In the novel, a new Mongol Empire conquers Poland and introduces Murti-Bing pills as a cure for independent thought. At first, Murti-Bing pills create widespread content and blind obedience, but ultimately lead those taking them to develop split personalities. He describes them as feeling a mixture of contempt and fascination. The constraints placed on politicians and policemen by the rule of law struck them as incomprehensible and inferior to the police states of the Communist world. Milosz wrote, however, that the same intellectuals who denounced Western consumerism in print would often read Western literature in search of something more worthy than the books published behind the Iron Curtain.

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The book was written in the early s and translated into English by Jane Zielonko. Milosz was born in Lithuania in and educated in Wilno the Polish name of what is now called the city of Vilnius and Paris.

Wilno was a Polish city between and and Milosz studied there during this period. He was already a published writer when Germany invaded Poland in and became active in the Resistance. Later, he became a diplomat in post-war Poland and was stationed in Washington and Paris.

In he defected to the West, living briefly in Paris before emigrating to the US where he became a Professor of Slavic languages and Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in and died in The book itself, is made up of nine chapters. The first three set out the structure against which the book can be understood by readers who are physically and culturally situated outside Eastern Europe.

The Captive Mind is not an easy or entertaining book. Well, it is worth resisting that urge. Wise people say this is suspicious. Consequently he had to live through five years of Nazi occupation and the establishment of the Stalinist Russian regime in Poland. As a writer he experienced first-hand the moral challenges that "Socialist Realism" posed. To him, it came with the demand that he "cease to look at the world from his own independent viewpoint, to tell the truth as he sees it, and so to keep watch and ward of society as a whole.

Notwithstanding the desire to continue to live among his own people and write in his own language, he could not capitulate and so "won his freedom" by defecting. When cushioned by safety, the drive to tell his story and explain the thought processes of his people, resulted in the book.

In , an almost prophetic book entitled Insatiability was published in Warsaw. Though fictional, it envisaged a situation very similar to that which occurred in Eastern Europe after the Red Army crossed into Poland.

Milosz borrowed the central plot device from Insatiability. This was a "pill" called "Murti Bing". It was used as a metaphor for both 1 the conformist thinking people adopted to survive the imposition of Stalinist "dialectical materialism" and also for 2 the mind-numbing effects of consumerism in the West.

So what is "Dialectical materialism"? It is a term coined in by Joseph Dietzgen a German Marxist and was adopted as the official philosophy of the Soviet communists. In essence it states that political and historical events result from the conflict of social forces and can be interpreted as a series of contradictions and their solutions. The conflict is seen as caused by material needs. What this really means is that any work of art, that did not support the socialist system was viewed as worthless and its creator as untrustworthy ie as a threat that had to be removed.

Since survival itself was at stake in these circumstances, how did the intelligentsia cope under the system? To tease out the array of camouflage masks used to endure the situation, Milosz borrows the concept of "Ketman" a term described by Gobineau in his book Religions and Philosophies of Central Asia.

The word "Ketman" is a corruption of kitman, a term used in Islamic jurisprudence to refer to secrecy or concealment and is a sub-field ofhiyal the science of deception or legal trickery. There are seven different types of "Ketman" described by Milosz and these are: national ketman, the ketman of revolutionary purity, aesthetic ketman, professional ketman, sceptical ketman, metaphysical ketman and ethical ketman - all variations on the same theme. Though the person practising ketman realises that he lies, for certain types of intellectuals living under constant tension and watchfulness, practising ketman and the mind games that implied, provided a "masochistic pleasure", a form of "self-realisation against something".

To further explain how "real" people adapted, Milosz described four different writers with differing histories. In the final chapter, Milosz detailed the fate of the Baltic people, the systematic brutalisation that reduced them from being members of self-sustaining rural communities to depleted "eternal slaves" in the Gulag. Emigration gave Milosz the gift of penetrating dual vision, ie, the capacity to see and understand simultaneously, the inner workings of two widely disparate cultures, the Communist East and the democratic West.

Inspite of this, The Captive Mind is a sobering read. The experience of living in a besieged nation and the consequent mental trauma that entailed seemed to suggest to Milosz that a chasm existed between him the Eastern Bloc intellectual and poet and his presumably Western reader. This can be summed up in his closing remarks.. I am sure that Zeus will be merciful towards people who have given themselves entirely to these I felt that if I did not use that gift my poetry would be tasteless to me and fame detestable.

Forgive me.


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The book was written in the early s and translated into English by Jane Zielonko. Milosz was born in Lithuania in and educated in Wilno the Polish name of what is now called the city of Vilnius and Paris. Wilno was a Polish city between and and Milosz studied there during this period. He was already a published writer when Germany invaded Poland in and became active in the Resistance.



We watch movies, and we instinctively put ourselves in the place of the hero, not in the place of the villain. We read the histories of twentieth-century tyrannies, and we assume we would be the resistance fighter, not the collaborator, informer, or toady to the new archons. Maybe we would be heroes. But probably not, if history is any guide. Sadly, this question is as relevant today as seventy years ago, which makes this book very much worth reading for its insights into the future, as well as into the past. Print PDF Milosz, a world-famous poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in , revolves most of his core analysis around the motivations of artists, usually artists of the word, presumably because that was his own milieu during World War II and afterwards. He was living in Warsaw, working in radio and writing well-received poems, participating in the active cultural life of the time, but not in politics to any significant degree he seems throughout his life to have been neither Left nor Right, though tilting slightly left , when the Germans and the Russians invaded.


The Captive Mind

Poetry Arts and humanities Higher education Humanities features. Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell. The barn at his childhood home has been converted into a literary and cultural conference centre under the name The Czeslaw Milosz Birthplace Foundation. However, in he defected and obtained political asylum in France. Milosz was a part of that. Home Contact Us Help Free delivery worldwide.


The Captive Mind, by Czeslaw Milosz

They are fundamentally ignorant, not because of lack of factual data—on the contrary, there is a great abundance of such data—but due to failure of imagination. All the isolated facts we know would add up to worthwhile knowledge only if we were to perceive the unifying pattern behind them. For this, however, imagination would be needed, and nobody is able to imagine a reality totally different from the one in which he has lived all his life. Thus, being informed about some stark and salient facts about life in the East, the Westerner blunderingly tries to explain them with the help of concepts and categories familiar to him. The result is a naively distorted picture, and, above all, total inability to guess why and how the Eastern despotism succeeds in its projects of regimentation. Milosz, who combines the talent of a superb analyst of social forces with that of poetic imagination, performs an invaluable service for the West.

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