Striving Towards Being: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Czeslaw Milosz

Striving Towards Being: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Czeslaw Milosz

by Merton, Czeslaw Milosz
     
 
In this dynamic correspondence, Milosz and Merton argued about the role of Communism, shared advice about literature, and exchanged their contrasting views on the natural world. As different as they were, the Nobel Prize-winning author and the Trappist monk found common ground in their continued search for meaning.

Overview

In this dynamic correspondence, Milosz and Merton argued about the role of Communism, shared advice about literature, and exchanged their contrasting views on the natural world. As different as they were, the Nobel Prize-winning author and the Trappist monk found common ground in their continued search for meaning.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is one of those books that touches your soul and stays with you. It records the exchanges of powerful, unadorned and often even mundane letters over a decade between two friends, Merton, a Trappist monk, and Milosz, the Polish poet and 1988 Nobel Prize winner. These letters create a somewhat fractured view of the turbulent political times in which these two extraordinary men lived. The letters contain almost offhand mentions of Nikita Khrushchev, Pope John XXIII, Bertrand Russell, Fidel Castro the Russian presence in Poland and Czechoslovakia and the Vietnam War protests, in which Merton was a well-known activist despite the disapproval of some of his superiors in the church. What comes across most in the letters, however, are the inner fragility and self-doubt each man exposes to the other, and the inner journey that each takes into the long dark night of the soul. The letters show each man reaching within himself to discover a more nuanced truth than those offered either by dialectical materialism (in his youth, Milosz was a Communist, before the Party accused him of writing bourgeois poetry) and some Catholic dogma. At one point, Merton writes: "We have to get used to our moral isolation.... Bear your solitude." This solitude, this isolation from man and God, is eased somewhat, though, by knowing that two such men have passed this way before. (Feb.)
Library Journal
The correspondence between two outstanding people can produce great insights. Merton (Searching for Solitude, LJ 5/1/96), the Trappist monk and prolific author, and Nobel Prize-winning poet Milosz corresponded for ten years, but, unfortunately, their letters are disappointing both in number and in revelatory insights. Merton wrote 21 letters and Milosz wrote 19, some barely acknowledgments and greeting to each other. Speculating on peace, communism, and the nature of literature, each writer speaks in an intimate voice, yet there is little to suggest that this correspondence was building into something greater, more revealing, than a casual exchange. The letters are interesting tidbits for the Merton or Milosz scholar or enthusiast, but there is not enough here to keep the interest for the general reader of letters. Recommended only for academic libraries.-Glenn Masuchika, Chaminade Univ. Lib., Honolulu
Kirkus Reviews
The decade-long correspondence (195868) of writer/monk Merton and Milosz, Polish poet and winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature.

By 1958, Merton had spent 17 years in one of the strictest contemplative orders of the Catholic Church but had paradoxically achieved world fame through his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, and his subsequent books on monasticism and contemporary spiritual life. Milosz was living with his family near Paris, disgusted both by Communist Poland and by what he saw as the political posturing of Sartre and Picasso. This correspondence, which was initiated by Merton as a result of reading Milosz's famous critique of Communism, The Captive Mind, covers the controversial final years of Merton's life, when he modified his otherworldly stance and became increasingly involved in the peace movement, and his longstanding fascination with Buddhism. The letters show both men struggling for a meaning beyond the clichés and spiritual drought imposed by society in the name of Soviet atheism or of an America trivialized by the media. Milosz calls on Merton's status as a writer who can make a difference, urging him to speak out against the banalities of commercial television and to adopt a more Manichean outlook, in the manner of Camus or Simone Weil. We relish Milosz's brief but searching analyses of Russia's self-image and of Polish Catholicism, not to mention his excoriation of the new vernacular Mass as a concession to boy- scoutish cheerfulness. Surprisingly, Merton claims scant sympathy with the student protests at Berkeley, where Milosz had settled, and imagines that his Zen may not be theirs. It is refreshing to see Merton in his intellectual mode, writing without thought of his public.

Art, religion, the Cold War, and a host of contemporary writers flit elegantly through these letters of friends who hardly ever saw each other, yet achieved a remarkable meeting of minds.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780374271008
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
02/01/1997
Pages:
177
Product dimensions:
5.64(w) x 7.82(h) x 0.73(d)

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