Góry Parnasu (The Hills of Parnassus), Czesław Miłosz's unfinished attempt at a sci-fi novel, has been published in Poland 40 years after the poet had abandoned his daring idea.
When Andrzej Franaszek was at work on his thorough, popular biography of the Nobel laureate poet and writer, he studied drafts in the Miłosz archive at Yale University's Beinecke Library. Among the manuscripts he discovered many unfinished, usually short prose works – a few pages started then left aside. Góry Parnasu / The Hills of Parnassus
, however, was a longer fragment - five chapters of a novelistic work Miłosz
began in the late 1960s and abandoned in the 1970s.
The manuscript became a topic of special interest for Sławomir Sierakowski, founding editor of Krytyka Polityczna, the Polish leftist journal and publisher which has now brought the book out in Polish. In an interview with Culture.pl, Andrzej Franaszek made connections between this incomplete work and Miłosz's two novels published in 1955, when he was living in France.
The Seizure of Power
was well received, he said; its success helped stabilise the writer's financial
circumstances. The Valley of Issa
is more intimate, returning to childhood times and Miłosz's homeland (now in Lithuania), ''and this allowed him to deal with his depression and creative block'', his biographer said. ''Perhaps in the case of The Hills of Parnassus
he couldn't find such strong motivation to continue the work – and it's important to know that Milosz never appreciated the novel as a literary genre. The novel as a form was not satisfactory for him, but in spite of that, as we can see in the Beinecke collections, he continued making attempts with this form.''
Franaszek called The Hills of Parnassus
one of many projects that Miłosz started in the late 1960s while living in California, then abandoned. The writer was trying to find some form that could allow him to describe life in California through the 1960s: the culture of hippies, protests against the Vietnam War and other leftist movements and manifestations. Franaszek explained,
He was describing a consumer society different from grassroots America. In his opinion, the rebels of this time were a kind of alchemical device or mirror where you could see issues and problems important to global humanity. He was interested in sociology and mass culture at that time - and he also experienced his own fears and fascinations, which he preferred not to expose in a more direct way.
The novel he attempted was a representation of the real world, designed so readers would know it was a construction. ''It was not his ambition to construct a real science fiction novel'', Franaszek added, ''it was rather a meditation about western society.''
Franaszek added that Agnieszka Kosińska, the writer's assistant in Kraków during his late years, recalled that Miłosz sent part of Parnassus
for estimation to Jerzy Gierdroyc
, the editor of the émigré journal Kultura, ''who was very skeptical, which may be the reason Milosz abandoned the effort. We can read the book today thinking more about its philosophy than looking at its form. A Captive Mind
, not of the political world, but of the consumer world'', he added, referring to Miłosz's famed book-length essay criticising the communist society taking control of Poland by the early 1950s, when the writer chose to live in exile. ''Indulgence in spiritual needs by use of artificial stimulants, a kind of Witkacy vision of the world and society'', he said, alluding to the pre-war Polish writer-philosopher Stanisław I. Witkiewicz
, ''where a human being renounces spiritual life - something that was not acceptable for Milosz. Now we can regard the book as a sociological document that, paradoxically, can appear be very actual today.''
The Hills of Parnassus
was published in Polish by Krytyka Polityczna in early 2013, the journal and publishing house founded in 2002 by Sierakowski and a circle of Poles to revive the nation's tradition of socially and politically engaged intelligentsia. Once Franaszek's biography of Miłosz, published by Znak in 2011, had revealed the manuscript's existence, Sierakowski sought out more information, which led to the new publication. Essays by him and by Kosińska join Miłosz's own introduction to a work he did not expect to be published.
A recent piece in the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza says the essays can be more interesting than Miłosz's prose. It also discusses his introduction, which asks any eventual reader to appreciate that sometimes an author knows when to stop. Miłosz writes about the acclaimed science-fiction author Stanisław Lem
, who attained a creative peak in 1961 with his novel Solaris – a period when science fiction such as Lem's was exploding novelistic conventions. Subsequent developments, the writer felt, made writing and reading more effective with poems, essays and scientific works than with the novel form, with Lem's own fictional essays and reviews of non-existent scientific works being prime examples.
In writing of their new publication, Krytyka Polityczna mentions the author's sense of crisis with the novel, saying that he ''purposefully didn't finish the work, but left open a question about the possibility of a world better than this, and the hope that faith remains possible in a world without God, a faith in the pure possibility of something that doesn't exist but might become true.'' And the Gazeta Wyborcza piece speculates that, with recent trends in dystopian science fiction, had Miłosz completed and published The Hills of Parnassus
– had he found a solution to his problems with its form – the novel might now be seen as preceeding those trends by over 25 years.
Sources: Gazeta Wyborcza, Krytyka Polityczna. Translations: Klementyna Suchanow