VISIONS FROM SAN FRANCISCO BAY by Czeslaw Milosz

VISIONS FROM SAN FRANCISCO BAY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Originally published in Polish in 1969, this carefully orchestrated suite of essays by Nobel-ist Milosz at first seems quite odd--especially when read now, more than ten years after its composition. Meditations on the grandeur and absurdity of California--its harsh geography, its ""edge""-ness--predominate in the early sections. Then, soon after, Milosz is writing about the virtues of traditional Catholicism, about the humility only to be mined by the pious. And then, in the book's last third, he addresses such Sixties social manifestations as psychedelic drugs, Herbert Marcuse, and student unrest. A helter-skelter potpourri? So it may seem. But eventually it becomes clear that Milosz is approaching this oblique, unlikely trio--California, faith, political trends--in order to construct a brief for what he calls ""intentional"" or imaginative space, the sense that we move steadily, if undecisively: ""It may well be that we are healthy only when trying to leap from our own skins, in the hope of succeeding from time to time."" This sense-that our absurd existences move much in the same way as the earth and stars below and above--seems Milosz's central concern here: a sort of lyrical modulation of thought which allows people to make mistakes, which is always opposed to making people better than they really are. (Milosz succinctly labels this, when political, as ""terror."") ""The human labyrinth wins my admiration because it develops and expresses what at first is barely sensed. It also develops and expresses every stupidity which has to run its course."" Now, Milosz suggests, is never the time: the past is too mysterious, the future is too subtle and surprising, And readers who give this book its full play of line will find the same plain, virile philosophy of cosmic traditionalism--a kind of unhysterical awe--that is a hallmark of Milosz's great, clear, moral poems.

Pub Date: Aug. 25th, 1982
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux