Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Czesaw Miosz was born of Polish parents in Russian Lithuania, an area annexed by Poland after that country’s restoration to independence in 1918. Trained in law and literature, he was a member of an avant-garde circle of Polish poets dubbed the Second Vanguard from the early 1930’s until the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. During World War II he was active in the Polish Underground. After the war, although never a Communist, he became a member of the postwar government, serving as cultural attache to the Polish embassies in Washington, D.C., and Paris from 1946 to 1950. Disillusioned by the destruction of Polish intellectual life under the Stalinist regime, he defected to the West in 1951 and spent the next ten years as a free-lance writer in Paris. The Captive Mind was written during this period, as was a novel about the Lithuania of his childhood, Dolina Issy (1955; The Issa Valley, 1981). In 1961, he accepted an appointment as professor of Slavic Literatures at the University of California at Berkeley, a position he held for two decades until his retirement. While at Berkeley, in addition to several collections of poetry and a history of Polish literature, he wrote several works of literary interpretation and introspection, including a spiritual self-portrait, Ziemia Ulro (1977; The Land of Ulro, 1984). In 1980, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The Captive Mind, 240 pages in length, is divided into nine chapters. It is a series of essays united by an underlying theme—the dilemma of the Eastern European intellectual in post-World War II Europe. It was the first of Miosz’s works to be translated into English. The first chapter, “The Pill of Murti Bing,” appeared in Partisan Review in 1951 as “The Happiness Pill.”

In 1930, the Polish playwright and novelist Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz wrote a prophetic fantasy, Nienasycenie...

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(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Allen, Walter. “Encounter—with What?” in The New Statesman and Nation. XLVI (October 17, 1953), p. 464.

Clancy, W. P. “The Fatal Payment,” in Commonweal. LVIII (July 3, 1953), pp. 328-330.

Czarnecka, Ewa, and Aleksandr Fiut. Conversations with Czesaw Miosz, 1987. Translated by Richard Lourie.

Davie, Donald. Czesaw Miosz and the Insufficiency of Lyric, 1984.

MacDonald, Dwight. “In the Land of Diamat,” in The New Yorker. XXIX (November 7, 1953), p. 173.

Miosz, Czesaw. Interview in The New York Review of Books. XXXIII (February 27, 1986).

Parkes, H. B. “The Intellectual Devil,” in The New Republic. CXXVIII (June 22, 1953), p. 18.

Spender, Stephen. “The Predatory Jailer,” in The New Republic. CXXVIII (June 22, 1953), pp. 18, 21.