Legends of Modernity: Essays and Letters from Occupied Poland, 1942–43

Czeslaw Milosz, Author, Madeline Levine, Translator, Jaroslaw Anders, Introduction by , intro. by Jaroslaw Anders. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $24 (266p) ISBN 978-0-374-18499-5

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)

Reviewed on: 08/22/2005
Release date: 10/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 266 pages - 978-0-374-53046-4
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