Ecstatic Pessimist is a timely book about the Central and Eastern European experience of the mid 20th century, as told through the poetry and experiences of Czeslaw Milosz, Nobel Laureate for literature, who wrote on the horrors of war and the human experience. Written by a colleague and friend of the poet, it is part literary criticism and part memoir.
This biography/memoir of Czesław Miłosz is a first hand account of the poet’s life and his relationship to the author, beginning in the 1960s. Milosz was a Polish-American poet, prose writer, translator, and diplomat. Regarded as one of the great poets of the 20th century, he won the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature. In its citation, the Swedish Academy called Miłosz a writer who "voices man's exposed condition in a world of severe conflicts".
Ecstatic Pessimist expands on Czeslaw Milosz’s commitment to “unpolitical politics” – working for a revolution in culture, and above all poetry, as a necessary preparation for a revolution in politics.
This is a familiar notion in Poland, which for two centuries was politically divided, but poets preserved and enhanced a lively Polish consciousness, And, as the book shows, Milosz took steps over two decades to help reunite Poles in the successful Solidarity movement, whose struggle eventually changed the regime and forced the Soviet armies to withdraw.
But the book is designed to encouraged a similar development in America. Milosz’s ambition for poetry may at first sound exotic, but as the book says, it is in the spirit of what John Adams wrote late in life to Thomas Jefferson: “The [American] revolution was in the mind of the people, and in the union of the colonies, both of which were accomplished before the hostilities commenced.”
Though the book is also designed for those who already know and love Milosz, it is primarily written for those looking for someone whose genius could similarly inspire Americans of both left and right to unite in restoring the badly broken politics of this country.
The book argues that Czeslaw Milosz is that genius, as perhaps the only person who has been praised by intellectual leaders like Chris Hedges on the left, and has also spoken at Hillsdale College, the intellectual citadel of the American right.
Peter Dale Scott taught at Sedbergh School and McGill University before joining the Canadian Department of External Affairs and the Canadian Embassy in Warsaw, Poland. Returning to academic life Peter Dale Scott taught at the University of California for over thirty years. Books by Peter Dale Scott include The War Conspiracy: The Secret Road to the Second Indochina War, Crime and Cover-Up: The CIA, the Mafia, and the Dallas-Watergate Connection, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK and Deep Politics II: Essays on Oswald, Mexico, and Cuba, Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Central America, Drugs, Oil, and War: The United States in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Indochina, The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America and American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection, and the Road to Afghanistan.
Of all the great poets of the late Twentieth Century, Milosz is the most multifaceted, even self-contradictory. Peter Dale Scott knew him personally. And he partly shares some of his subject's less fashionable attitudes: a certain sympathy for rural and conservative, as opposed to "neoliberal," values; and a utopian hope that poetry can "save nations or peoples." Scott's own dialectical thinking makes him a perfect guide to Milosz, especially to the texts less well known in American.
When Czeslaw Milosz began his California exile in 1960, poet and former diplomat Peter Dale Scott worked alongside him as a scholar, translator, and fellow poet. Ecstatic Pessimist is the culmination of decades of their thought, study, and friendship. "I have tried to be true to the Milosz I knew and loved," he writes. He has succeeded. We are fortunate to have Scott as a guide to one of the greatest poets of our times, offering us a wise, insightful, and deeply learned journey through Milosz’s poems and life in these pages. Scott has waited sixty years to share this rich legacy.
Czelaw Milosz, with his unblinking witness to horror and his insistence on hope for humanity, has never seemed more relevant. To meet this moment, Peter Dale Scott bring his more than fifty years of personal and critical engagement with Milosz. Ecstatic Pessimist simultaneously illuminates the arc of Milosz’s oeuvre and narrates a passionate reader’s lifelong engagement. A major contribution to Milosz studies.
Czeslaw Milosz is that rare poet whose work has crossed seemingly impassable boundaries of place and time. Peter Dale Scott and Milosz were colleagues at Berkeley, and Scott, who had been a Canadian diplomat in Poland, became one of Milosz’s first translators into English. From the unique perspective of a complex friendship, Scott is able to show us, as almost no one else can, the vatic, prophetic role Milosz had in Poland, how it was transformed by war and decades in the United States, and emerged again triumphant in his late years. Learned and beautifully written, Ecstatic Pessimist takes us on a journey to the heart of Milosz’s poetry, vibrant with the contradictions that make him a prophet of the post-modern age.
For English language readers of Czeslaw Milosz, nothing could be a richer addition to the critical literature than Peter Scott's Ecstatic Pessimist. Scott is a distinguished poet, knows Polish, has a diplomat's knowledge of Polish politics in the twentieth century. collaborated with Milosz on translation projects, and has written a brilliant and illuminating book on the complex and essential poet.
1/29/24, The Popular Show: Peter Dale Scott discussed his political and creative differences with Czeslaw Miłosz on the podcast.