“Native Realm” — Political Correctness

I’m mostly through Czesław Miłosz’s (1911 – 2004) memoir Native Realm, which he published in 1959. I will probably write additional posts about this book. No fear though, I have no desire to alienate readers with my interest in obscure literature, or even to alienate myself from the contemporary era by escapism in relics from another. Instead, my intention here is to connect this extraordinary book with the events of our time.

I first read it in 1999 while aggrandizing myself in my own mind as a history-burdened stranger in a post-historic Boston. Earnestly, given my youth, I wondered during my autumn walks along the Charles River if Miłosz thought of things, during his own walks along the Seine seventy years earlier, that were for me to keep.

On with “Native Realm.” The following is, in my judgment, the only thing remotely approaching triteness in that book. And maybe because of it, this paragraph feels like it is the most appropriate bridge between the memoir and our era:

Our knowledge does not develop at an equal pace in all areas; it progresses in some, drags its feet in others, or even retreats. The current fear of generalizing about racial and territorial groups is an honorable impulse because it protects us from falling into the service of people interested not so much in truth as in an expedient argument for a political battle. Only after the reasons for such a fear have disappeared will minds skilled in tracking down interdependencies penetrate what for wise men today is an embarrassing subject, fit only for table talk in a country tavern. They will not disappear until the appraisal of any civilization ceases to be a weapon against those human beings brought up within it — in other words, not soon.

That passage shows up at the end of one of the book’s chapters, titled “Russia,” an insightful meditation on that nation’s character. It also points me toward a habit that principled thinkers tend toward — a devotion to the purity of an idea. More specifically, their unwillingness to reconcile ideal ontological forms with the material imperfection of life.

Miłosz’s visceral disgust with (as he repeatedly mentioned this) and hatred he felt toward defensive nationalism, for example. To me, such a posture represents the mind’s disgust with the heart, which clings to our life here on Earth and not always elegantly. The untethered mind aspires to truth, and when ascending to higher altitudes it becomes drained of blood and impatient with the heart that weighs it down like wet ballast. Deeming oneself capable of reaching that high and remaining human is an acute form of pride and it had led to Western intellectuals’ share of responsibility for inhuman acts such as the engineered starvation of seven million people in Ukraine.

And the result of the mind’s hatred of the heart today: our own civilization now facing the abyss, enabled by Western peoples’ collective, uninformed, and hypocritically granted consent to reject that, which Miłosz condemned as “appraisal of any civilization [becoming] a weapon against those human beings brought up within it.”

(None of this is to be misread that Miłosz’s writing is arid. Quite to the contrary, this is one of the most engrossing and evocative books I have ever read. It required maturity on my part to appreciate it; two decades ago I was too impatient for it. “Native Realm” is a reminder that the Nobel Prize in Literature, while not entirely decoupled from politics given the timing of Miłosz’s recognition, once meant something.)

The occupational hazard of the intellectual is a fatigue with life and the sublimation of this fatigue into a wish for history to end. The solipsism of this attitude creates postures of hatred for those who are, for their part, not willing to let go of life. The illusion of history’s end is one that revisits recurrently. Certainly, fin de siècle Boston felt that way to me. But imagining yourself as the last man is hubristic nonsense. The image below, along with its caption, expresses history’s waking state:

bud1

There are people, many of them are Hungarian, who do not want to snuff out their own lives in the name of suspending judgment against human beings brought up within other civilizations. Ramzpaul captions his photo of youths in Budapest: Kids hanging out on a Friday night. No diversity. No violence. He reminds us of what we’ve lost. Not just in the claim on our public space and not just in the form of harrowing images streaming from places like Rotherham, Cologne, Nice, Malmö — but also in the injury to language itself, wartime’s casualty. How many of you hear the innately upbeat words “kids,” “teens,” or “youths” through the filter of cynicism and shit?

Nobody asks to be born in his own era. A few years ago my mother-in-law was returning to Poland after a few-months’ stay with us. I drove her to a major U.S. airport and walked with her up to the point past which non-ticketed public may not go. My then-toddler son was going to miss her. As we began saying our goodbyes, a female security agent who was posted at that location, a dark wraith in a headscarf-modified uniform ordered me, the effect of her imperious voice compounded by her grating accent, to hurry up. “Just a moment,” I told her, suppressing my irritation. We continued saying our goodbyes and cobra-face, hovering by us and clearly with nothing else to do as we were the only ones at that checkpoint, once again hissed “hurry up.” An atrocity flashed through my mind as I then understood why soldiers commit war crimes.

Had she and I instead crossed paths in an era of history’s rest between its spasms — for example, had I for some reason seen her on my hypothetical visit to the Horn of Africa — I may have even been fascinated with her coy smile and wonder-filled eyes.

It’s fall and there is nothing like a walk along Charles River this time of year. History, right here in the West seventeen years later, is wide awake.

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21 thoughts on ““Native Realm” — Political Correctness

  1. It’s delusion across many eras that divorced intellect from sanctity in the first place, culminating in an imposed and perfidious ‘diversity’ — a word also now seen through a tainted lens, as among temperamentally varying individuals of the same ethnic set.

  2. “…..a word also now seen through a tainted lens, as among temperamentally varying individuals of the same ethnic set.”

    Could you explain that a bit more in detail? I don’t get what you’re saying there re. diversity; is it that the word itself has different meanings to different social subsets?

  3. “..is it that the word itself has different meanings to different social subsets?”

    More or less. It’s a useful word now callously disseminated in the manner of Walmarts or Burger Kings. There is lots of differentiation already among natural racial groups. Tapping into these depths, for whatever useful purposes, is hindered by being ‘stuck’ on corporate-friendly, flesh-level amalgamation. Substantial and “handy” differences AMONG racial groups are neglected and left to wither.

  4. “Substantial and “handy” differences AMONG racial groups are neglected and left to wither.”

    I definitely agree and see evidence of that fact every M-F, 8-4 p.m.; but a lot of idealogues of every race wouldn’t have it any other way; the ‘one-drop’ rule is beheld by both race realists and black nationalists; i see why as it suits their purposes. But I lot of folk between the cracks genetically get put to a rather crude measure —— which, nonetheless, can work to both one’s detriment and tactical advantage.

    Ahh, placed within the margins of a generational absurdity; somewhere therein is a good book, or at least a good book title! 🙂

  5. “aggrandizing myself in my own mind as a history-burdened stranger in a post-historic Boston. Earnestly, given my youth, I wondered during my autumn walks along the Charles River if Miłosz thought of things, during his own walks along the Seine seventy years earlier, that were for me to keep.”

    That was precisely me a few years ago in my own adopted city. I kept imagining what the landscape I walked would look like without buildings, as Milosz once found Warsaw.

    “Miłosz’s visceral disgust with (as he repeatedly mentioned this) and hatred he felt toward defensive nationalism, for example. To me, such a posture represents the mind’s disgust with the heart, which clings to our life here on Earth and not always elegantly. The untethered mind aspires to truth, and when ascending to higher altitudes it becomes drained of blood and impatient with the heart that weighs it down like wet ballast. Deeming oneself capable of reaching that high and remaining human is an acute form of pride and it had led to Western intellectuals’ share of responsibility for inhuman acts such as the engineered starvation of seven million people in Ukraine.”

    Absolutely this. You get Milosz. Untethered intellect i.e. the only kind currently allowed a public voice or admired in the academy, always, always, leads to hubris, imagining oneself as God. Epitaph for the West: Their minds hated their hearts.

    I’m under 30, but even I remember walking around on my own after dark aged 8 in our average suburban neighbourhood. I wonder how many American kids can do that now.

    I love that you posted this on the biggest news day of the year. Count at least one reader un-alienated.

  6. I read a Miłosz interview (Paris Review, I want to say) in which he picked apart Wallace Stevens, then accused Stevens of ‘dissecting everything.’ I think, on the contrary, the American more directly embodied the ideal of detached contemplation that Miłosz claimed to espouse aesthetically. Maybe I need to read him in the Polish, but I don’t quite get all the acclaim.

  7. I love Wallace Stevens!

    I’m not familiar nor feeling the Miloz charm —- yet i’m sorta charmed by PA’s and Nozdryov’s praises of his work and the praise rendered to PA’s post; maybe it’s a EE thing, as those two seem acclimated to some vibe that i’m missing.

    Is it a theory-vs-feeling disconnect and articulation kind of thing in play here?

  8. Pingback: “Native Realm” — Political Correctness | Reaction Times

  9. The End of History was an absurd pretense and it is hard to believe anyone ever took it seriously. Perhaps it was an excuse for a more meddlesome government, or simply for blowhard intellectuals to wax onanistically about their status.

    The Last Man is an idea of which i am not sure the meaning. Camus wrote a book by that title, as i recall, set in Algeria and published posthumously.

    The idea suggests to me a perspective in which everyone else is a cog and the Last Man (the narrator) is the only person who has is not trapped in an End of History fishbowl.

    A very narcissistic and solipsist view! sad Lonely and existential in its depressive suicide watch.

    I think that such a viewpoint is a transitional viewpoint that perceptive people go through before they can see again the stars at night, and realize their own mortality, the scope of history, and in short that Life goes on.

    Autumn is that time of year. The looking-back is impossible not to do. It is everywhere and a thousand falling leaves, golden brown silver pewter gray and crimson wine pale pink blush, red, remind us a million times that only not so long ago they were in green.

    It is fascinating to see before the leaves fall from the plants, how the space that they fill diminishes, though are all still on the branches, or in the case of raspberry patch, the canes. But now the patch is skeletal where before it was not. Sorta like Bill Clinton.

  10. Western “intellectuals” on both sides of the pond have sold their souls to a perpetuating self-annihilation… An enduring public degradation that nonetheless seemingly elicits nothing other than a growth in their relative personal wealth.

    Every fool can now “see” such a deal with the devil and so BY THE MAGIC OF EQUALITY, all the fools see nothing.

  11. — I love that you posted this on the biggest news day of the year. Count at least one reader un-alienated. (Nozdryov)

    Glad to know of one other person who had read Native Realm. You might remember, also in the “Russia” chapter, a long scene in which Milosz is sitting with Soviet soldiers, with a young German POW in the room. I will probably post that long passage soon.

    Though it will take up a good chunk of my time and effort (I will have to retype it from the book rather than copy/paste, and then look for mistakes I may have made typing it), it’s worth the time. The scene is in some ways emblematic of the entire memoir. Like so many other first-person accounts in the book, you feel like you’re there, in January 1945, smelling the breath of men crowded next to you. The scene is tragic but it also humanizes both sides of the conflict in ways that go beyond mere sympathy.

  12. — I read a Miłosz interview (Paris Review, I want to say) in which he picked apart Wallace Stevens, then accused Stevens of ‘dissecting everything.’ I think, on the contrary, the American more directly embodied the ideal of detached contemplation that Miłosz claimed to espouse aesthetically. Maybe I need to read him in the Polish, but I don’t quite get all the acclaim. (Each Pond Gone)

    I’m re-discovering his work now. As to poetry, I have a bias against blank/free verse and Modern poetry in general but I also don’t consider myself fully capable of judging it.

    I translated one of Milosz’s poems into English twenty year ago. He wrote the poem (the one I translated) immediately after the Warsaw Uprising — literally on its ruins. It was an operation about which Milosz was extremely cynical, as well as hostile to Armia Krajowa that fought it, and he refused to participate in it in part because of the right wing nature of AK’s leadership. So the poem I translated was a long, post-apocalyptic dialogue between Antigone and Isemene about the conflict between duty and moving on with life I remember it. Not sure if it’s available online in English, but it’s a poem I’d re-read.

    I also read a few of his interviews back then. I recall him being abrasive with the interviewer(s). I get an impression of a Sigma personality, in part given his strong facial features.

    His prose is first-rate. I can’t recommend Native Realm enough to anyone, whether or not you have any interest in Eastern European history.

  13. — Autumn is that time of year. (Elk)

    Glad you said that and what followed. Now I know why the fall on the Charles river part felt like it belonged. LOL on Bill Clinton.

  14. It also points me toward a habit that principled thinkers tend toward — a devotion to the purity of an idea. More specifically, their unwillingness to reconcile ideal ontological forms with the material imperfection of life.

    This brings to mind something that the polymath blogger Chuck, of the now defunct blog Lesacred du Temps, said to me in response to a question I asked him about the universality of the human spirit. I archived the quote somewhere but no longer find it much to my dismay because his response was so eloquent I could never come close to rendering it. Essentially I asked him how he can defend such a profane view of humanity as to characterize it by racial “ethne” as he called it; isn’t that something we should aspire move beyond? He replied that this world is all about particulars, about loves and hates, and that maybe in the beyond – if there is a beyond – those distinctions will have fallen away, but alas – we are in the here and now, and that dirtiness gives us shape and meaning to our humanity.

    Anyway, I’d just like to mention that your writing is getting better and I’ve been really enjoying all your posts even though I haven’t found as much time to comment as I’d like. This post has the feeling of a dissident’s answer to Oprah’s book club. I’ve recently taken a break from reading my middlebrow escapist lit (Game of Thrones – ok to you it’s probably low-brow lol) to delve into some obscure lit myself. . . Currently I’m reading “Ride the Tiger: A Survival Manual for the Aristocrats of the Soul” by Julius Evola.

  15. “I think that such a viewpoint is a transitional viewpoint that perceptive people go through before they can see again the stars at night, and realize their own mortality, the scope of history, and in short that Life goes on.” (elk)

    Well said. It is an adolescent phase that can last a day or a lifetime.

    “Glad to know of one other person who had read Native Realm.” (PA)

    Likewise. Flipping through my copy last night I came across the “Peace Boundary” section, in which Milosz ends up in still-free Wilno in 1940. (The Soviets and Nazis called the demarcation line in Poland the peace boundary.) Milosz drinks away the months before the Soviets show up with a decadent circle of rich friends. They all know the Soviets are coming and stave off despair with alcohol, dark humour and blasphemous sex. I see that black hole humour and nihilistic drunkenness around me more and more. Reminds me to go easy on them. That their vices might be a sign of sensitivity rather than sin.

    Looking forward to your thoughts on the “Russia” section.

  16. “As to poetry, I have a bias against blank/free verse and Modern poetry in general…”

    Same here, with a few stark exceptions. It’s obviously more the music than any sheer biotic invention. I will try to track C.M.’s post-apocalyptic dialogue down. Sophocles was incredible.

  17. the ‘one-drop’ rule is beheld by both race realists and black nationalists; i see why as it suits their purposes.

    Most of the “beholding” of the one-drop rule is being performed by you, Nik. No one else in the country is really talking about it much in 2016 nor referring to it for any “purposes,” regardless of their place on the political spectrum.

  18. So how about that debate?

    Kevin MacDonald has a good article up about Pussygate.

    The hypocrisy of the shitlibs. Gay sex is the height of culture, but men shall not talk pussy.

    That being their stance reveals that they are about emasculating men. Shitlibs and swapples and their contingent don’t like men because they have failed in that regard and don’t want to be reminded.

    Two things about Hillary’s performance. First of all, i am surprised that she is able to stay on stage for that long, even though most of the time sitting, and seem half-way coherent. Not that she ever looks good, but that she doesn’t look even worse.

    Second though, the way that she talks to people, specifically the town hall participants on the stage with her, is very uncomfortable (for them). You see them squirming in their chairs as her reptile eyes bore into them. Everytime she had the floor i was turning down the volume.

    What was up with Trump’s sniffling? was that microphone trick, where they manipulated the audio behind the scenes to amplify that, or was he being a bit obtuse in his presentation.

    Of course Trump dominated the debate, and won by any measure. A big part of his win was his stage presence (despite the sniffling), how he filled out the space and prowled around “like a silverback.” He looks like a silverback, literally, somewhat. It’s the hair!

    The one line that i think registers most deeply, was “She has tremendous hate in her heart.”

    More so than the jail comment, that was the peeling away of the mask, and rings true. And who has ever said to her anything along those lines, and in full public display, the simple truth.

    I think that line harmonically registers the younger crowd.

  19. More so than the jail comment, that was the peeling away of the mask, and rings true. And who has ever said to her anything along those lines, and in full public display, the simple truth.

    Hillary-ious article in the NYT talking about how Trump’s “jail” comment represents a dangerous, dangerous, dangerous preview of how he would be a despotic dictator using “state machinery” to punish his political opponents:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/11/us/politics/donald-trump-hillary-clinton-special-prosecutor.html?_r=0

    Hillary-iously funny considering all of the recent “deplorables” talk from the Democratic Party, not to mention how our Kenyan President has felt it necessary to comment endlessly on every minor local police matter imaginable while denying the effect that his own words have had on violent crime everywhere.

  20. — Milosz drinks away the months before the Soviets show up with a decadent circle of rich friends. They all know the Soviets are coming and stave off despair with alcohol, dark humour and blasphemous sex. I see that black hole humour and nihilistic drunkenness around me more and more. Reminds me to go easy on them. That their vices might be a sign of sensitivity rather than sin. (Nozdryov)

    I just finished the book. Another, related thing occurred to me. Milosz gravitated to dark personalities as gurus or mentors. That’s not to speak ill of, say, his uncle Oskar in Paris, but there is a common thread to people he wrote effusively about. They all had a touch of unstable, inscrutable, brilliant, possibly cruel or madman in them, and they all took Milosz under their wing at different times of his youth. This became clear to me in reading the last two chapters, in which he writes about “Tiger,” who to me seemed a scumbag based on perhaps unintended revelations in Milosz’s lengthy description of the man.

    It’s natural to seek out kindred-spirit mentor figures but patterns form in the type one identifies as such. I think it’s interesting, though, in terms what one is drawn to or repelled by. For my part, I am instinctively wary of people with “darkness” in them.

  21. Agreed.

    What I was trying to get at is that there seems to be a consistent response to this broken culture coming from a wide variety of people. If you know what to look for you can see it in mainstream things esp. stand up comedy. It is beneath most of these people’s awareness, indeed many of them are probably perfectly happy, but the despair and meaninglessness comes through nevertheless. Milosz had a huge dark side but he never reached our levels of desiccated modernity.

    “I never wrote a line in praise of nothingness” from a poem of his I can’t remember the name of. He never crossed that line.

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