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Milosz, Czesław

Entry updated 29 September 2020. Tagged: Author.

(1911-2004) Lithuanian-born Polish academic, poet and author, his first and primary language being Polish; mostly resident in Poland from the beginning of World War Two until he went into exile in 1951; in USA for many years; finally resident again in Poland from some point around 1990. The forced exiles of a world-observant intellectual of Milosz's stature through most of the twentieth century signal how savagely and perhaps irremediably Western civilization had damaged itself during that era. From 1930 Milosz was primarily active as a poet, though his novel Dolina Issy (1955; trans Louis Iribarne as The Issa Valley 1981) is a fictional meditation on his Lithuanian childhood, the narrative being interpenetrated by ghosts. But it was the nonfiction Zniewolony umysł (1953 trans Jane Zielonko as The Captive Mind 1953) for which he was long best-known; it is a devastating analysis of the psychology and philosophy of Communism; through the Cold War lens of the West, this destructive assault was understood as simultaneously espousing a conservative view, and Milosz was long misapprehended as a political voice from which the American Right could take comfort. The essays assembled in Legendy nowoczesności: rosmowy (written 1942-1943; coll 1996; trans Madeline G Levine as Legends of Modernity: Essays and Letters from Occupied Poland, 1942-1943 2005) provide a more nuanced portrait of the times; as do some of the intense prolepses iterated in Traktat poetycki (June-December 1956 Kultura; 1981; trans Robert Hass and the author as A Treatise on Poetry 2001), which is a book-length poem.

Milosz is of sf interest primarily for Góry Parnasu: Science Fiction (written circa 1967-1971; 2012; trans Stanley Bill as The Mountains of Parnassus 2017), which describes, in an abstracted manner that betrays the Mainstream Writer of SF, a planet-wide Dystopia whose occupants are allowed to refresh (and perhaps redeem) themselves in a the vast eponymous polder [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], where they are urged to gain for the world a better future through intensely meditated Transcendence. A second narrative thread returns an astronaut, who has experienced time dilation (see Relativity), to his spiritually barren home planet, though Automation and other devices of high Technology have alleviated some misery; in a trope often found in this kind of narrative, he eventually surrenders his Immortality, perhaps to a useful end. In "Science Fiction and the Coming of the Anti-Christ" (December 1971 Dissent; trans Richard Lourie from ms, in Emperor of the Earth: Modes of Eccentric Vision coll 1977), Milosz continues to argue that sf is a form of Religion in which the past is understood typologically as forming the future. Milosz was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1980. [JC]

Czesław Milosz

born Šetainiai [now Szetejnie], Kovno Governorate, Russian Empire [now Lithuania]: 30 June 1911

died Kraków, Poland: 14 August 2004

works (very highly selected)


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