Tuesday, August 17, 2004

More on Miłosz

The tributes and remembrances are piling up. No one has anything but nice things to say. That's part of the ritual.

I wondered if the Polish press might be a little more critical in their special editions. Not really.

Among some of the insights:

Jerzy Jarzębski, professor of literature, Jagillonian University, defines him as the antithesis of Gombrowicz:
Dla mnie był antytezą Gombrowicza, najważniejszą w polskiej literaturze. O ile Gombrowiczowi zależało na obronie indywidualności, to Miłosz, który był człowiekiem o silnym "ja", bardziej niż Gombrowicz miał poczucie misji i powinności, która czasami prowadziła do sytuacji niewygodnych, zmuszających do dramatycznych posunięć — takich jak wyjazd z Polski w 1951 r. i zmierzenie się z polską nieprzychylną emigracją. Miłosza stosunek do wartości był inny: był czymś, co wymaga nieustannej ochrony, dyskutowania na nowo, bo poeta, pisarz to ktoś, kto nieustannie musi się nad tymi wartościami zastanawiać. Przede wszystkim Miłosz był kimś, kto próbował nawiązywać dialog między kulturami, budować kulturę uniwersalną, która łączy wyznania i narody, co dla Gombrowicza walczącego o indywiduum było mniej ważne. Trudno zajmować się Gombrowiczem nie pamiętając o Miłoszu, a Miłoszem — o Gombrowiczu; to dwa filary, na których stoi kultura polska.

On his return to Poland for the first time in more than 30 years in the 1980s after having received the Nobel Prize, he was heralded as a national symbol. Wojtyła, Wałęsa, and Miłosz — the trinity that would inspire Poland to restore itself.

There are many interesting personal remembrances. For those of you who don't read Polish, this photo essay retrospective is worth looking at. Another photo series shows Miłosz, man about his adopted town Kraków.

The New York Times:
Mr. Milosz chose throughout his life to compose his poetry in the complex but rich Polish language, even after he mastered French and English. Poetry can be true, he said, only if created in one's mother tongue.
When he consulted on his plan to break with Communism, it was with no less a figure than Albert Einstein, who advised him during a talk at Princeton University that he should go home to Poland, not defect to the West to join the sad fate of exiles.

Los Angeles Times:
Fame interfered with his work and threatened to turn him into a pompous fool, he said, but it also set off a burst of productivity.
"Loving me, Janka would have preferred me to be the most ordinary of men; a baker, for example," he wrote. "The Nobel Prize, when it came, was, for her, a tragedy."

It's the piece in The Guardian that comes closest to really examining the contradiction that was the "petulant" Czesław Miłosz, "the luckiest Polish writer of the last century":

He provoked vilification from the Polish authorities and Polish intellectuals, as well as from the Stalin-infatuated French left.

Throughout those years Milosz remained bitter and unrelenting, convinced that his life was riddled with misfortunes brought about by the malice of his countrymen. He could never understand that by choosing a life of high exposure and ideological manoeuvring, he was bound to provoke hostile reactions, as well as fierce loyalties.

Lithuania, united with Poland in 1386, is viewed by Poles with affection as an enigmatic, romantic borderland which produced Mickiewicz and Pilsudski; it therefore obviously suited Milosz to stress his ties with that region to the point of denying any links with Poland.

Neither then nor subsequently did Milosz attempt to push his poetry beyond 18th-century decorum. He cherished a profound distaste for what he termed the 20th-century avant-garde, and his poetry therefore lacks flexibility and adaptability. On the other hand, his refusal ever to abandon his lonely tower enabled him in later years to create magisterial poetic meditations out of a rich and varied mixture of philosophical, quasi philosophical and religious material, and from sharply focused descriptions of historical events and the natural world.

Now that's the stuff that makes me think Milosz is worth reading.

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