Legends of Modernity, now available in English for the first time, brings together some of Czeslaw Milosz's early essays and letters, composed in German-occupied Warsaw during the winter of 1942-43.
"Why did the European spirit succumb to such a devastating fiasco?" the young Milosz asks. Half a century later, when Legends of Modernity saw its first publication in Poland, Milosz said: "If everything inside you is agitation, hatred, and despair, write measured, perfectly calm sentences..." While the essays here reflect a "perfect calm," the accompanying contemporaneous exchange of letters between Milosz and Jerzy Andrzejewski express the raw emotions of "agitation, hatred and despair" experienced by these two close friends struggling to understand the proximate causes of this debacle of western civilization, and the relevance, if any, of the teachings of the Catholic church.
Passionate, poignant, and compelling, Legends of Modernity is a deeply moving insight into the mind and emotions of one of the greatest writers of our time.
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Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004) was the winner of the 1978 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature. His last book was To Begin Where I Am (FSG, 2001).
Czeslaw Milosz is the author of numerous works, many of which have been translated into English, including Beginning with My Streets (FSG, 1992), The Year of the Hunter (FSG, 1994), Road-side Dog (FSG, 1998) Milosz's ABC's (FSG, 2001) and To Begin Where I Am (FSG, 2001).
Starred Review. In his landmark 1953 book, The Captive Mind, Nobel-winning poet and essayist Milosz discoursed on the havoc totalitarian rule plays on the mental processes of intellectuals. Here we see Milosz's own mind at work in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, crafting essays of ideas, pursuing a fantastically high-minded correspondence with friend and fellow writer Jerzy Andrzejewski, and developing themes inspired by the works of Defoe, Balzac, Gide, Stendhal and Nietzsche. Call it "The Captive Mind in Action." Curiously, the tension implied by Milosz's situation is hardly evident in the essays: where one might expect his tone to be skittish, fearful, foreboding, the most remarkable aspect is his ability to ensconce his steady authorial voice so luxuriantly in the unpressing issues of, say, the imaginative projection required today to view Giotto's medieval saints properly. The most interesting essay demonstrating this phlegmatic tone enlists Tolstoy's War and Peace to help Milosz understand the global conflagration of his own time. But anger, bitterness and self-recrimination rage in some of the letters, where he says he thinks of writing a "confession... that would exceed in its violence and scream of pain, [the] Romantic era's settling of accounts of the conscience." For those who hanker for the high seriousness of continental thinkers like Camus, this volume is a welcome beacon from the past. (Oct. 12)
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