culmination of the capitalist era in Europe.” Now, I am in no sense a great fan of capitalism, but I think this view is narrow-minded. For it was American capitalism that won the war. It was Lend-Lease which made the Soviet advance into Eastern Europe possible. Yet this was not a moment for an expansive view of global capitalism. Borowski had suffered hideously in the war. Like Primo Levi he had survived Auschwitz. Naturally, with the old order in ruins, “Beta was receptive. The more he read of Leninist-Stalinist theory, the more he convinced himself that this was exactly what he was looking for. His hatred was like a torrential river uselessly rushing ahead. What could be simpler than to set it to turning the Party’s gristmills. What a relief: useful hatred, hatred put to the service of society!” (p. 126-127)

He eventually gave up art for journalism. “His articles were so dull and one dimensional that this debasement of a gifted prose writer stirred my curiosity. . . . I asked why such measures were being applied to him. Surely the interests of the Party did not require it to reduce him to a rag. He was certainly more useful as a writer of stories and novels; to force him to write articles meant bad management of available artistic resources. ‘No one makes him write articles,’ came the reply. ‘That’s the whole misfortune. . . . He himself insists on writing them. He thinks there is no time, today, for art, that you have to act on the masses more directly and elementally. He wants to be as useful as possible.’ This was a somewhat hypocritical answer. The Party constantly stresses its desire for good literature; at the same time, it creates such a tense atmosphere of propaganda that writers feel compelled to resort to the most primitive and oversimplified literary techniques. Yet it was true that Beta himself wanted to devote all his time to journalism; although he was a highly qualified specialist, he seized upon work that was easy for the most ordinary drudge. His mind, like that of so many Eastern intellectuals, was impelled toward self annihilation.” (p. 130)

Several months after Milosz wrote the profile excerpted here, Beta killed himself. “He was found one morning in his home in Warsaw. The gas jet was turned on. Those who observed him in the last months of his feverish activity were of the opinion that the discrepancy between what he said in his public statements and what his quick mind could perceive was increasing daily. He behaved too nervously for them not to suspect that he was acutely aware of this contrast. Moreover, he frequently spoke of the ‘Mayakovski case.’ [The poet Mayakovski committed suicide at age 30.] Numerous articles appeared in the press written by his friends, writers of Poland and Eastern Germany. His coffin, draped with a red flag, was lowered into the grave to the sound of the ‘International’ as the Party bid farewell to its most promising young writer.” (p. 134)

I can’t discover who the college friend is in Chapter VI, “Gamma, the Slave of History,” who would later become a top Polish Party official in charge of corrupting artists for propaganda purposes, but “Delta, the Troubadour” in Chapter VII is Konstanty Ildefons Galczynski, a poet of genius. Galczynski was enormously popular. His poems were “unlike anything written in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. No literary school influenced him. He dwelt in the aura of the Italo-Latin civilization whose mark was still deeply graven on our country. The accessories he borrowed from the poetry of the past he then put together in a manner reminiscent of his drunken fantasies. His poetry was a kaleidoscope of chubby baroque angels, magicians carried off through the window by some unknown power, (they are retained, at the last moment by a wifely bite on the ear), falconry, astrologers prophesying the end of the world. Interspersed in it were phonograph records playing the music of Bach and Mozart, potatoes in the soil dreaming of the vodka that would be made of them, planets in the shape of young women dressed in blue pants, and folk dances in the suburbs.” (p. 177)

It was the brilliant Galczynski who, as Polish nationalism gained steam, began writing anti-Semitic screeds. “Why did he write them? ... He had many Jewish friends, and on the very day he published his racist statements, he would come to these friends (naturally he was drunk by then) and, falling on his knees, would declare his love for them and beg their forgiveness.” (p. 181) The war began. He was sent to the Reich as slave labor, agricultural work. He survived. On returning to Poland 5-1/2 years later, and after a brief period of faux-liberalism, he was crushed by the stupidity of Soviet Realism. He continued to write the required dreck. Slowly, inexorably, the great gift of spontaneity was squeezed out of him until, yes, he began to write copy indiscernible from that of his hack brethren.
Profile Image for Maciek.
567 reviews3,414 followers
April 14, 2015
PL: Recenzja w dwóch językach - tekst angielski znajduje się pod polskim.
ENG: This is a bilingual review - English text is presented below.

PL: Pomysł lektury Zniewolonego Umysłu Czesława Miłosza przyszedł do mnie krótko po skończeniu Imperium Ryszarda Kapuścińskiego - obszernego reportażu z podróży po rozpadającym się sowieckim imperium. Zniewolony Umysł to książka zupełnie inna - to próba zrozumienia ideologii którą Miłosz nazywa Nową Wiarą, stworzoną w Rosji i narzuconą jej w następstwie rewolucji październikowej, przeniesioną później do krajów bloku wschodniego. Zniewolony Umysł to umysł artysty i obywatela demokracji ludowej, a książka Miłosza to próba zrozumienia dlaczego i jak może on w takim systemie funkcjonować. Według Witolda Gombrowicza głównym dokonaniem Zniewolonego Umysłu jest nie dekonstrukcja komunizmu, a udowodnienie tezy że człowiek może zrobić wszystko z drugim człowiekiem.

Miłosz, Polak litewskiego pochodzenia, pisał Zniewolony Umysł na emigracji w Paryżu, gdzie uzyskał azyl polityczny. Książka ukazała się przy współpracy z paryską "Kulturą" - literacko-polityczną publikacją prowadzoną przez innych polskich emigrantów (min. Jerzego Giedroycia). Celem Miłosza było opisanie zmian jakie zaszły w Polsce i Europie Wschodniej po drugiej wojnie światowej - nie jest to jednak klinicznie czyste, naukowe studium. Zniewolony Umysł pełen jest elementów wyjętych z biografii autora - czy są to spacery po zrujnowanej Warszawie, czy opisy znajomych przyjaciół-pisarzy funkcjonujących w nowym systemie, czy też wspomnienia Wilna i piękna różnorodności Litwy i krajów Bałtyckich, na zawsze odebrana i zniszczona przez Nową Wiarę. Zwolennicy książki lubią ją przedstawiać jako dzieło uniwersalne, przedstawiające światowy fenomen totalitaryzmu który Polska tylko egzemplifikuje - jednak jest to książka do głębi wschodnioeuropejska. Tu wyklął się totalitarny komunizm, Stalinizm i deomokracje ludowe jakie ujrzeliśmy w wieku 20, i tragediom tej części ziemi musi zostać poświęcona.

Miłosz rozpoczyna swoje dzieło nawiązaniem do "Nienasycenia" Witkacego, w którym bohaterowie przyjmują pigułki Murti-Binga jako lek na własne nieszczęście, wynikające z wewnętrznej pustki. Pigułki przynosiły im szczęście i pogodę ducha, a zarazem odbierały wrażliwość na ontologię i jakiekolwiek elementy metafizyczne, traktując je jako niewarte uwagi głupstwa. Powieść Witkacego jest przerażająco trafną parabolą losu całej Europy Wschodniej - sam pisarz popełnił samobójstwo na wieść o wkroczeniu Armii Czerwonej do Polski, 18 września 1939 roku.

Murti-Bingizm wymaga wyrzeczenia się lojalności do przeszłości i tradycji, które należy porzucić w celu budowy Nowego Człowieka. Adaptacja do tej nowej rzeczywistości jest kosztowna i bolesna, lecz jej potrzeba może zostać wytłumaczona; Materializm dialektyczny oferował jedną filozofię i spójny system dla wszystkich, z rolą dla każdego obywatela. Oferował zbiorowe zaspokojenie mas przy budowie Nowego Człowieka, który sam tworzyłby historię zamiast być jej niewolnikiem - prospekt szczególnie atrakcyjny dla ogarniętych chaosem i tragedią terenów Europy wschodniej. Proces ten jednak, jak w powieści Witkacego, powoduje u ludzi jemu poddanych rozdwojenie jaźni - zmuszeni do funkcjonowania w nowym ustroju ludzie nie są w stanie kompletnie pozbyć się starych wierzeń, poglądów i przyzwyczajeń, co czyni ich egzystencję swoistą odwróconą schizofrenią: stają się ekspertami od operowania w i rozumienia murti-binginizmu, świadomie tropiąc niewłaściwe myśli i odchylenia, siląc się na zachowanie naturalności wbrew własnej naturze, otoczeni aurą siły i nieszczęścia. Świadomie porzucają to, o czym wiedzą że jest prawdziwe, by udawać podążanie ku utopii, z której nierzeczywistości zdają sobie sprawę. W aktorstwie dnia codziennego każdy obywatel gra swoją rolę, i jest jednocześnie świadomy tego że inni też je grają. Jest to coś powszechnie zrozumiałe i akceptowane - nie od razu buduje się Nowego Człowieka.

Ta sama aura siły i nieszczęścia jest konieczna do demonizacji krajów zachodnich. Te dwa światy - wschód i zachód - dzieli fundamentalna różnica poglądów: Amerykanie i Kanadyjczycy wzrośli w stabilności i ciągłości swoich systemów, uważając inne za nienaturalne i niemożliwe do utrzymania, jako że działają bezpośrednio przeciw ludzkiej naturze. Dla mieszkańców tak pojętego zachodu nie do pojęcia jest że miliony ludzi mieszkają w świecie tak dla niego fantastycznym jak świat mieszkańców obcej planety. Historia mieszkańca typowego miasta wschodnioeuropejskiej demokracji ludowej, takiego jak Warszawa lub Budapeszt, jest zgoła inna - historia i doświadczenia całego jego regionu uczy go o braku jakiejkolwiek pewności, a wydarzenia podobne do tych z lat 1933 - 1945 bez wątpienia muszą dosięgnąć kiedyś również i tamte odległe regiony. Z pomocą w tłumaczeniu przychodzi propaganda, wykorzystująca materializm dialektyczny oparty o ostatnią historię środka Europy - wieszcząca nieunikniony kryzys tych państw i ich zwrot ku faszyzmowi, komorom gazowym i krematoriom.

Miłosz zauważa ciekawą analogię pomiędzy państwami demokracji ludowej a cywilizacją islamską na Bliskim Wschodzie, skąd zapożycza koncept Ketmanu - czyli publicznego okazywania wiary i wyrzekania się własnych poglądów, za które grozi prześladownie. Ketman to polityczny kamuflaż, szarada grana w celu wyprowadzenia ustroju w pole. Miłosz identyfikuje kilka rodzajów Ketmanów - np. Ketman Narodowy, w którym obywatele i artyści sławiący osiągnięcia Rosji na różnych polach są jednocześnie przepełnieni bezgraniczną dla niej pogardą. Praktykowanie takiego Ketmanu jest jedynym możliwym buntem jednostki w państwie totalitarnym - kontynuowanie własnego "ja" wbrew wszechdominujacemu systemowi, i pielęgnowanie marzeń o wolności.

Dużą część książki stanowią portrety czterech znajomych artystów, których Miłosz ukrył pod pseudonimami Alfa, Beta, Gamma i Delta. Każdy z tych portretów przedstawia inną osobowość której przyszło żyć w demokracji ludowej. Nie padają żadne nazwiska, lecz życie i twórczość tych postaci nie zostawiają wiele do odgadnięcia: Alfa to Jerzy Andrzejewski, który przeżywszy tragedię Powstania Warszawskiego w obliczu całkowitego zniszczenia kraju porzucił katolicką przeszłość i oddał się tworzeniu nowej historii, wspierając i propagując w swoich utworach nową władzę i jej wizję świata. Beta to Tadeusz Borowski, który przeżywszy obozy koncentracyjne napisał o nich wiele opowiadań, użytecznych dla nowej władzy w celu kontynuowania kultu horroru hitleryzmu jako jedynej i niechcianej alternatywy dla siebie samej. Gamma to Jerzy Putrament, który dobrowolnie zaakcptował nowy system i dostał w nim ciepłą posadkę, lecz jednocześnie wpadł w sidła wymogu produkcji literatury - wiodąc życie tragiczne, gdzie żadne z napisanych słów nie będzie jego własnym. Delta to Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński - nałogowy alkoholik i poeta, którego prześmiewczy ton przyniósł mu najpierw ogromną popularność w nowym ustroju, tylko po to by zepchnąć go poza powszechny obieg wtedy gdy nie wystarczyło już tylko pisać na określony temat, a niezbędna stała się także określona forma.

Według Miłosza, literatura socjalistyczna ma za zadanie przedstawiać świat nie tak jak jest on widziany przez człowieka, lecz w taki jaki powinien być przez niego zrozumiany - dostarczając wzory i przykłady do zaadoptowania przez przeciętnego obywatela, tworzone pod czujnym okiem partii.

Artyści nie są jedynymi wrogami nowego ładu - są nimi również drobni przedsiębiorcy i ich prywatne zakłady, zagrażające nacjonalizacji całego przemysłu; są nimi też chłopi przeciwtawiający się kolektywizacji i konfiskacie plonów upraw swoich pól. Wrogami stają się także robotnicy - pomimo braku bezrobocia nie mogą się oni godzić nie tylko na normy wyrobu, lecz również na to że większa część rezultatu ich pracy trafia na Wschód, do Centrum, które pomimo swojej antyimperialistycznej retoryki stawia ich kraj w pozycji typowo kolonialnej.

Kolonizacja i kolonializm figuruje prominentnie w ostatnim rozdziale książki, poświęconej historii krajów Bałtyckich - Litwy, Łotwy i Estonii. Są to miejsca i historie szczególnie Miłoszowi bliskie, jako że tam się urodził i wychował. Tragedia Bałtów polega na ich fatalnym położeniu geograficznym - znajdują się zaraz na obrzeżach ogromnego imperium Rosyjskiego, które wchłonęło je razem z Polską i uczyniło swoimi prowincjami. Pomimo tego że kraje te odzyskały niepodległość po pierwszej wojnie światowej, niewiele później spadł na nie horror drugiej po której nastąpiło dopełnienie ich gehenny - podbicie przez znacznie potężniejsze mocarstwo sowieckie i ponowna aneksacja i kolonizacja, lecz na skalę niespotykaną wcześniej - zniszczenia społeczeństw i indiwidualizmu tych państw poprzez narzucenie im obcej, konformistycznej kultury, języka i ideologii, i wyeliminowanie wszelkiej inności. Te różnorodne i wielokulturowe narody zostały zrównane z ziemią w imię Nowej Wiary, skazane na śmierć przez utopienie w rosyjskim morzu.

Książka Miłosza nie jest dziełem naukowym, lecz pozostaje dziełem ważnym dla każdej osoby chcącej zgłębić mechanizmy powstania i działania systemów totalitarnych w Europie Wschodniej, który zostawił trwały i krwawy ślad na tej części naszej planety i ludziach którzy ją zamieszkują.

ENG: The idea of reading The Captive Mind came to me shortly after finishing Ryszard Kapuściński's Imperium - a comprehensive reportage of his travels across the disintegrating Soviet empire. The Captive Mind is a completely different book - it's an attempt to understand the ideology, which Miłosz calls to be the "New Faith", created in Russia after the October Revolution and later exported to the Eastern Bloc. The Captive Mind of the title is the mind of the artist and the citizen of a people's democracy, and Miłosz's book is an effort at understanding why and how it can function in such system. According to Witold Gombrowicz, the main accomplishment of The Captive Mind is not its deconstruction of communism, but proving that man can do anything to another man.

Miłosz, a Pole of Lithuanian origin, wrote The Captive Mind as an emigrant in Paris, where he received political asylum. The book was published with help of Parisian "Kultura" - a literary-political magazine led by other Polish emigrants (among them Jerzy Giedroyć). Miłosz's aim was to describe the changes which swept through Poland and eastern Europe after the second World War - but the book is not a cold, clinical scientific study. The Captive Mind is full of elements from Miłosz's own life - his walks across ruined Warsaw, his relations with friends and fellow writers who later lived under the new system, his memories of Vilnus and the beautiful diversity of Lithuania and the Baltic states, forever taken away and destroyed by the New Faith. The book's proponents like to present it as an universal work, presenting the phenomenon of totalitarianism only exemplified by Poland - but this is a deeply eastern European book. Here totalitarian communism, Stalinism and people's democracies of the 20th century were born, and to the tragedies of this part of the world it has to be devoted.

Miłosz begins his work by introducing the readers to Insatiability, a novel by Polish writer Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (commonly known by his pen name, Witkacy). Set in the future in which Poland is overrun by the Mongol Conquests and the protagonists are deeply unhappy, a result of their inner emptiness - as a cure they take special pills developed by the fictitious Chinese leader, Murti-Bing, which bring them inner happiness and contention, and at the same time remove any sensitivity towards ontology and any metaphysical elements, reducing them to worthless foolishness. Witkacy's novel is a horrifyingly accurate parable of the future fate of all eastern Europe - upon learning that the Red Army has entered Poland he committed suicide, on the 18th of March 1937.

Murti-Bingism requires renunciation of loyalty towards the past and tradition, both of which have to be abandoned as it is obstacles on the road to build a New Man. Adaptation towards such reality is costly and painful, but its necessity can be explained: dialectical materialism offered one philosophy and cohesive system for all citizens, with a role for each. It offered to collectively satisfy the masses by building the New Man, one who would make history and not just be its slave - an idea especially attractive for inhabitants of eastern Europe, a region torn by tragedy and chaos. However, just like in Witkacy's novel, human material subjected to this process begin to suffer from a split personality - people forced to exist in the new system cannot completely abandon their old beliefs, views and habits, which forces them to live in a state of what could be called reverse schizophrenia: they become masters at understanding murti-binguism, consciously tracking down improper thoughts and deviations from the norm, straining to be natural against their own nature, while surrounded by the pervading aura of strength and unhappiness. They consciously abandon what they know is real, to pretend to pursue what they know is utopian. On the stage of every day every citizen plays their part, and is completely aware that everyone else is playing theirs. In this system, this is something universally acknowledged and accepted - after all, you don't build the New Man in a day.

The aura of strength and unhappiness is necessary to demonize western societies. These two worlds - East and West - are divided by a fundamental difference in how they see the world. People such as Americans and Canadians, who grew up knowing only the stability and continuity of their systems, consider differing forms to be abnormal and impossible to maintain, as they contradict man's very nature. For citizens in such a West it is impossible to imagine that millions of their fellow human beings live in a world as fantastical to them as a settlement of distant space creatures. History of an average inhabitant of a people's democracy, such as Warsaw of Budapest, is completely different - history and experience of his whole region teaches him that there is no certainty of any kind, and events such as those from 1933-1945 can reach even those far-away, distant regions. This understanding is helped by propaganda, which employs dialectical materialism based on recent history of eastern Europe - predicting imminent crisis enveloping these countries, their subsequent collapse and unavoidable turn to fascism, gas chambers and crematories.

Miłosz sees an interesting analogy between people's democracies and the Islamic civilization in the Middle East. He borrows the middle eastern concept of Kitman, which he calls Ketman - meaning "secrecy" in Arabic, it is public display of faith and renunciation of personal views, for which one will be persecuted. Miłosz identifies several types of Ketman - for example a National Ketman, in which citizens and artists most vocal to praise the achievements of Russia in various fields are also the ones most filled with boundless contempt for it. Practicing such a Ketman is the only way for an individual to rebel in a totalitarian regime - to continue having a personal "I" against the predominant system, fostering the dreams of freedom.

A large part of the book consists of portraits of four different artists, hidden by Miłosz under pseudonyms - Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. Each of these portraits presents a different personality which had to live in a people's democracy. Although no names are given, life and work of these artists leave little room to guess: Alpha is Jerzy Andrzejewski, who having survived the tragedy of Warsaw Uprising has subsequently abandoned his Catholic past and devoted himself to creating new idea of history, using his works to support and propagate the new power and its vision of the world. Beta is Tadeusz Borowski, who survived the concentration camps and wrote many stories about them, which were useful for the new power to promote the cult of horror of Hitlerism as an only and unwanted alternative to itself. Gamma is Jerzy Putrament, who accepted the new system of his own free will and was rewarded for it with a lucrative position, but was caught in a trap of having to produce literature - having to live a tragic life, where none of the words he wrote would be his own. Delta is Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński, an alcoholic and a poet, whose sardonic tone at first brought him immense popularity in the new system, only to be pushed outside mainstream circulation when it was not necessary to just write about specific topics, but writing itself had to be done in a specific way.

According to Miłosz, the aim of socialist literature is not to present the world how it is seen by a human being, but show how it should be understood by one - provide models, examples and patterns which should be adopted by an average citizen, created under the careful watch of the Party.

Artists are not the only enemies of the New Order - those include small businessmen and their private enterprises, which are a threat to complete nationalization of all industries; among them are also peasants, who oppose collectivization of agriculture and confiscation of crops from their fields. Workers also become Enemies - even with no unemployment they have trouble agreeing not only to enforced rates of output, but also the fact that most result of their work is exported east, to the Center of Empire, which despite its anti-imperialist rhetoric leaves their country in a typically colonial position.

Colonization and colonialism figure prominently in the book's last chapter, devoted to the history of Baltic nations - Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. These are places and histories especially close to Miłosz, as this is where he was born and grew up. Tragedy of the Baltic people lies in their fatal geographical location - they sit right on the verges of the giant Russian Empire, which absorbed them together with Poland and turned into its provinces. Even though these countries regained their independence after the First World War, they experienced the horrors of the Second soon afterwards, after which came the culmination of their gehenna - conquest by a much more powerful Soviet empire, another annexation and new colonization, but on a completely different scale. Destruction of societies and individualism of these countries by imposition of foreign, conformist culture, language and ideology, eliminating all otherness. These diverse and multicultural nations have been razed to the ground in the name of New Faith, sentenced to death by drowning in the Russian sea.

Miłosz's book is not a scientific publication, but remains a work important for anyone who wishes to understand the mechanics of emergence and the workings of totalitarian systems in eastern Europe, which left a lasting and bloody scar on this part of our world and on people who inhabit it.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,361 reviews795 followers
June 22, 2015
The rage one feels on reading sixteenth-century memoirs whose authors, mostly priests, recount the atrocities committed in America by Spanish Conquistadors is senseless. It cannot resurrect the Caribbean population slaughtered by Ponce de Leon, nor shelter the Inca refugees pursued through the mountains by knights fighting with faith and a sword. Those who have been defeated are forgotten forever; and anyone who would look too closely into the record of past crimes or, even worse, try to imagine them in detail, must either turn gray with horror—or become completely indifferent.
This work is toxic in such a way as to render all defenses that go along the lines of "we can't evaluate the past with modern standards" null and void, for the sheer persistence of this book with its shiny rating and even shinier name shows how idiotic it is to consider time's forward movement the ultimate indicator of progress. Perhaps Miłosz can be excused a tad due to his having written this in the dreaded 1950's, but where are the reviews condemning this as US propaganda masquerading as social criticism? Where are the reactions that decry his flagrant appropriation of the histories of colonized countries as rhetorical tool for his analysis of Soviet takeover? This is not a work that would survive the merest flick of a finger from the likes of Fanon and hooks, and yet survive it does in flourishing solipsism.
Surely man has never before been subjected to such pressure, never has he had to writhe and wriggle so to adapt himself to forms constructed according to books but obviously not to his size.
If you're going to limit your philosophical digressions to a happy-go-materialism view of the 'West' and the white part of the 'East', you cannot make statements like this. It is a blinder of such an obtuse level of privilege that begs the question of why the analysis is being conducted in the first place, for a "captive mind" that ignores women, those of non-European descent, those who are not rich, those who have no nation, and ultimately those who have no culture beyond what they have saved, cherished, and built upon despite centuries of annihilation, is to a great extent enjoying its captivity. The fact that white people in the US have stolen and continue to steal culture from their black population scoffs at this work's hesitating minutiae over the mentality of various Soviet artists, minutiae that is granted a great deal of space by the sacrifice of the peasant artist, the female artist, the artist in the 'West' whose problems are much more threatening than materialism or the emptiness of capitalism. This bell jar pretensions of universal meaning are common enough in esteemed literature, and apparently it was foolish to hope that a Nobel Prize of Lit Winner who had experienced the European breeds of Fascism and Socialism would be any different.
These persons, no matter how capable they are of murdering millions of people in the name of Communism, try to compensate for their professional severity and are often more honorable in their personal relations than people who affect individualistic ethics.

The lone individual inevitable asks himself if his antagonism is not wrong; all he can oppose to the entire propaganda apparatus are simply his irrational desires. Should he not, in fact, be ashamed of them?

Life in constant internal tension develops talents which are latent in man. He does not even suspect to what heights of cleverness and psychological perspicacity he can rise when he is cornered and must either be skillful or perish. The survival of those best adapted to mental acrobatics creates a human type that has been rare until now.
Belying the cloying androcentricity and the self-satisfied naïvety of the last sentence, I give two stars for tidbits like these that, despite Miłosz' utmost refusal, can be easily extended to oppressive structures that thrived as strongly then as they do today. This does not mean, however, that this book is worth reading, for it aspires to be equated to works of brilliant magnitude and life-giving thought without giving any credit to such works that lie outside its limited circle of peers. The author equates forced immigration to a vacuum, historical guilt or awareness of privilege to "subterfuge of a guilty and lying conscience", and the sexual objectification of a dead woman to love of humanity. Nowhere is there any observation that this is simply the latest in line of humans experimenting on each other with the tools of indoctrination and massacre, the only difference being that the humans being shaped cannot be as casually tortured and erased as their non-European counterparts have and continue to be. In short, this work is kin to A Clockwork Orange, albeit of higher stature and greater insidiousness. Unlike Burgess, Miłosz encompasses my reaction to his work quite nicely in the following.
Pablo Neruda, the great poet of Latin America, comes from Chile. I translated a number of his poems into Polish. Pablo Neruda has been a Communist for some ten years. When he describes the misery of his people, I believe him and I respect his great heart. When writing, he thinks about his brothers and not about himself, and so to him the power of the word is given. But when he paints the joyous, radiant life of people in the Soviet Union, I stop believing him. I am inclined to believe him so long as he speaks about what he knows; I stop believing him when he starts to speak about what I know myself.
Profile Image for Kelly.
889 reviews4,127 followers
May 23, 2008
This book was absolutely fascinating. The arguments he made to explain the capitulation of writers and artists under communism were things I would have never thought of before. It's a good read to help blow away any bits of American propaganda about Soviets that are being taught in school still, and help you see the other side of the issue. Mind, this book was written by a man who left as well, so it isn't as if he agrees with the Soviets, he was actually forced out. It explains so much about how the Soviet Union held together so long, given what we now know about it's inner corruption and the thinness of belief in it's last decades.

I mean, it's a classic for a reason. I read it for a european history class, and I'm really glad I did. It should be required reading.
Profile Image for Antonomasia.
978 reviews1,222 followers
October 29, 2018
Audiobook, narrated by Stefan Rudnicki.

This is famous as a great book about totalitarianism in general - and evidently works for many readers on that level - so I was surprised how historically and geographically specific it is. Although there was no doubt a great deal I missed too, I appreciated what I'd built up so far in exploring Polish literature and history.

I've been wary of some of the material about in Orlando Figes' The Whisperers while I've been listening to it over the last couple of months, aware there are doubts about Figes' use of some sources. But its overall story of collectivisation and gulags in Russia is here too, and striking terror into post-war Poland.

There were nods to Miłosz's allegiance to the old Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, with a leaning towards the Lithuanian. When he referred to a family unit as a beehive I wondered if it was an allusion to the historically special place of beekeeping in old Lithuanian culture (inadequate linguistic hints at this here and here). His description of Soviet/Stalinist Communism as the New Faith seemed to echo the Lithuanian Grand Duchy's late-medieval choice-but-not-really to convert from paganism to Catholicism, because union with Poland would extricate it from a tight geopolitical corner. (However Miłosz also sets Christianity against 'the New Faith', considering it as a religion that values individuals, as opposed to working towards goals for collective humanity or country, which may involve individual suffering, such as the Five Year Plans. Given the emphasis on self-denial and the glory of God found in some Catholic material, I don't wholly buy into this binary - although the conflict between Polish Catholicism and the Communist Party was obviously real, and Christianity's early history was also one of resistance against another Imperium, before it became an international institution itself.) Miłosz's love of Lithuania also shows in the beautiful descriptions of Wilno early in Chapter 6, Gamma, in which he recounts his university acquaintance with future pro-Communist Party writer Jerzy Putrament, and his assertion of the Baltics' greater economic productivity and 'higher level of civilisation' in the inter-war period compared with Russia.

I found that a recent reading of Ashes & Diamonds (very accessible in style) helped me get so much more out of the chapter on Andrzejewski, aka Alpha, that, having decided a couple of days earlier that Borowski was going to be too much for me after all, like I'd always thought, that I would try speed reading This Way for the Gas before I embarked on the chapter about 'Beta'.

I'd also been wary of The Captive Mind for a few years, but not for nearly so long as of This Way for the Gas. This related to another Goodreads review, posted nearly four years ago. There's a very small number of Goodreads reviews that have, for me, for years, become intertwined with the very idea of particular books, and which have stuck with me, in the way that otherwise only a handful of articles by professional journalists have done. The only Goodreads review to have nested in this way for *negative* reasons is said review of The Captive Mind. While one or two people I know on GR post reviews composed mostly of quotes from and responses to other reviews, I'm not entirely comfortable with the ethics of doing this myself. But I couldn't see the book's title, or the name of Czesław Miłosz - one of the most eminent old public intellectuals from a country of my own ancestry (though in this book Miłosz seems more Lithuanian than Polish) and whom I'd known of long before Goodreads even existed - without thinking of this review. (Eventually I realised, via a different review of my own, whose top ranking I find as bizarre as do any of the negative commenters on it, that it isn't really the review that is the issue when people mind these things - because everybody knows by now that there is always, somewhere,someone being wrong on the internet - but the amount of likes, and the ranking, i.e. wider approval.) I was relieved to find that this year, I could read that same review quite calmly. Listening to the book means that now when I see its title instead think, more appropriately, of its contents, about Miłosz, and the other writers he mentions.

As I listened to The Captive Mind, I actually found that review helpful, because arguing with it in my head in the past had led me to me think more deeply about the situation Miłosz was in as he wrote The Captive Mind. He was a dissident who'd very recently claimed asylum. (I remember the terror, sympathy and prestige engendered by that word dissident 30 years later, on the news in the 1980s: there was nothing more noble one could be.) He wasn't writing as a Nobel Prize winner proclaiming his message to the world. He was speaking his mind and experiences into this book, his head still full of Poland and - although he had worked in embassies - considerably less of Western countries, and of what was far from ideal in them. In writing his allusions to American history, he would not have known of then-forgotten books by black or American Indian writers that wouldn't resurface into mainstream public consciousness until academics revived them in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, or read histories taking the part of the colonised, many of which had not yet been written. (One may as well castigate him for failing to say that the consumer lifestyle of the American factory girl, way beyond the reach of her Russian counterpart on a kolkhoz, was environmentally pernicious - that simply wasn't a major current idea then.) He was also evidently unaware of British popular classics like The Scarlet Pimpernel which certainly did mourn the dead aristos of the French Revolution. (And these days some people are even interested in the Old Prussians too.) I wonder to what extent people under 35 can imagine what it was like when the sum total of everything you'd heard of literary-wise was what you'd seen in physical form in libraries and bookshops and were able to remember, plus what you'd read about in paper copies of newspapers which you, or someone you knew, or a pub or café you walked into, had bought. The largest dimension one now has - information from the internet - was simply non-existent. Even in Britain in the 1990s, for someone who took a keen interest and had a good memory, there was an incredibly cloistered set of references and possibilities compared with what anyone has access to online nowadays - never mind what it must have been like in Poland in the 1930s to early 50s. The intellectual and class snobbery isn’t pleasant (e.g. in the anecdote about peasant refugees in the last chapter, and the sight of them prompting him to escape to the West) but it is not unexpected in a book of this age, and it seems partly a reaction against Party promotion of socialist realism, lionising of the ideal worker and denigration of the intelligentsia, as much as it resembles the unthinking sneer of some Western intellectuals of the same period. Miłosz was too preoccupied, understandably, most would say, with the oppressions he saw first hand - people he knew sent to be worked to death in Siberia and everyone else living under fear of the same - to be considering directly the oppressions which may seem more relevant to readers 60-odd years later in the West. (And I assume that little in his prior reading would have prompted him to allude to the colonial activities of early modern Poland, given that, for all but about 20 of the previous 150 years, Poland had not been an independent country, and Polish cultural life had been heavily affected by the circumstance of occupation.) There was no knowing then when Soviet hegemony would end: the size and grip of the USSR, and the intellectual position of communism was such that back in 1953, many people probably expected that regime would still be in place now, in 2018. In 2018, some of his descriptions of women sound a bit off in a way that I wouldn't have thought they did four years ago. (I had not expected to find agreement on this point, but cultural change has affected me personally, so I did.) But what Miłosz does provide, regardless, is an analysis of how people think and write differently under repressive circumstances, one that is applicable to many other circumstances of psychological and physical oppression as well as being a naturally outspoken, educated upper-middle-class white male writer in a newly totalitarian white country in the mid 20th century. And that is evidently the value many have found in this book - despite its moments of sweeping generalisation, characteristic of much writing at that time.

The Captive Mind was a surprisingly enriching overlapping read with what is now this year's Booker winner, Milkman by Anna Burns. This perhaps shouldn't have been as surprising, but it helped to emphasise, as the novel already does, what a different environment of thought sectarian Northern Ireland was compared with mainland Britain at the same time. The narrator of Milkman felt like a captive mind struggling with similar issues.

Other reviews, such as Maciek's bilingual review, give an excellent rundown of what's actually in Miłosz's book - I would recommend- so I will stick to mentioning the points which had the greatest impact on me.

I listened to the audiobook under the assumption I might also read the book later - I just wanted to get an idea of what was in it, and stop it being one of those looming things one thinks one ought to have read. In the event, despite the sonorous boom of the narrator, a Polish-born American with a voice perfect for infomercials and the beginnings of space-opera movies, it didn't seem as monumental and intimidating a work as I once assumed - and as I think many people assume. (The narrator did a sterling job of making intellectual content sound natural and approachable in spoken form, and it certainly met my usual yardstick of Radio 4 programmes.) The Captive Mind is short, it's a mixture of human frailty and wisdom, and quite specific and subjective in its time and place. Yes it may allude to some writers you haven't read, but it's common general knowledge of Stalinism that helps more than anything in understanding Miłosz's message. It is though, undoubtedly very serious in its approach: it embodies the old idea of the serious, occasionally romantic, Soviet-era East European intellectual (probably because that stereotype contained quite a bit of Miłosz himself).

Is it even possible to live entirely without 'ketman'? As long as I can remember I've had different sets of politics for what's likely in terms of electoral politics, versus ideals that are extremely unlikely to happen and which I am resigned to not happening. I thought everyone was the same, but the last few years on the internet seem to indicate they aren't. The Overton Window has increased as far as the left-right spectrum is concerned, but environmental politics remain a different story due to the unlikelihood of many people voting for a lower standard of living. It's a mode of existence normal for many jobs, in which people routinely have to follow policies and aims they disagree with. Although here, now, there is somewhat more scope for sounding off with one's real opinions, provided they are not on social media for the employer to find. Reading even the Wikipedia entry about taqiya which appears to be the contemporary Islamic term, re-emphasises the strictness of the Stalinist environment Miłosz had in mind, and which his original source for 'ketman' may have conveyed, even if he did somewhat overestimate the extent to which many Westerners were able to say what they thought, in the 1950s and generally.

I would have liked to know how Miłosz felt later about his accounts here of four other Polish writers - men of my grandparents' generation, like him - and their lives under communism, and how Andrzejewski and Putrament, who lived long enough to read the book, reacted. (Perhaps only via propaganda attacks on Miłosz the defector.) At times I thought, "Czesław, do you have to be quite such a bitch?" as there was more personal detail about them than seemed really necessary for him to describe the writers' political shifts - but on the other hand this book was effectively a debriefing exercise, his first major work after he defected, so it also seems natural for him to appreciate the feeling of freedom, and maybe go a bit further than is polite.

His emphasis on Andrzejewski's Catholicism meant I saw more, retrospectively, in Ashes & Diamonds. Borowski's trajectory was already apparent from his Wikipedia entry (so many fewer years to pack in), and from This Way for the Gas, but Miłosz emphasised his late propaganda journalism in contrast to his talent for fiction, which showed how trying to shape himself to the regime changed him. It helped make greater sense of Borowski, to hear that Miłosz thought his general hatred and bitterness was similar to that of Sartre's Nausea, and that if Borowski were French he might have become an existentialist - but this still would not have satisfied him. He compares Borowski's writing to Zola and Hemingway. (I've seen Zola mentioned elsewhere as an inspiration for 19th century Polish realist writing.) I'm not sure if the works of Party bigwig and Miłosz's university contemporary Jerzy Putrament have even been translated to English; at any rate, I haven't read him, and hardly anyone has on Goodreads either, even in Polish - yet this chapter was perhaps more interesting than its predecessors, because it brought in so much autobiography and (then very recent) history, making it bigger than just one man and his flaws. Delta, aka Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński, a madcap alcoholic poet, sounds like an embodiment of the trickster archetype and by far the most interesting and entertaining writer of the four, but again, his work is not available in English. If it were I would have been rushing to read some. (And, though Bruno Jasienski - some of whose works were published in English earlier this decade - was not one of Miłosz's main topics, as he died in a Soviet camp in the 1930s I understood his context better thanks to the chapter on Putrament, aka Gamma.) It seems from these four biographies that shifts from far right to Communist politics were common among the Polish Christian intelligentsia of the 1930s, and during the war.

Miłosz indicates he had always seen through the 'rules of history' propounded by Soviet communists - and that people were not just agents of inevitable historical change, or ants crushed by it. In the place of those rules, and correct, he seems to imply, is the Western notion of free will. Marxist rules of historical progress may not even be subscribed to by many Marxists now, but the question of free will, and the role of governments, is now current again, as in this recent pop-science essay by Yuval Noah Harari.
Profile Image for hayatem.
688 reviews169 followers
September 6, 2021
يتحدث تشيسواف ميووش عن لعنة الأحداث التاريخية التي عايشها؛ في كل من البلطيق وبولندا وتشيكوسلوفاكيا أو هنغاريا ورومانيا، وعن جحيم الاحتلال النازي لبولندا. وعن الأحداث المؤلمة في وارسو والتي كانت باعتقاده أكثر بقعة معذبة في كل أوروبا المروعة. وكيف أثرت تلك الممارسات الاستعمارية في رسم مشاعره وتوظيفها، وعلى خبيئة الذاكرة.

استعرض الكثير من أحداث الزمن الإنساني ضمن السياق الاجتماعي والسياسي والثقافي الذي عاش فيه ، عبر كشف التناقض في الفكر وتصادم الأفكار المتناقضة. التي راجعها أو قرأها عبر عدد من الشخوص/أربعة كتاب هم: "ديلتا، غمّا، بيتا، ألفا" ، وعدداً من المواضيع أو المفاهيم : ك سيكولوجيا الجماهير، الإنسان الرجعي ،التقية، والإيمان الجديد، و أخرى. منطلقاً من نهج أو فلسفة الديالكتيك بمرجعيتها المادية والتاريخية.

قدم ميووش في هذا الكتاب نقد صارخ للوضع السياسي والثقافي لبلاده ومنطقة وسط وشرق أوروبا. كما قدم قراءة ل سيكولوجية الإنسان في صور و مفاهيم مختلفة. على سبيل المثال: العقل المستلب ومثالبه.

اقتباسات من الكتاب :

-أي شخص لم يسكن في وسط الرعب والفزع لا يمكنه أن يعرف مقدار قوة احتجاج الشاهد أو المشارك ضد نفسه، وضد إهماله وأنانيته.
الدمار والمعاناة هما مدرسة الأفكار الاجتماعية .

‫- إن حياة الإنسان اللاواعية أو غير الواعية تماماً هي أغنى من معجم مفرداته.‬

‫-من الأفضل أحياناً التأتأة من فرط الانفعال من الكلام بعبارات مسبوكة بشكل جيد.‬

-يرتبط الفن مع الشعور بالحرية والذي بدوره يولد من الكفاح ضد مقاومة تبدو غير مرئيّة .

-إن الذين يهزمون ينسون إلى الأبد؛ وأي شخص يرغب في النظر بتمعن في سجلات جرائم الماضي، أو حتى أسوأ من ذلك، يحاول أن يتخيلهم بالتفصيل، لابد أنه إما أن يشحب لونه من الرعب أو يصبح لا مبالياً تماماً.

-كانوا يعلمون أن لا أمل في النصر وأن موتهم ليس أكثر من تحية في وجه عالم لا مبال.

-‫الحكمة البسيطة التي تقول إن الإنسان غير محكوم بنواياه الطيبة، لكن بقوانين النظام الاجتماعي الذي وجد نفسه فيه فقط. كل من يريد تغيير الإنسان يجب عليه، قبل أي شيء آخر، أن يغير الظروف الاجتماعية. ‬

-ليس المهم ما يقوله شخص ما بل ما يريد قوله، تمويه أفكاره عن طريق إزالة فاصلة أو إدخال حرف العطف " و" ، يثبت هذا الأمر أكثر من أي سياق آخر في المشاكل التي تجرى مناقشتها.

-أحب أن أوضح مسبقاً سوء تفاهم محتمل. أنا لا أميل شخصياً إلى الفن الذاتي جداً. كان شعري دائماً وسيلة للتدقيق في نفسي. يمكنني من خلاله أن أتحقق من الحد الذي ما بعده يصبح الزيف في الأسلوب يشهد على زيف موقف الفنان؛ وقد حاولت ألا أتجاوز هذا الخط.

من هو ميووش؟
شاعر وناقد ومترجم وروائي. يعتبره البعضُ أهم شعراء بولندا، لكنّ غالبيتهم تميلُ إلى اعتباره أحدَ كبار شعرائها في القرن العشرين. نال على جائزة نوبل في الآداب عام 1980. ساهم أثناء الاحتلال النازي لبولندا، في الحركة الثقافية السرية المناهضة للاحتلال.
Profile Image for Michael Perkins.
Author 6 books376 followers
December 28, 2019
Helmut Thielicke is not as famous as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who was a martyred leader of the Confessing Church that opposed Hitler. But Thielicke was also a member the Church and also spoke out against the Nazis. Thielicke’s writings give us a window into life under the Reich.

Thielicke reports that among the first to morally capitulate in Nazi Germany were the non-Jewish professors and intellectuals. Their learning and intellect did not guard against surrendering their consciences and becoming lackeys of a totalitarian regime. Thielicke also tells us that the majority of Christians in Germany gave in, as well.

In “The Captive Mind”—which reads like a gripping novel—Czesław Miłosz tells a similar story of Poland, especially about its middle class intelligentsia. But, in this case, it was not the Nazis to which they surrendered their minds and consciences.

During WW II, there was little temptation to join the Nazis in Poland because the Germans considered Poles (and all Slavs) racially inferior. They were under direct siege from the Nazis and thousands of lives were lost in the Warsaw Uprising, even as the Soviet troops waited on the outskirts of the city for the combatants to destroy each other. In the wake of the Uprising, the Soviet troops easily finished off the Nazis. The surviving members of the Polish underground were immediately imprisoned. The new boss was as evil as the old boss.

In his book, Miłosz, profiles (using pseudonyms) four members of his literary circle both before and during the invasion of the Nazis. One, a poet, was arrested as a political enemy and spent time in Dachau and Auschwitz.

As soon as the Communist system was in place in Poland, all four of these men threw away both their talent and their consciences in service of the Red State. There was no big leap into this fold. In each case it was more like walking down a sloping hill to Hell. But when they saw where it led, none chose to turn back but instead plunged forward.

“The mind can rationalize anything,” the author says. And he explains in detail how each of the four did this. The process was different for each one, but they all arrived at the same place. Once great novelists, poets, and artists were now producing rote propaganda to promote an iron-fisted rule. One ultimately committed suicide. Their moral compromises had taken them to Hell after all.


Czesław Miłosz describes a curious novel, "Insatiability," by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, published in two volumes in 1932, that uncannily anticipates Huxley. The path to the Murti-Bing.

My review of Insatiability....

Profile Image for Mehmet.
Author 2 books423 followers
March 28, 2021
""Yeni İnsan" davranış normu olarak sadece ve sadece genelin iyiliğini kabul edecek şekilde yetiştirilmiştir. Başkaları gibi düşünür ve başkaları gibi tepki verir, alçak gönüllüdür, çalışkandır, devletin verdikleriyle yetinir, özel yaşamını evde geçirdiği gecelerle sınırlar, ayrıca -işte olsun, eğlencede olsun- hep arkadaşlarıyladır. Çevresini dikkatle gözlemler ve beraber zaman geçirdiği arkadaşlarının her düşüncesini ve yaptığını devlet yetkililerine yetiştirir." (s.82)

Litvanya doğumlu Polonyalı yazar Milosz kimdir? Şairliğiyle daha çok bilinen, daha çok ön plana çıkan bir Soğuk Savaş dönemi aydını diyebiliriz aslında. Verimli olarak yazdığı dönem dünyanın belki de en kırılgan ve gerilimli dönemi. Sonradan Amerikan vatandaşlığına geçen Milosz'un 1980 yılında Nobel Edebiyat ödülü aldığını da vurgulamak gerek.

Tutsak Edilmiş Akıl kitabını daha önce birkaç defa satın almak istemiş ama çeşitli sebeplerle alamamıştım. 2018'in Ocak ayında kütüphaneme katılan bu kırmızı kitap 1 yıldır rafta "Beni Oku" diyerek gözlerime bakıyordu adeta. Geçtiğimiz günlerde Nobel ödüllü Saul Bellow'u okurken dedim ki "Neden hemen ardına bu kitabı okumayayım?" aslına bakarsanız kitaplar hakkındaki yorumları kitabı okumadan önce okumama huyum nedeniyle sebepsiz bir şekilde bu kitabı kurgu sanıyordum. Kurgu dışı olduğunu görünce ilk başta biraz üzüldüğümü itiraf etmeliyim. Fakat kitap sonrasında beni pişman etmedi.

"Görünen o ki, sürekli gerilimle ve tetikte yaşamak zorunluluğu, insanların çoğuna sanki işkence gibi geliyor ama aynı zamanda birçok aydına da mazoşist bir zevk veriyor." (s.86)

Elimde tuttuğum baskı Monokl Yayıncılıktan çıkan kırmızı kapaklı 2017 tarihli birinci basım. Standart kitap kağıdı, yapıştırma karton kapak ile hazırlanmış baskının kabağındaki kabartma ve Nobel logosu dikkat çekiyor. Ana dili olan Lehçe'den çeviren Osman Fırat Baş. Kitabın dilimizde ilk baskısı 2006 yılında Elips Kitap'tan çıkmıştı yine aynı çevirmenden.

Hitler'in Nazi Almanyası'nın doğuşundan Soğuk Savaş'ın çöküşüne kadar dünya tarihinde yaşanan bu garip ve ürkütücü dönem belki bundan sonraki kuşakların edebiyatlarında "Güller Savaşı" yahut da "Meiji Hanedanlığının Doğuşu" gibi tarihsel bir merhale olarak öylece hatırlanıp geçilecek. Oysa bu dönemi yaşayan insanlar için elbette böyle değildi. Onlar için dünya, hayat, sanat, bilim, felsefe yani bütünüyle gerçeklik ve hayal bile totaliter rejimlerin gölgesinde geçti. İşte bu kitapta yazar totaliter rejimlerin (Stalinizm ve Naziliğin) özellikle aydınlar üzerinde nasıl bir etkisinin olduğu üzerine odaklanmış diyebiliriz. Yazar özellikle aydınların nasıl bazı durumlarda kolayca renk değiştirebildiğini, bazı durumlarda sistemi yere göğe sığdıramazken bazen nasıl saklanacak delik aradıklarını çeşitli örneklerle ortaya koymuş. Kitabın ismi kendisinin öyle güzel özeti ki!

Akıl, tutsak edilebilir mi? Evet. Hem de öyle kolay ki aklı tutsak etmesi. Düşünceye zincir vurulabilir. Kitapta yer alan Ign. Witkiewicz'ten ödünç "Murti-Bing" alegorisi öyle güzel öyle anlamlı ki... Bu noktada Milosz dinlerin çöküşlerinden sonra ortaya çıkan işte bu yeni dinlerin yani ideolojilerin bireyleri nasıl kıskıvrak yakalayıp çarkları arasında öğüttüğünü ortaya koyarken bu alegoriden yararlanıyor. Aydınları totaliter rejimlere karşı savunmasız bırakan bir fenomen var, Murti Bing hapları... Yani ideolojiyle yoğrulmuş dünya görüşleri! Onlar ki, totaliter rejimleri zararsız, ilerlemeci, geliştirici, güzel ve pırıl pırıl görmelerine neden oluyor aydınların.

"Witkiewicz'in kahramanları, herhangi bir inançları olmadığı ve eylemlerinin bir anlamı olduğunu hissetmedikleri için mutsuzlardır. Bu anlamsızlık ve çöküş atmosferi tüm ülkeye yayılır. İşte o sırada, kentlerde el altından Murti-bing hapları satan çok sayıda işportacı peyda olur. Murti-bing "dünya görüşünü" organik yolla nakleden bir Moğol filozofuydu. Murti-bing'in aslında Moğol-Çin ordusunun gücünü oluşturan bu "dünya görüşü" aşırı derecede konsantre bir hapın içindeydi. Murti-bing haplarını kullanan kişi tamamen değişiyor, neşe ve mutlulukla doluyordu. [...] Moğol-Çin ordusunun yaklaşmasını ise kendi uygarlığı için bir trajedi olarak görmüyordu; hemşehrileri arasında, deliler tarafından kuşatılmış sağlıklı bir birey olarak yaşayıp gidiyordu." (s.17)

Soğuk Savaş bitti, demir perdeler kalktı. Peki hala ideolojilere inanan insanlar yok mu? Elbette varlar. İdeolojinin bir tür virüs olduğu ve insanı totaliterliğe karşı savunmasız hale getirdiği kabul edilebilir. Din yerini ideolojilere bırakmıştı, şimdi belki ideolojiler eski popülerliğini yitirdi... Fakat farklı görünümler altında yeni Murti-bing hapları piyasada dolaşıyor... Mikro-milliyetçilikler, aşırı dincilik, mezhepçilik, tarikatçılık vs. Böyle bir durumda, aydın ne yapacak?

2004 yılında aramızdan ayrılan yazar şimdi son dinlenme yeri olan Skalka Roman Katolik kilisesinde sonsuzluğa uzanıyor. Huzur içinde uyusun.

Mehmet Baran
Bu yılın 15. Tüm yılların 1.417. kitabı!
Yaşasın okumak!

Profile Image for Chris Coffman.
Author 2 books39 followers
November 6, 2007
It has been an illuminating and deeply moving experience over the last several months to read or re-read books by Hungarian, Russian and Polish authors, from John Paul II to Anna Akhmatova.

These Eastern and Central European authors have insights into the tragedy of Western civilisation that seem unknown, and are certainly still ignored, in Western Europe and the rest of the world that is under its influence.

This wonderful book by the great Lithuanian-Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, so exhilirating because it is so authentically human, so sad because it is so true, is one of the best of these books--and it is short.

The following excerpt illustrates the way Milosz brings a poet's eye and sensibility to extreme experiences:

"The vision of the burning ghetto [of Warsaw] is too welded into all I have lived through in my adult years for me to speak of it quietly. But I should like to describe one incident. Often, as I am sitting on the terrace of a Paris cafe . . . I look at the women who pass, at their luxuriant hair, their proudly lifted chins, their slender throats whose lines awaken delight and desire--and then I see before my eyes always the same young Jewish girl. She was probably about twenty years old. Her body was full, splendid, exultant. She was running down the street, her hands raised, her chest thrust forward. She cried piercingly, "No! No! No!" The necessity to die was beyond her comprehension--a necessity that came from outside, having nothing in common with her unprepared body. The bullets of the SS guards' automatic pistols reached her in her cry.

"The moment when bullets pierce flesh is a moment of amazement for the body. Life and death mingle for a second, before a bloody rag falls to the pavement and is kicked aside by an SS boot." (Page 184)

Milosz clears away the fog of homicidal abstractions that clouded the world for a hundred years during the twentieth century. He delicately and truthfully explains the way the human consciousness turns away from truth and beauty and love and, to the astonishment and horror of all, ends up mired in hatred, cruelty, pitilessness, and lies.

Profile Image for Georgia Scott.
Author 3 books196 followers
July 23, 2022
When Erich Segal's Love Story came out, a friend gave me a copy with every swear censored out. It made me laugh. This book won't. Open it to any page. Pull any nouns of your choice and substitute what comes into your mind. Is this 1952? Or ___? Fill in the blank.

Here's a practice sample for your pleasure (from p. 145, The Captive Mind)

"The incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union may seem an unimportant incident to a Mexican or a Chilean, but not to the millions of people living in the people's democracies."
Profile Image for Daniel Laskowski.
75 reviews6 followers
January 6, 2018
Captive Mind by Czesław Miłosz should be the mandatory companion piece to Orwell’s 1984. And it is mostly just as good. The Nobel laureate Miłosz was a true giant of literature and he employed his keen mind to dissect and scrutinise the ways in which artists and intellectuals in Eastern Europe adapted themselves to the reality of the totalitarian socialism (and Socrealism). Having been part of the "historical machine" of the Soviet Socialism he also correctly identifies its true nature: that of essentially an imperialist religion.

The book is also a polemic against the Western Left, particularly the apologists for Stalinism and communism. Published in the early 1950s, Captive Mind is strangely relevant today — for while History vindicated Miłosz fully, the apologists are yet to die out, the sinister totalitarian trends are once again rearing their ugly heads, and the intellectuals and public figures of certain countries — not least of which is Poland — continue to debase themselves with doublethink as they fall under the spell of the resurgent nationalist ideologies.
Profile Image for Ieva Strazdiņa [mrs.lasitaja].
341 reviews138 followers
January 1, 2023
Šo grāmatu lasīju uzreiz pēc “Putina troļļi” un esmu priecīga, ka veiksmīgi sagadījās tieši šādi. “Sagūstītie prāti” ir autora 1953.gadā sarakstīta filozofiska eseja par to, kā un kādus prātus iespējams sagūstīt, lai tie kļūtu par daļu no lielās propagandas mašinērijas.
Cik aktuāls šis pirms 70 gadiem sarakstītais darbs ir arī šodien!

Autora mērķis nav attaisnot pūli, bet paraudzīties uz to ar citām acīm un izprast šo cilvēku motivāciju vai, iespējams, tās trūkumu. Autors piedāvā pūlī ieraudzīt indivīdus. Kādēļ tas ir svarīgi šobrīd? Autors parāda, ka pūlim nereti pievienojas tie, kas ir vīlušies pašreizējā sistēmā, kuru dzīves salauza “vecās” sistēmas, kuri ir noguruši no nabadzības, protams, daļa ir vienkārši asinskāras žurkas. Un tas liek saprast, ka teju ar visiem no pūļa, kas nav asinskārās žurkas, ir iespējams runāt viņiem saprotamā valodā, piedāvājot risināt viņu problēmas ar citiem līdzekļiem.
Tā, piemēram, šodien – dzirdam radikālus nacionālistus – priekš kam par nodokļu maksātāju naudu krieviem jārada īpašs saturs, kāpēc jāpiedāvā kādi labumi valodā vai veidā, kas tiem ir saprotams – viņi visi taču ir Putinisti. Taču Milošs liek domāt, ka daļa no šiem Putinistiem ir vīlušies pilnīgi citās lietās un viņi ar Putina troļļu palīdzību sadzird, ka Kremlis viņu saprot un palīdzēs. Kremlis glauda šos pieviltos pa spalvai un šie cilvēki tiek troļļoti vai paši par tiem kļ��st. Iespējams, parādot citu ceļu, lielāku šo sabiedrības daļu varam cerēt redzam neraugoties “hipnotizējošās Kremļa gaismas” virzienā.

Es te nedaudz aizpļāpājos, bet lūk, kurp manu prātu ved šis autora filizofiskais darbs. Izlasiet!

Grāmatā daudz atzīmējamu vietu - veselas rindkopas, kas raisa pārdomas.
Profile Image for julieta.
1,168 reviews22k followers
August 29, 2017
Milosz es un poeta Polaco,y hace un análisis y reflexión de el vivir bajo el yugo de una democracia popular. Básicamente, la manera en como un estado totalitario puede ir transformando y afectando a los artistas que viven en el.

Usa como ejemplo la vida de 4 escritores distintos, y la manera en como el sistema los fue envolviendo.

Es tremendo libro, no solo por como es que resalta el que la dialéctica necesita de el arte para convencer a la gente, y aún así no puede reemplazar una necesidad intrínseca de el ser humano de ser libre. Nadie es capaz de vivir solo en la mente, por más que quiera. También necesitas poder elegir tu vida espiritual, la metafísica, lo que sea, hay cosas que no se pueden controlar. Por eso los gobiernos totalitarios necesitan tanto del arte, de la poesía, de la ficción, llegar emocionalmente a la gente con sus mensajes, pero para eso los artistas deben estar convencidos también.

Me encantó, no solo por la forma en como Milosz toca un tema que siempre me ha llamado la atención, el encanto, o el enredo, o la forma en que los artistas pueden ir haciéndose parte de un sistema, que hacia afuera parece algo completamente marciano. La creatividad siempre he pensado que debe ser algo libre, pero también es una necesidad, y en un sistema como el que vivió Polonia comunista, se ve esto de irte metiendo sin querer en algo, y en como la Historia, así, con mayúscula, puede definir tanto el camino que tomas en tu vida.

Milosz eventualmente se fue de Polonia, exiliado a Francia, y este libro no es un explicar a los demás el por qué de sus elecciones, sino el tratar de explicar un sistema que te atrapa de tal manera que no sabes que estás atrapado.
Profile Image for Andrew.
2,024 reviews731 followers
January 27, 2016
Even though this as described as an "anti-communist" book, it's far more than that-- it's a plea against totalitarianism of all kinds, not for the usual things (human rights violations, etc.) but for how the mind is effectively colonized. Now, I should point out that Milosz is far more persuasive when he's narrating the lives of his fellow Polish writers-- reminiscent of the film Mephisto-- then when he's making generalizations. In fact, some of his generalizations (that arty types are drawn to the left merely because of their distaste for middle-class habit, for example) are little more than vague, polemical claims that Milosz doesn't make any real attempt at substantiating. Granted, this was a stylistic thing in the '50s, something that writers of all stripes and political persuasions did, and only a few thinkers (big ups to Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty!) were able to transcend. But that doesn't make it any more palatable to the modern reader. Read the biographical sketches, but feel free to skip the rest.
Profile Image for Bryan--The Bee’s Knees.
407 reviews57 followers
September 25, 2018
Published in 1951, The Captive Mind was Milosz' attempt to explain why intellectuals from the Eastern Bloc countries were willing to tolerate and eventually accept the 'New Faith' (Stalinism) in the post-war years. He explicitly says that it was not a matter of force and coercion: that, given the reality of the situation, these people were converted through a rational thought process that led them, happily or no, to conform and even become proponents--at least superficially.

Through a succession of chapters that build up his argument, Milosz begins with an outline of some concepts that help explain why someone might be open to choosing the 'New Faith', why looking to the West was no solution, and how one might exist day-to-day in such a regime. He then profiles four writers who arrived at assimilation through different paths, and concludes with a chapter addressing the general way that the 'New Faith' attacks humanity, and a chapter addressing the particular way it was done in the Baltics.

Growing up in the West with the constant East/West tension, I was always puzzled at how a system that seemed so obviously flawed could hold millions of people in its grip. (I do believe still that that system was obviously flawed, and history has born that out, but there is also no doubt I was subjected to our own propaganda as well.) I always thought that it was force and coercion that kept the people in check (and that obviously had something to do with it, as the Czechs found out in 68, and the Hungarians in 56), but Milosz' outline answered some of my questions as to why these revolts were not constant and widespread (until they were.) Why would there be some people who chose to live in this system?

As a Westerner, the immediate difficulty is to understand why someone would reject our culture (or at least it used to be. I'm not so sure that argument is as clear-cut today.) To a large degree, I feel that for me, the difficulty comes from familiarity--it's hard for me to imagine things being any other way. But the perfect storm of the Second World War created an environment in Eastern Europe where all previous held ideas just didn't make any sense any more. It wasn't that communism, especially the Stalinist version, was immediately attractive, it was that there was no other visible solution to the moral and political problems of the world. Or at least, that's what they were able to convince themselves. Capitalism led to Nationalism led to Fascism led to the SS extermination camps. Religion had no answers. But Milosz makes it clear--the title of his book is not The Liberated Mind--the 'New Faith' of Stalinism was its own trap. It was just enticing enough, given the situation on the ground, to persuade intellectuals that it was a way forward. But Milosz, in his four profiles, shows the results of this trap.

Does Milosz' book remain relevant after the fall of the Berlin Wall? As I said, growing up before Glasnost and Perestroika, the Eastern Bloc was a mystery to me, and The Captive Mind goes a long way toward answering my questions--but does it continue to shed light on human behavior? To a certain degree, I think yes. I definitely think the chapter on Ketman should be required reading. And while Milosz' 'New Faith' may be different than the 'New Faiths' we may be exposed to today, I still saw similarities. Whether his book would shake any of the converted loose from their convictions is another thing.
Profile Image for Kristal Kitap.
352 reviews34 followers
May 17, 2017
Tutsak Edilmiş Akıl'ı okurken hikayemde sürekli alıntılar paylaşmıştım. Uzun zamandan sonra bana postit kullandıran bir kitap olduydu kendisi.

Yazarın diline, gözlemlerini aktarış biçime hayran kaldım. Dönüp baktığımda bana safi inceleme olarak sunulmuş olsa belki sıkılır giderdim ama kitaba kendimi kaptırıp okuduğum, okurken de betimlemeleri ve düşünceleri ile beni heyecanlandırdığı için okumaktan büyük keyif aldığım bir eser oldu.

Yazar bizleri, doğu avrupanın ikinci dünya savaşı dönemlerinde karşılıyor. Halk demokrasilerinde insanların, ağırlıklı olarak edebiyatçıların düşüncelerini ve yapılarını aktarıyor bizlere. Tam bir düşünce tarihi metni.

Okudukça insana katan, düşündüren, sorgulatan bir eser. Tertemiz çeviri ve editörlükte kitabın keyfine keyif katıyor.
İsterim ki bu lezzeti herkes okusa. Pişman olunacak bir kitap değil kesinlikle.

Hep sert, açık ve arı insanın özlemini çektim ama insanın nasıl olduğuna bakarken utançla gözlerimi kaçırdım ve kendimden de utançla kaçırdım gözlerimi çünkü onun bir benzeriydim.

Bir şeyden özgürlük, bu çok şeydir ama yeterli değildir; bir şeye doğru özgürlükten çok daha az şeydir.

Mademki -diye akıl yürütür insan- kendimi, değişimine hiçbir etkimin olamayacağı şartlar içinde bulmuşum, üstelik bir kez yaşanıyor ve yaşam da durmadan akıp gidiyor, öyleyse yaşamımı, olabilecek en iyi şeye dönüştürmeye çalışmalıyım. Ben, denizin dibindeki bir kayaya yapışıp kalmış bir deniz kabuğuyum. Üzerimde Fırtınalar kopar, büyük büyük gemiler geçer üzerimden ama benim çabam o kayaya tutunup kalmak içindir çünkü suya kapılıp da yüzeye çıkarsam ölür giderim ve benden geriye tek bir iz kalmaz.
Profile Image for James Henderson.
2,044 reviews166 followers
August 3, 2016
Czesław Miłosz was born in 1911 in central Lithuania (then part of Russian empire). He wrote lovingly of his Lithuanian childhood in a novel, The Issa Valley, and also in his memoir Native Realm. In his twenties he traveled to Paris, where he was influenced by his distant cousin Oscar Milosz, a French poet of Lithuanian descent. The result, a volume of his own poetry, was published in 1934. After receiving his law degree that year, he again spent a year in Paris on a fellowship. Upon returning to Poland he worked as a commentator at Radio Wilno, but was dismissed for his leftist views.

Miłosz spent World War II in Warsaw, under Nazi Germany's "General Government," where, among other things, he attended underground lectures by Polish philosopher and historian of philosophy and aesthetics, Władysław Tatarkiewicz. He did not participate in the Warsaw Uprising due to his residence outside of Warsaw proper. After the war Miłosz served as cultural attaché of the communist People's Republic of Poland in Paris. However, in 1951 he defected and obtained political asylum in France. In 1953 he received the Prix Littéraire Européen (European Literary Prize).

In 1960 Miłosz emigrated to the United States, and in 1970 he became a U.S. citizen, and in 1980 receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature for a writer "who with uncompromising clear-sightedness voices man's exposed condition in a world of severe conflicts". Since his works had been banned in Poland by the communist government, this was the first time that many Poles became aware of him. When the Iron Curtain fell, Miłosz was able to return to Poland, at first to visit and later to live part-time in Kraków, while continuing to spend time each year in America. In 1989 Miłosz received the U.S. National Medal of Arts and an honorary doctorate from Harvard University. Through the Cold War, his name was often invoked in the United States, particularly by conservative commentators such as William F. Buckley, Jr., usually in the context of Miłosz's 1953 book The Captive Mind. During the same time, his name was largely ignored by the government-censored media and publications in Poland.

The Captive Mind has been described as one of the finest studies of the behavior of intellectuals under a repressive regime. In the preface Miłosz observed that "I lived through five years of Nazi occupation . . . I do not regret those years in Warsaw". But it is his analysis of Poland and her intellectuals under the heel of Soviet Communism that is the primary content of this book. Through the examples of four intellectuals Milosz is able to capture the psychological impact on the lives of his countrymen. The criticism is devastating and it has not lost its impact more than fifty years later. He even was prescient enough to speculate the the Soviet Dictatorship might fall at some future date, little did he know in 1953 that it would come to pass less than thirty years later. This reader found that Milosz' prose is as beautifully written as his poetry and he is an author to whom I will continue to return for inspiration.
Profile Image for Matt.
1,035 reviews666 followers
February 20, 2008

A great book- Orwellian in its tough minded appraisal of a miserable mindset, political in its interests and powerful in its imaginitive subversion.

This book belongs to the select company of texts which are novel(istic), essay(istic), and philosophically stringent about their world, their politics, and their language....I'd put it with 'Catalonia' (sorry to reiterate the praise, but for me there's scarcely a higher honor) and Camus' "The Rebel" in terms of durability, prophecy, and thoughtfulness.

I'd love to quote from it but it was unfortunately left in my friend's glovebox and said car was repo'ed.
Profile Image for Charles Haywood.
505 reviews780 followers
December 5, 2019
We all like to imagine ourselves as heroes. We watch movies, and we instinctively put ourselves in the place of the hero, not in the place of the villain. We read the histories of twentieth-century tyrannies, and we assume we would be the resistance fighter, not the collaborator, informer, or toady to the new archons. Maybe we would be heroes. But probably not, if history is any guide. Czeslaw Milosz’s 1951 The Captive Mind explores, through the author’s personal experience, what motivates seemingly morally strong, thoughtful men to instead cooperate with, and often embrace, evil. Sadly, this question is as relevant today as seventy years ago, which makes this book very much worth reading for its insights into the future, as well as into the past.

Milosz, a world-famous poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1980, revolves most of his core analysis around the motivations of artists, usually artists of the word, presumably because that was his own milieu during World War II and afterwards. He was living in Warsaw, working in radio and writing well-received poems, participating in the active cultural life of the time, but not in politics to any significant degree (he seems throughout his life to have been neither Left nor Right, though tilting slightly left), when the Germans and the Russians invaded. It was the Germans who occupied Warsaw, and Milosz survived the war there, living largely underground and participating in mild subversive activities such as writing for forbidden newspapers, although he did not join the Home Army or fight in the Warsaw Uprising. But he saw firsthand all the horrors of the German occupation, and of the Uprising, and he returns to them again and again in this book, even though its main focus is the so-called people’s democracies of the immediate postwar period. During that time, Milosz worked as a cultural attaché for the new Polish government put into power by the Russians. He never joined the Party, but was able to maintain this position because the Communists loved to tout their association with artists, and the Polish government, like the other countries captured by Stalin, had a few years in which it could pretend to not be fully under Stalin’s thumb. But by 1951, Milosz had had enough of Communism, and fled for Paris, then the United States, where he lived until 2000, when he moved home to Poland, dying in 2004.

This book is best read not as an attempt to precisely clarify and classify the natures of those who cooperated with and advanced Communism, but as a set of insights gained from people Milosz knew as they interacted with history. (It is also profitably read in combination with Mark Lilla’s very good The Reckless Mind, which nods to this book while expanding its analysis.) The Captive Mind focuses on intellectuals, specifically poets and other writers, because they were whom Milosz knew most intimately. His book says nothing about other collaborators, such as those strictly out for personal gain, and it also says nothing about the working class, which is ignored as irrelevant, as indeed it always was under Communism. Instead, the book shows how mental gymnastics, rather than coercion, caused writers under Communism to adhere to Communism. Thereby, indirectly, it congratulates writers who believe their minds free from such, or other, contortions. It is perhaps no wonder, therefore, that this book was popular among Western writers of all political stripes.

Milosz begins with a fable, taken from a Polish science fiction novel, about how a new Sino-Mongol Empire conquers Poland and, instead of terrorizing the bitter and unhappy population, satisfies them with “the pill of Murti-Bing,” which ensures that each person is internally happy no matter his external circumstance. The pill makes reality, no matter how bad, bearable, even joyous. In the novel, this leads to general social satisfaction, except for some, who develop schizophrenia, unable to reconcile their inner character, their creative spark, with the false art that their chemically altered brains produce. Milosz says that under Communist domination this vision “is being fulfilled in the minutest detail.” (Presumably the schizophrenics are those who, like Milosz, ultimately reject Communism entirely.) The West incorrectly sees “might and coercion” as the reasons those in Eastern Europe submit to Communism. But, rather, unwilling to face either physical or spiritual death, many choose instead to be “reborn” through taking these metaphorical pills, because “[t]here is an internal longing for harmony and happiness that lies deeper than ordinary fear or the desire to escape misery or physical destruction.” Intellectuals, and artists especially, do not want to be “internal exiles, irreconcilable, non-participating, eroded by hatred.” So they swallow the pills and adopt the “New Faith” (a term Milosz uses throughout the book) which offers the intellectual the certainty he is both correct and virtuous, and therefore gives him a sense of belonging, gives him a feeling of being “warm-hearted and good . . . a friend of mankind—not mankind as it is, but as it should be.”

The metaphor of Murti-Bing, forgotten for a few decades, is remembered today. Murti-Bing’s explanatory power for the behavior of modern intellectuals under modern ideological tyrannies seems universally applicable. It has been recently cogently used, for example, to explain how very many in the intellectual class of Americans, and Europeans, have accepted and embraced the totalitarian agenda aptly and accurately known as globohomo, a toxic mutating stew of neoliberal globalist corporatism and moral degeneracy, the reward for consuming which is being forced to consume more. (I am curious if Murti-Bing also explains the behavior of twenty-first-century Chinese artists, about whom I know little or nothing, although I suppose today the Chinese tyranny is less ideological and more nationalist.)

After an interesting chapter on how intellectuals in the new people’s democracies view America, Milosz returns to another concept for which he is remembered, that of Ketman. This is, we are told, a pleasurable psychological state obtained when one deceives those in power about one’s true motives and beliefs, while nonetheless strictly obeying the orders of those in power. It is described as extremely prevalent in nineteenth-century Islam, where heretical believers practiced Ketman. As a historical matter, I don’t know how true this is (Milosz ascribes knowledge of it to Arthur Gobineau, inventor of “scientific racism,” which does not lend confidence); it may just be a description of the Shiite practice of taqiyya. But that doesn’t matter for the metaphor.

In essence, one practicing Ketman is, to an outside observer, compliant with his rulers, yet he generally hopes for different, but similar, ends. Milosz describes several types of Ketman and suggests there are others, many and varied. For example, those practicing “national Ketman” praise Russia even though they have contempt for it; they still love Communism, though, just think it better done through their own nation. Those practicing “aesthetic Ketman” create lifeless socialist realist art on command, because otherwise they would be left with nothing, no property and no position in society, yet in private use their position to surround themselves with real art. Those practicing the “Ketman of revolutionary purity” believe that Stalin betrayed the Revolution, yet only through him can the Revolution now be realized, so they must do as he says. In all cases, the basic point is the same—Ketman is a form of doublethink, in which people toe the Communist line, making no waves and rocking no boats, and trying to avoid reifying the contradictions. The man practicing Ketman suffers, yet he would suffer more if Communism disappeared, since he defines himself in this way. “Internal revolt is sometimes essential to spiritual health, and can create a particular form of happiness. . . . Ketman brings comfort, fostering dreams of what might be, and even the enclosing fence affords the solace of reverie.”

On the surface, Ketman seems similar to Ernst Jünger’s concepts of the forest rebel and the anarch, someone who keeps his mind free from the rulers while largely adhering to their commands. But in fact the concepts are very different, for Ketman is a form of self-delusion, something that Jünger absolutely forbids. Ketman instead sinks deep into the soul of the practitioner, making, for example, the men Milosz profiles later in the book convinced that they freely chose to adhere to Communism. They become unable to say who is their true self. Ultimately, Ketman is a poison.

What ties Murti-Bing and Ketman together is that those under the power of either are not truly unhappy or oppressed, at least subjectively. Moreover, both seem to be confined largely to intellectuals, those who care both about ideas and their position in society. Rod Dreher, for example, has pointed out how common both are among today’s so-called conservative writers; the entire staff of National Review, to the extent it is actually conservative, is probably practicing Ketman and washing down Murti-Bing pills with vodka, in between grifting money out of elderly donors, the whole staff pretty happy on balance. It’s not just conservative intellectuals, though. Intellectuals on the Left, faced with the dominance of globohomo, may think the frenzy for conformity to insane ideas like identity politics, intersectionality, gender fluidity and the like has gone too far, and damages their core concerns, such as those about economic inequality. They join the chorus, yet still hope that the stupidity will burn itself out and allow their goals to again surface, meanwhile getting a frisson of pleasure from the camaraderie of joining the latest Two-Minute Hate against some Christian pizza parlor. On the other hand, a social conservative working at a big corporation, crushed by woke capitalism and forced to wear a “Pride” pin to show his “allyship” on pain of losing his job, is just oppressed and unhappy. Since he has no ideological goal himself, he cannot practice Ketman, and he does not want to be a friend of abstract mankind, merely provide for his family and to lead a decent life, so the pills of Murti-Bing also have no effect on him.

Milosz then profiles, under pseudonyms, four men well known to him who bowed to Communism, analyzing why in each case. (He ignores those who, like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, did not bow.) Alpha, the Moralist. Beta, the Disappointed Lover. Gamma, the Slave of History. Delta, the Troubadour. Who these men were is easy to determine. Originally, I thought that of no importance, and anyway I can’t pronounce Polish names, so I figured I’d go with the pseudonyms entirely. But it turns out that to some degree who they were, and their later history, matter, and Alpha is the best example of this.

Alpha was Jerzy Andrzejewski, a prose writer. In Milosz’s telling, he had a “tragic sense of the world,” drawn to Joseph Conrad’s novels, with their moral conflicts and dense storytelling. Before the war, he received laudation for short stories that featured archetypical characters, black-and-white, with a Catholic focus. He, however, realized that he did not really deserve the laudation, since his stories were simplistic morality tales, lacking nuance—yet he was eager to be regarded as the best writer in Poland. During the war, as their friends disappeared, often shot by the Germans, Alpha became regarded as a moral authority within the Warsaw community of writers, among other things speaking out against the slaughter of the Jews, and he and Milosz lived through the Uprising together, something Milosz spends some time describing. Alpha’s morality was not that of Christ, despite his putative Catholicism, but rather a belief in a largely abstracted loyalty, generically to the Polish people.

After the Uprising, he rejected his old belief in loyalty, seeing it led to nothing but death, instead coming to believe that History had an arc and that social goals should be the focus. His new morality fit well with the new Communist regime, eager to have artists under its wing to “bridge the gap” between the tiny number of Communists in Poland and the rest of the population—and Alpha was well known for his devotion to Poland. The Communists gave him a new moral frame, and praised him to the skies, and he published an excellent novel, though one, again, with archetypical characters divorced from real human experience, and established himself, as he desired, as a writer of the first rank.Within a few years, however, as the Communist Party tightened its grip, Alpha, like all other artists, was required to make a choice—join the Party and create tightly defined social realist art, or be cast into the outer darkness. Alpha, without hesitation, joined the New Faith. He became a Soviet propagandist, referred to by his old friends as “the respectable prostitute.” He still had a moral frame; it was merely different. Milosz is dispassionate about this apparent end. “It is not my place to judge. I myself traveled the same road of seeming inevitability.”

Alpha is clearly drawn. But he is incomplete, because Andrzejewski stepped off the path that he was on in 1951. In 1956 he quit the party, and in the 1970s and 1980s he was a strong supporter of anti-Communist movements, dying in 1983. So, in the end, he partially redeemed himself. What this says about Milosz’s thesis we will consider later.

Next is Beta. . . [review completes as first comment]
Profile Image for Alisa Žarkova.
91 reviews14 followers
January 3, 2019
„Kažkas rodo į jaunuolį, kuriam vos pradeda želti barzda, ir prašo atsakyti, ar tas žmogus barzduotas, ar ne. Barzda tik auga, tai virsmas: yra tam tikra gyvaplaukių kiekybė, kuri vieną dieną taps nauja kokybe, tai ir bus barzda. <...> Jaunuoliui ant smakro dygstantiems gyvaplaukiams nė motais kaip mes juos pavadinsime. Ir nėra ten jokio „kiekybės perėjimo į kokybę“, kaip apsaldami kartoja išpažinėjai. Apibūdinimą: barzda tai ar ne barzda sąlygoja mūsų vartojama kalba, mūsų klasifikacijos. Tikra puikybė, ir dar neribota, priskirti reiškiniams prieštaravimus, kuriuose painiojamės dėl nelanksčių savo sąvokų.“


„Murti-Bingu vadinosi mongolų filosofas, kuriam pavyko sukurti organišką „pasaulėžiūros“ preparatą. Ši Murti-Bingo „pasaulėžiūra“ – mongolų ir kinų armijos galingiausias ginklas – kondensuota glūdėjo tabletėse. Murti-bingo tablečių paragavęs, žmogus tapdavo ramus ir laimingas. Visos anksčiau kankinusios problemos staiga tapdavo jam pramanytomis ir nevertomis graužaties.“


„Ketmano esmė yra prieš ką nors nukreiptas savęs realizavimas. Praktikuojantį ketmaną žmogų kamuoja sutinkamos kliūtys , tačiau jeigu jos vieną dieną būtų pašalintos, jisai atsidurtų tuštumoje, kas galbūt dar labiau jį kamuotų. Vidinis maištas dažnai yra būtinas sveikatai palaikyti, jis gali tapti laimės pakaitalu. Daug mažiau domina tai, apie ką galima kalbėti; savosios slaptos šventyklos gynyba yra tikra emocinė magija. Daugumui žmonių gyvenimas jaučiant nuolatinę emocinę įtampą ir būdraujant gali pasirodyti tikra kančia, tačiau daugeliui intelektualų tai ir tam tikras mazochistinis malonumas.

Praktikuojantis ketmaną žmogus meluoja. Tačiau ar jis būtų natūralesnis sakydamas tiesą? <...> Poetas svajoja, ką galėtų parašyti, jei nevaržytų politiniai įsipareigojimai, tačiau galimas daiktas, jog tai, kas gražu svajonėse, visiškai pranyktų vos išsilaisvinus iš tų įsipareigojimų. Ketmanas yra tikra palaima: jis puoselėja svajones. Žmogus pradeda pamilti jį supančias tvoras. <...> Laisvės baimė – tai ne kas kita nei tuštumos baimė.“


„Amerikiečiai demokratiją lygina su negrabiu sieliu, kurį kiekvienas iria į priešingą pusę. Daug triukšmo, keiksmų ir barnių, nelengva susitarti ir irtis į vieną pusę. Kovinė totalitaristinės valstybės galera, palyginti su tokiu sieliu, atrodo nuostabiai. Tačiau dažnai atsitinka, kad ten, kur totalitarus greitasis laivas sudūžta, negrabus sielis lengvai perplaukia.“


„Kartais geriau mikčioti iš perdėto jaudulio, nei skanduoti aptakias frazes. Išmintingas yra vidinis balsas, neleidžiantis per daug pasakyti.“


„Žmogų valdo ne geri norai, o visuomeninės santvarkos, kurioje gyvena sąlygos. Kas nori pakeisti žmogų, turi pakeisti tas sąlygas.“


„Kai kurie pokalbiai žmogui visam laikui įstringa atėminyje. Ir ne visada žodžiai, kartais įsimeni tai, į ką žiūrėjai.“


„Romanisto vaizduotė dažnai perkuria žmones, kuriuos jam teko stebėti, ji sutirština spalvas, iš daugelio psichologinių bruožų išskiria pačius charakteringiausius; kai rašytojas nori tiksliai atkurti tikrovę, dažnai įsitikina, kad netikslumas tampa didžiausiu tikslumu: pasaulio įvairovė neišsemiama .ir kuo labiau stengiesi nepraleisti nė dalelės tiesos, tuo daugiau atsiskleidžia pačių nuostabiausių dalykų, kurie visiškai nepaklūsta plunksnai.“


„Karo metu patirtis išmokė mane, kad nedera imtis plunksnos tik tam, kad kitiems pateiktum savo neviltį ir vidinius trūkumus, nes tai pigi prekė, jog gamybai nereikia daug pastangų; sunku išsaugoti pagarbą sau tokios produkcijos imantis. Tas, kuris matė dulkėmis paverstą milijoninį miestą, kilometrus gatvių, kuriose neliko jokio gyvybės pėdsako, jokio katino, jokio benamio šuns, tas su ironija prisimena šiuolaikinių poetų kurtus didmiesčių pragaro aprašymus. Iš tiesų tai tik sielos pragaro aprašymas. Tikroji „Bevaisė žemė“ daug baisesnė už įsivaizduojamą.“


Apie Pablą Nerudą: „Tikiu juo, kol rašo tai, ką žino. Nustoju tikėjęs, kai pradeda rašyti apie tai, ką žinau aš.“


– Jeigu visą laiką galvosi apie tuos savo baltus ir stovyklas, žinai, kas atsitiks? – paklausė Varšuvoje mano bičiulis. <..> – Nugyvensi savo amželį ir stosi priešais Dzeuso veidą, o šis išties į tave pirštą, – ir sušuks: – Idiote! Kvailystėms iššvaistei savo gyvenimą! <...>
Daugybė žmonių praleido gyvenimą rinkdami pašto ženklus, senovines monetas, augindami retas tulpių rūšis. Esu tikras nors tai buvo keistos ir nenaudingos manijos, Dzeusas atleido jiems, jeigu į tuos dalykus sudėjo visą savo aistrą. Pasakysiu jam: „Ne mano kaltė, kad sutvėrei mane poetu ir davei dovaną matyti vienu metu, kad dedasi Nebraskoje ir Prahoje, baltų šalyse ir ledjūrio pakrantėse. Jaučiu, kad jeigu nieko su šia dovana nedarysiu, tai mano eilėraščiai bus prėski, o šlovė nedžiugins. Atleisk man.“ Ir galbūt Dzeusas, kuris nevadino idiotais senų monetų rinkėjus ir tulpių augintojus, atleis.
Profile Image for Sue.
478 reviews18 followers
August 1, 2017
Oh man. This was way out of my normal box; and maybe that's why I couldn't get it or into it. I found the first chapter not so bad and found some good lines. However, as soon as he got into his writer friends, I just couldn't keep up. As much as I thought I was beginning to understand something, I lost it as I continued to read.
Profile Image for Kinga.
429 reviews12 followers
March 24, 2019
Czeslaw Milosz is one of Poland's most beloved poets. Much of his work was inaccessible during my childhood due to his defection to the West. The Captive Mind looks at how a person survives in authoritarian times psychologically. I filled pages in my notebook with quotes from this book, and I noted some of those on here, as I read along. Milosz truly captures the feeling of living in Communist times, where the brain has to cope with an unforgiving reality and political system, juxtaposed against the inner feelings and thoughts that the citizens of that country have. How do you create and survive in a society where the state has an input into each aspect of your life? How can you write poetry, books, make films and sculpt according to strict socialist realism guidelines? Milosz focuses on four personalities in his book: Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta and shows how they adapted their art to the rules of the times and the price they paid for it. The four personalities: Jerzy Andrzejewski, Tadeusz Borowski, Jerzy Putrament and Konstanty Ildefons Galczynski are well-known to all Poles and their experiences are not unique.

This is a powerful book which meant a lot to me, mainly because I understood the practice of Ketman: paying lip service to the status quo, whilst hiding a fierce opposition in one's mind. One of my favourite quotes (and there are many!) is: "...the devil to whom men sell their souls owes his might to men themselves...".
Profile Image for Sherry Elmer.
320 reviews27 followers
December 26, 2019
How I wish I could an essential reading list that everyone actually had to read! I'm joking (kind of). I would put this book on that list. It dismays me that after all the failed experiments in socialism and communism, there are still people today who believe it could work. It is so sad when history's suffering cannot at least be used to prevent more of the same.

In any case, I've loved Milosz as a poet for many years, and this was his first nonfiction book I've read. I love it because it is not just the academic's viewpoint, but it is written by someone who lived it, and someone who had the ability to portray what he said in words. The absolute absurdity of life in a socialist state is well captured in this book, an absurdity that I think is normally best captured in fiction, such as Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading.

One such comment on the absurdity is seen in this quote: "It is hard to define the type of relationship that prevails between people in the East otherwise than as acting, with the exception that one does not perform on a theater stage but in the street, office, factory, meeting hall, or even the room one lives in. Such acting is a highly developed craft that places a premium on mental alertness. Before it leaves the lips, every word must be evaluated as to its consequences. A smile that appears at the wrong moment, a glance that is not all it should be can occasion dangerous suspicions and accusations. Even one's gestures,, tone of voice, or preference for certain kinds of neckties are interpreted as signs of one's political tendencies....Acting in daily life differs from acting in the theater in that everyone plays to everyone else, and everyone is fully aware that this is so...Of course, all human behavior contains a significant amount of acting...Nevertheless, what we find in the people's democracies is a conscious mass play rather than automatic imitation."

What makes this book different than many others, though, is Milosz's focus on how this system affects artists, particularly writers. To be allowed to continue writing, a writer must extol the Party and berate the West. Those who did so continued their craft, in theory, but their craft really became nothing more than propaganda. Speaking of one such writer, whom Milosz calls "Gamma," he writes, "At dawn, agents of the NKVD knocked at the doors of houses and huts; they allowed little time for the arrested families to gather together even the most essential articles; they advised them to dress warmly. Bolted cattle cars carried away the prisoners, men, women, and children. Thousands upon thousands ebbed away to the East. Soon the number was tens of thousands, and finally, hundreds of thousands. After many weeks or months of travel, the human transports arrived at their destinations: forced labor camps in the Polar regions, or collective farms in Asia. Among the deportees were Gamma's father, mother, and teen-aged sisters. The father--it is said--cursed his unnatural son who could write eulogies of the rulers who were the cause of his countrymen's sufferings. The father died somewhere in those vast expanses where a thousand miles seems a modest distance, but the mother and daughters lived on as slaves. At the time, Gamma was delivering inflammatory speeches about the great joy it was to live and work in this new and best of orders that was turning man's dreams into reality. Who can guess what he felt then? Even if he had tried to defend his family, he could not have saved them; and besides, although he was in the good books of the NKVD, he was afraid."

May we read and study and learn so that history does not repeat itself.

Profile Image for John David.
336 reviews297 followers
February 25, 2011
“There are occasions when silence no longer suffices, when it may pass as an avowal. Then one must not hesitate. Not only must one deny one’s true opinion, but one is commanded to resort to all ruses to deceive one’s adversary. One makes all the protestations of faith that can please him, one performs all the rites one recognizes to be the most vain, one falsifies one’s own books, one exhausts all possible means of deceit.” – Arthur Gobineau, from ‘Religions and Philosophies of Central Asia’

“The Captive Mind,” written in the early 1950s immediately after Milosz was awarded political asylum in France, is one of the first attempts to articulate the appeal of Communism (or, more broadly, dialectical materialism) to the intellectuals all over Eastern Europe.

Central to the novel are four characters identified by Milosz only as Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Gamma (but who we know enough about to identify as the very real authors Jerzy Andrzejewski, Tadeusz Borowski, Jerzy Putrament, and Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński.) Each of the four has uniquely different relationships to writing, and thinks differently about the way dialectical materialism affects their writing. In Alpha’s youth, his far-right politics calls him into writing with the force of “moral authority.” He later eschews these politics and becomes a Catholic who speaks out against anti-Semitism. After World War II ends, Alpha’s writing ideologically aligns itself with the puppet governments that set themselves up on Eastern Europe, and he is later seen only seen as a literary prostitute by his former friends. Beta, a poet who spent two years in Auschwitz and Dachau only to later be released by American soldiers, later swallows the pill of Murti-Bing and writes hard-line ideological defenses of Leninism and Stalinism. The experiences of Delta and Gamma are equally typical accounts of when the mind of an intellectual bumps into an intractable ideological system which inevitably evolves into “ketman,” meaning an outward acceptance of an idea while still holding on to unspoken reservations. In fact, this word, originally from the Arabic, was imported into English by Arthur Gobineau himself (see the quotation above).

The first two chapters are incisive in evoking the spirit of the Communism-addled writer who struggles to balance his “priorities.” But the middle chapters on the writers seem as untrue – not false in the strict sense, but lacking the clarity of the moral-political-aesthetic themes with which he was trying to deal - as the ideology with which they are struggling. While they are presented as individuated, personal characters, the reader gets the feeling that Milosz is to turn them into archetypes while at other times working deliberately against this, which has an odd way of turning them into alienating abstractions for the reader.

Perhaps most of all, this book serves as a tocsin. By now, an entire generation of Europeans has had the ability to write, think, and speak publicly about whatever they wish, the very fact of which possibly renders Milosz’s book a peculiar curio from the doldrums of intellectual history. For many Americans, whose questions of freedom are restricted to whether or not one is allowed to burn their draft card or a Koran, or utter a prayer in school, reading “The Captive Mind” may very well have a stultifying effect. If that happens, the book runs the risk – we all run the risk – of it becoming still even more relevant than it is now.
Profile Image for Gaetano Laureanti.
472 reviews64 followers
November 16, 2017
Scritto egregiamente da Czesław Miłosz nel 1951, questo libro è pesantemente intriso della sua esperienza di vita che lo ha visto nascere nella tormentata Lituania e vivere a Varsavia fino alla conclusione del secondo conflitto mondiale. Poi si trasferisce in Occidente chiedendo asilo politico.

Nel 1980 riceve il Nobel per la letteratura con la motivazione di colui “che con voce chiara e lungimirante espone la condizione degli uomini in un mondo di gravi conflitti”.

Terribilmente toccanti sono le pagine in cui racconta l’esperienza dell’occupazione nazista in Polonia:

Il dominio tedesco nell’Europa occidentale fu crudele, però mai come nei paesi dell’Est dove abitavano razze che secondo la dottrina del nazionalsocialismo erano degne o dello sterminio totale o di essere usate nel lavoro fisico più abbrutente.

come anche l’amara storia dietro le quinte dell’insurrezione di Varsavia nel 1944, con l’Armata Rossa che resta ad aspettarne l’esito scontato dall’altra parte della Vistola:

L’insurrezione di Varsavia, iniziata per ordine del governo in esilio a Londra, scoppiò come è noto nel momento in cui l’Armata Rossa si stava avvicinando alla capitale e le truppe tedesche in ritirata combattevano alla periferia della città.… Scopo dell’insurrezione era cacciare i tedeschi e impadronirsi della città in modo che l’Armata Rossa vi trovasse un governo polacco già insediato. Quando la battaglia ebbe inizio e fu chiaro che l’Armata Rossa accampata sull’altra riva della Vistola non si sarebbe mossa per soccorrere gli insorti era ormai troppo tardi per le riflessioni. La tragedia si svolse sino alla fine con la matematica esattezza delle leggi eterne. Era l’insurrezione di una mosca contro due giganti: uno dei due stava dall’altra parte del fiume e aspettava che l’altro schiacciasse la mosca. Certo questa si difendeva ma i suoi soldati erano armati per lo più solo di pistole, granate e bottiglie Molotov, mentre per ben due mesi il gigante tedesco mandò sulla città continue ondate di bombardieri che sganciavano il loro carico esplosivo da un’altezza di cinquanta metri, appoggiando con carri armati l’attacco delle sue truppe e servendosi quasi sempre dell’artiglieria. Alla fine la mosca fu schiacciata e di lì a poco il gigante venne abbattuto dal secondo gigante paziente.
Non c’è nessun motivo logico per cui i russi sarebbero dovuti venire in aiuto di Varsavia. Essi portavano all’Occidente la liberazione da Hitler e dall’ordine sociale esistente fino allora, che volevano sostituire con un ordine sociale giusto, cioè il loro. …
In favore dell’aiuto a Varsavia poteva dunque giocare unicamente la pietà per il milione di persone che vi stavano morendo. Ma la pietà è un sentimento superfluo là dove parla la Storia.

L’autore passa poi ad analizzare il comportamento degli intellettuali polacchi attraverso i diversi periodi storici, sino all’ingombrante condizionamento da parte del regime dittatoriale sovietico.

Parla di Ketman (termine filosofico-religioso a me nuovo, derivato dall’islamico Taqiya) per descrivere l’abilità nel mascherare il pensiero interiore mostrando solo la totale adesione alle regole imposte dal Metodo leninista-stalinista e sono parole tristi a cui dedica un intero capitolo.

A scopo apparentemente esemplificativo, dissimulando i nomi reali con quattro pseudonimi, Alfa, Beta, Gamma e Delta, ci narra invece in modo appassionante e coinvolgente le storie personali di questi intellettuali che, ciascuno a suo modo, incarnano le paure, gli ideali, le menzogne e le contraddizioni della intelligencija polacca attraverso quegli anni difficili.

Miłosz usa abilmente l’ironia per stemperare il clima di alcune pagine, ad esempio parlando del cittadino modello, tutto lavoro e partito, dice:

Se fosse possibile mettere tutti i cittadini dentro delle celle e farli uscire solo per andare al lavoro o alle riunioni politiche! Sfortunatamente, bisogna fare delle concessioni alla natura umana. L’aumento demografico è possibile soltanto grazie ai rapporti sessuali tra uomini e donne, e questo è un inconveniente di cui bisogna tener conto.

Riguardo alla vita nei paesi occidentali, da molti suoi colleghi (e da lui stesso credo) visti come una meta per libertà e democrazia, dice:

Secondo la concezione staliniana del materialismo dialettico, l’illusorio ordine « naturale » dei paesi occidentali è votato a un’improvvisa catastrofe provocata dalla crisi. Là dove tale crisi si verifica, le classi dominanti si rifugiano nel fascismo come antidoto alla rivoluzione proletaria. E il fascismo significa guerra, camere a gas e forni crematori.

Ho molto apprezzato anche l’ultimo capitolo, in cui ci parla dei popoli baltici con una interessante e dolorosa cavalcata storica nelle terre di Estonia, Lettonia e Lituania, lui che da quelle parti ebbe i natali:

A proposito dei popoli baltici… E quegli avvenimenti sono per me vivi come lo è soltanto ciò che si legge sul volto e negli occhi delle persone che si conoscono bene.

Interessante, infine, quanto l’autore scrive nella Premessa all’edizione italiana del 1981 (premessa che io ho volutamente letto alla fine del libro):

Quando fu pubblicato nel 1953, il mio libro spiacque praticamente a tutti. Gli ammiratori del comunismo sovietico lo giudicavano insultante, mentre gli anticomunisti sostenevano che mancava di una posizione politica chiaramente definita e sospettavano l’autore di essere ancora, in fondo al cuore, un marxista. Un’impresa solitaria, dunque, che però è stata in seguito giustificata dai fatti e che si difende bene dalle critiche di entrambe le parti.
L’argomento del libro è la vulnerabilità della mente, nel nostro secolo, alla seduzione delle dottrine socio-politiche, e la prontezza con cui essa accetta il terrore totalitario in cambio di un futuro ipotetico.
… Forse nella mia parte d’Europa alcune delle mie analisi sono considerate di per sé evidenti, ma la forza di attrazione esercitata nel mondo dal pensiero totalitario, sia di destra sia di sinistra, non appartiene affatto al passato; al contrario, essa sembra crescere di giorno in giorno.
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