A Wretched Subjectivity
Eastern Europe in Czesław Miłosz’s Captive Mind
Keywords:captivity, colonialism, Czeslaw Milosz, imperialism, mind, orientalism, subjectivity
This article rethinks critically a landmark work of the twentieth century—The Captive Mind, by Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz. Published in 1953, the book sought to understand human subjectivity, or, as it put it, “how the human mind functions,” in Cold-War Eastern Europe. I argue that, while probing what Western intellectuals of that time saw as the historical novelty of totalitarianism, Miłosz formulates an analysis that is rather retro. He represents Eastern Europe in terms of colonialism and imperialism—as a colonized realm and a colonized mind. What is more, he casts his representation in the terms of what Edward Said famously called “Orientalism”—producing a distorted, Orientalist work. Finally, while intimating hope for overcoming Eastern Europe’s domination, Miłosz shows that hope as illusory.
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