TO BEGIN WHERE I AM: Selected Essays

Czeslaw Milosz, Author, Czesaw Miosz, Author, Bogdana Carpenter, Editor , edited and with an introduction by Bogdana Carpenter and Madeline G. Levine. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $25 (480p) ISBN 978-0-374-25890-0

It would be difficult to overstate the brilliance and breadth of vision of this Nobel Prize–winning Polish poet and prose writer. This collection, spanning five decades, demonstrates an uncommon rigor, respect for truth and refusal to bend to intellectual fashion. While Milosz (The Captive Mind, etc.)—an exile since 1951 and a professor of Slavic languages and literature at UC Berkeley—has the trappings of a traditional European man of letters, he brings a unique modern perspective to topics of longstanding intellectual debate, including belief in God, poetry's social relevance and the limitations of Western liberalism. His adventurous, varied prose style calls upon different literary traditions: sketches, letters, aphorisms and philosophical essays. Underlying Milosz's writing is the constant, pained consciousness of having lived through WWII and the Holocaust, during which time he experienced a spiritual crisis as a Catholic which does not seem fully resolved (his favorite philosophers are the contradictory Simone Weil and Lev Shestov). From his harsh judgment of himself ("to preserve an untarnished image of [one]self is rarely possible") to his meditations on the nature of evil ("purely bestial sadism, naked and plain, occurs much more rarely than motivated sadism, equipped with all the arguments needed to make it into a noble and positive inclination"), Milosz's thoughts stem from the pressure that reality exerts on theory. Even in moments of relative levity ("America... has always suffered from a certain weakness in historical imagination... which is perhaps why in American films both ancient Romans and astronauts from the year 3000 look and act like boys from Kentucky"), a seriousness of purpose predominates. Seven of these pieces are translated into English for the first time, helping to make this indispensable reading. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 09/10/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 480 pages - 978-0-374-52859-1
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