A self-confessed ""spiritual biography""--addressed to Polish readers, often about Polish literature. Is this, then, as...



A self-confessed ""spiritual biography""--addressed to Polish readers, often about Polish literature. Is this, then, as Milosz suggests, an unreasonably ""exotic and eccentric"" book for English-language readers? No, not really. Because once again, as in other Milosz non-fiction works, what begins as a terribly scattered meditation eventually ends up leaving a remarkably solid and directed impression; and though this is indeed an intellectual/psychological confession, it is specifically literary without being narrow or secular. Yes, Milosz writes about Witold Gombrowicz, Adam Mickiewicz, and Oscar Milosz here--but his concern is always to place them in line with masters of an earlier moment: with William Blake, whose imaginary Ulro (the broken, degraded realm of inversion and pain) is the world that Milosz sees us living in, thanks to blind acceptance of ""objective"" truths; with Dostoevsky, even Swedenborg. And what Milosz sees in all these writers is something that echoes within his own work: a ""vertical"" concern, a semi-Kabbalistic rejection of scientific orthodoxy in favor of other, more basic laws--e.g., the existence of a human nature, the concept of hierarchy, the laws of travesty and parody, the law of triumphant banality, the law of magical intervention through unseen communion. In fact, calling himself, like Blake, an ""ecstatic pessimist,"" Milosz yearns for a radically decentralized theocracy: ""Ultimately, only a time measured by sacral standards, and not mechanical clock-time, can sanction a belief in the reality of things. A sunrise or sunset, such mundane acts as making coffee or mushroom hunting, are both what the reader knows them to be and a surface bespeaking a sublime acceptance, one to animate and sustain the imaging""--an acceptance that is based on ""the lukewarm, the medium,"" on ""social structures which restrain men from extreme evil."" Unfazed by the categorical existence of such evil (as well as the categorical existence of extreme goodness), Milosz could naturally be classified as a conservative. But his religious imperative of Imagination makes this more than a polemic: though difficult throughout and perhaps misleading at first, it is a fiercely intelligent work of mystical/ethical libertarianism--very much in that epic tradition of Blake and Dostoevsky.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 1984


Page Count: -

Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1984

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