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11+ quotes from The Captive Mind by Czesław Miłosz

Quotes from The Captive Mind

Czesław Miłosz ·  272 pages

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“When, as my friend suggested, I stand before Zeus (whether I die naturally, or under sentence of History)I will repeat all this that I have written as my defense.Many people spend their entire lives collecting stamps or old coins, or growing tulips. I am sure that Zius will be merciful toward people who have given themselves entirely to these hobbies, even though they are only amusing and pointless diversions. I shall say to him : "It is not my fault that you made me a poet, and that you gave me the gift of seeing simultaneously what was happening in Omaha and Prague, in the Baltic states and on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.I felt that if I did not use that gift my poetry would be tasteless to me and fame detestable. Forgive me." And perhaps Zeus, who does not call stamp-collectors and tulip-growers silly, will forgive.”
― Czesław Miłosz, quote from The Captive Mind

“The work of human thought should withstand the test of brutal, naked reality. If it cannot, it is worthless. Probably only those things are worthwhile which can preserve their validity in the eyes of a man threatened with instant death.”
― Czesław Miłosz, quote from The Captive Mind

“The pressure of an all-powerful totalitarian state creates an emotional tension in its citizens that determines their acts. When people are divided into "loyalists" and "criminals" a premium is placed on every type of conformist, coward, and hireling; whereas among the "criminals" one finds a singularly high percentage of people who are di­rect, sincere, and true to themselves. From the social point of view these persons would constitute the best guarantee that the future development of the social organism would be toward good. From the Christian point of view they have no other sin on their con­science save their contempt for Caesar, or their in­ correct evaluation of his might.”
― Czesław Miłosz, quote from The Captive Mind

“A man is lying under machine-gun fire on a street in an embattled city. He looks at the pavement and sees a very amusing sight: the cobblestones are standing upright like the quills of a porcupine. The bullets hitting against their edges displace and tilt them. Such moments in the consciousness of a man judge all poets and philosophers. Let us suppose, too, that a certain poet was the hero of the literary cafes, and wherever he went was regarded with curiosity and awe. Yet his poems, recalled in such a moment, suddenly seem diseased and highbrow. The vision of the cobblestones is unquestionably real, and poetry based on an equally naked experience could survive triumphantly that judgment day of man’s illusions.”
― Czesław Miłosz, quote from The Captive Mind

“Men will clutch illusions when they have nothing else to hold onto.”
― Czesław Miłosz, quote from The Captive Mind

“Had Beta been French, perhaps he would've been an existentialist, probably though that would not have satisfied him.
He smiled contemptuously at mental speculations, for he remembered seeing philosophers fighting over garbage in the concentration camps.
Human thought had no significance; subterfuge and self-deception were easy to decipher: all that really counted was the movement of matter.”
― Czesław Miłosz, quote from The Captive Mind

“Man tends to regard the order he lives in as natural. The houses he passes on his way to work seem more like rocks rising out of the earth than like products of human hands. He considers the work he does in his office or factory as essential to the har­monious functioning of the world. The clothes he wears are exactly what they should be, and he laughs at the idea that he might equally well be wearing a Roman toga or medieval armor. He respects and envies a minister of state or a bank director, and regards the possession of a considerable amount of money the main guarantee of peace and security. He cannot believe that one day a rider may appear on a street he knows well, where cats sleep and chil­dren play, and start catching passers-by with his lasso. He is accustomed to satisfying those of his physio­logical needs which are considered private as dis­creetly as possible, without realizing that such a pattern of behavior is not common to all human so­cieties. In a word, he behaves a little like Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush, bustling about in a shack poised precariously on the edge of a cliff.
His first stroll along a street littered with glass from bomb-shattered windows shakes his faith in the "naturalness" of his world. The wind scatters papers from hastily evacuated offices, papers labeled "Con­fidential" or "Top Secret" that evoke visions of safes, keys, conferences, couriers, and secretaries. Now the wind blows them through the street for anyone to read; yet no one does, for each man is more urgently concerned with finding a loaf of bread. Strangely enough, the world goes on even though the offices and secret files have lost all meaning. Farther down the street, he stops before a house split in half by a bomb, the privacy of people's homes-the family smells, the warmth of the beehive life, the furniture preserving the memory of loves and hatreds-cut open to public view. The house itself, no longer a rock, but a scaffolding of plaster, concrete, and brick; and on the third floor, a solitary white bath­ tub, rain-rinsed of all recollection of those who once bathed in it. Its formerly influential and respected owners, now destitute, walk the fields in search of stray potatoes. Thus overnight money loses its value and becomes a meaningless mass of printed paper. His walk takes him past a little boy poking a stick into a heap of smoking ruins and whistling a song about the great leader who will preserve the nation against all enemies. The song remains, but the leader of yesterday is already part of an extinct past.”
― Czesław Miłosz, quote from The Captive Mind

“The War broke out, and our city and country became a part of Hitler's Imperium. For five and a half years we lived in a dimension completely different from that which any literature or experience could have led us to know. What we beheld surpassed the most daring and the most macabre imagination. Descriptions of horrors known to us of old now made us smile at their naivete. German rule in Eu­rope was ruthless, but nowhere so ruthless as in the East, for the East was populated by races which, according to the doctrines of National Socialism, were either to be utterly eradicated or else used for heavy physical labor. The events we were forced to partici­pate in resulted from the effort to put these doctrines into practice.
Still we lived; and since we were writers, we tried to write. True, from time to time one of us dropped out, shipped off to a concentration camp or shot. There was no help for this. We were like people marooned on a dissolving floe of ice; we dared not think of the moment when it would melt away.”
― Czesław Miłosz, quote from The Captive Mind

“At the same time, he expressed accurately and powerfully the state of mind of the countless underground fighters dying in the battle against Nazism. Why did they throw their lives into the scale? Why did they accept tor­ture and death? They had no point of support like the Fuhrer for the Germans or the New Faith for the Communists. It is doubtful whether most of them believed in Christ. It could only have been loyalty, loyalty to something called fatherland or honor, but something stronger than any name. In one of his stories, a young boy, tortured by the police and knowing that he will be shot, gives the name of his friend because he is afraid to die alone. They meet before the firing squad, and the betrayed forgives his betrayer. This forgiveness cannot be justified by any utilitarian ethic; there is no reason to forgive traitors. Had this story been written by a Soviet author, the betrayed would have turned away with disdain from the man who had succumbed to base weakness.”
― Czesław Miłosz, quote from The Captive Mind

“Pero pocos conocen 1984, de Orwell. Esta obra, difícil de obtener y cuya posesión entraña peligro, solo es conocida por algunos miembros del Partido Interno. Orwell los fascina por su perspicaz visión de detalles que ellos conocen muy bien, así como su uso de la sátira al estilo Swift. Tal manera de escribir ésta prohibida de la Nueva Fe, porque la alegoría, que por su naturaleza implica múltiples significados, violaría las prescripciones del realismo socialista y las exigencias de la censura.”
― Czesław Miłosz, quote from The Captive Mind

“Unë nuk jam ithtar i një arti tepër subjektiv. Poezia ime ka qenë për mua një mjet për të zotëruar vetveten. Ajo më jepte mundësinë të shikoja ku kalonte vija matanë së cilës falsiteti i tonit dëshmon falsitetin e qëndrimit dhe të bëja të gjitha përpjekjet për të mos e shkelur. Përvoja e viteve të luftës më mësoi se nuk është e udhës ta marrësh penën me qëllimin e vetëm për t’u komunikuar të tjerëve hidhërimin vetjak dhe sfilitjen e brendshme – sepse kjo është një lëndë e dobët, përftimi i së cilës kërkon aq pak mund sa që ky akt nuk të jep të drejtën e respektimit të vetvetes. Kushdo që ka parë të bëhet hi një qytet me një milion banorë dhe kilometra të tëra rrugësh të tij pa asnjë gjurmë jete, madje as edhe një mace, as edhe një qen pa zot, i kujton me ironi përshkrimet prej poetëve bashkëkohorë të ferrit të qyteteve të mëdha - në të vërtetë ferri i shpirtit të tyre. Wasteland i vërtetë është shumë më i tmerrshëm se ai imagjinari. Kush nuk ka jetuar mes tmerreve të luftës e të terrorit nuk e di sa e egër është revolta kundër vetvetes e atij që i ka parë ose ka marrë pjesë në to - ajo revoltë kundër moskokëçarjes dhe egoizmit të vet. Rrënimi dhe vuajtjet janë një shkollë ku farkëtohet sensi shoqëror,”
― Czesław Miłosz, quote from The Captive Mind

About the author

Czesław Miłosz
Born place: in Šeteniai, Lithuania
Born date June 30, 1911
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