Czesław Miłosz on Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain

This article presents the connections between the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz and Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. Miłosz’s fascination with the German novel, which has its roots in the 1930s, changed profoundly over the decades. Not only did the poet ponder on the immense intellectual value of The Magic Mountain, but he also turned to it eagerly as a form of literary “substance” and inspiration for his own works (The Seizure of Power, A Magic Mountain). The novel left deep marks on the author of The Captive Mind, because throughout his whole life he sought references to his own life in the fictitious events and characters from Mann’s story. The chosen fragments of texts and conversations with the Polish poet enable us to investigate the history of the extraordinary connection between Miłosz and this twentieth-century epic masterpiece, indicating at the same time the key moments of this “literary relationship.”

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Telos 174 (Spring 2016): Philosophy, Literature, Theory

Telos 174 (Spring 2016): Philosophy, Literature, Theory is now available for purchase in our store.

In this issue, Telos turns to a diverse set of philosophers, contemporary and classical, and questions, concerning ethics and politics on the one hand, and literature and aesthetics on the other. More often than not, those distinctions turn out to be difficult to maintain. A case in point is the opening essay, which examines how statements by Levinas have been subjected to political readings in order to impute to him positions that he did not hold. What are the ethics of intentional misreadings? In their meticulously argued analysis, Oona Eisenstadt and Claire Elise Katz demonstrate how the philosopher’s comments in a 1982 radio interview, in the immediate aftermath of the massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, have been subjected to increasing degrees of misrepresentation, culminating in false accusations that he justified the killings. These insinuations involved fabricating quotations to put words in his mouth. Eisenstadt and Katz expose the poor philology and tendentious politics implicit in such distortion.

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The Lessons of Czesław Miłosz

Pedro Blas González’s “Czesław Miłosz: Old-World Values Confront Late-Modern Nihilism” appears in Telos 156 (Fall 2011). Read the full version online at the TELOS Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue here.

Czesław Miłosz’s The Captive Mind is unrivalled by other theoretical and abstract treatises in its sheer ability to grasp the criminal essence of political reality under communism. The Captive Mind, which was published in 1953 by the 1980 recipient of the Noble Prize in literature, chronicles and dissects the mind and soul of Marxist intellectuals and their readiness to embrace communism. Focusing his attention on the life-trajectory of real writers and thinkers who were acquaintances of Milosz’s, the Polish writer is able to pinpoint the many rewards that communism offers the intellectuals who embrace it. In this and other respects, Miłosz keeps some very distinguished company, with writers like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Karl Popper, Leszek Kołakowski, Arthur Koestler, Jean-Francois Revel, and Paul Hollander, some who lived under communism. These writers have enlightened western democracies about the structure of realpolitiks and dialectical materialism, and the necessary outcome of what some naïvely like to call “praxis.” Miłosz’s formation as a writer and thinker took place during the 1930s, a time that saw Europe in the grasp of the two dominant totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century: fascism and communism. This historical context was to form the backbone of The Captive Mind. From a historical and humanistic perspective, this context remains very important today, for it gives us an opportunity to revisit the essential human qualities and virtues that have to be subsumed by totalitarianism in order for such governments to rule with an iron fist.

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