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The Captive Mind by Czesław Miłosz

The Captive Mind (1953)

by Czesław Miłosz

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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922915,764 (4.18)37
The best known prose work by the winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature examines the moral and intellectual conflicts faced by men and women living under totalitarianism of the left or right.
  1. 20
    1984 by George Orwell (br77rino)
    br77rino: Milosz expresses in The Captive Mind the supreme astonishment, as so many eyewitnesses have, that Orwell's fictional 1984 could have laid out so well what life was like where they were, Stalinist Eastern Europe. He says it was a book that was passed around just like the Goldstein book in the novel.… (more)
  2. 10
    Red Plenty: Industry! Progress! Abundance! Inside the Fifties Soviet Dream by Francis Spufford (lewbs)
    lewbs: One is a fiction about the economics of communism, the other is a non-fiction about mental processes in communism. Complementary books.
  3. 10
    Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler (br77rino)
    br77rino: Darkness at Noon is a famous fictional view of life behind the Iron Curtain, and was written around the same time. The main character is a prisoner.

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» See also 37 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
This was an excellent work of nonfiction. Milosz describes the state of Eastern Europe, and the ramifications that follow it, in poetic and sublime detail. His observations, hypotheses, and examples permeate to the whole conceptualization of Eastern Europe.

This is a great book. I recommend it to everyone. ( )
  DanielSTJ | Dec 17, 2018 |
I bought this last year in an effort to widen my reading. I hadn’t realised when I purchased it that it wasn’t fiction. It’s a political diatribe written by someone who survived both WWII and the Soviet takeover of Poland, but managed to resist the blandishments of both the Underground during WWII and the Soviet occupiers afterwards. As a writer, an intellectual, with acceptable political credentials, he ended up as cultural attaché in Washington but, disgusted by the responses of his peers to the new regime, he chose to exile himself. Miłosz first points out that intellectuals were a peculiar class of their own in Central and East European countries, and this particularly applied to writers, one that had no equivalent in Western European – or American – societies. After discussing “ketman”, which seems to be a a misunderstanding of an historical Islamic term (now known as “taqiya”), Miłosz describes four writers of his acquaintance and their response to Soviet occupation – and this is where The Captive Mind comes into its own. I’ve no idea who the writers are he describes, although it probably isn’t difficult to figure out, but his dissection of their character and ambitions in light of Polish history during and after WWII is fascinating stuff. I don’t think for an instant that The Captive Mind is a warning against “totalitarian culture” as the book is often described. It is specific to a time and place, and I suspect some of the tactics described by Miłosz are triggered more by an institutional drive for survival than by an y kind of coherent political thought. The Captive Mind was intended to make for scary reading, but its teeth have long since been pulled – first by Solidarność, then by glasnost, although both of course were the end result of long and dangerous campaigns. On the other hand, in 2018 we seem to be staring down the throat of full-blown fascism, despite everything our parents and grandparents fought against last century, despite the clear benefits to all and sundry that progressivism and regulated economies bring… The Captive Mind is an important historical document, but its remit is too narrow, its lessons are too focused, and the passage of time has rendered its general sense of alarm both moot and badly aimed. However. Worth reading, if you’re interested in the subject. ( )
  iansales | Jul 21, 2018 |
In broad respects, this serves as a sharp critique of Marx's "dialectical materialism", a belief in a kind of scientifically determined state of man. From this common reader's position, however, I discovered here a remarkable thinker, a man who survived the raging, soulless infernos of Nazism and Stalinism, and left to us in his prose and poetry an emotional record of the carnage. This book was written in 1953, very soon after his defection to the West, and is a real-time analysis of the contradictory play-acting that intellectuals in particular are forced to enter into to survive in the totalitarian state. Having left his beloved Poland (to which he would not return until after his receiving the Nobel Prize in 1980), you can feel his despair, even as he tries to reconcile his decision to leave with choices made by several fellow writers, who have in varying degrees become duplicitous scribes for their Stalinist masters. (Suggested read: Adam Kirsch's May 29 '17 piece in The New Yorker about a newly translated biography of Milosz, as a solid introduction to him) ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Aug 7, 2017 |
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. ( )
1 vote jwhenderson | May 27, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (40 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Czesław Miłoszprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bērziņš, UldisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Birzvalka, IrēnaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blumbergs, IlmārsCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jaspers, KarlForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Loepfe, AlfredTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stembor, LisettaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zielonko, JaneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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When someone is honestly 55% right, that's very good and there's no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it's wonderful, it's great luck, and let him thank God. But what's to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever says he's 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal.

-An old Jew of Galicia
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It was only towards the middle of the twentieth century that the inhabitants of many European countries came, in general unpleasantly, to the realization that their fate could be influenced directly by intricate and abstruse books of philosophy.
Capitalism created scientific thinking and dealt a powerful blow to religion in Europe by removing the best minds from the confines of theology.
They stammer out their efforts to explain: "The dreadful sadness of life over there"; "I felt I was turning into a machine."
Naked fear is unlikely ever to be inclined to abdicate.
One must always keep in mind the eventual goal, which is the melting down of all nations into a single mass.
I think they are wrong, that their knowledge in all its perfection is insufficient, and their power over life and death is usurped.
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