The State of Nature: Notes from a Diary

The following excerpts are drawn from Czeslaw Milosz’s forthcoming A Year of the Hunter, a diary of 1987 and 1988.

At night, right after returning from a screening at Wheeler Hall of the Soviet film Repentance, with the director [Tengiz Abuladze] present, the auditorium full, an audience of several thousand. An amazing film. Abuladze’s answers to questions from the audi-ence demonstrate his deftness as homo sovieticus….

Abuladze quoted some American’s remark to the effect that such an honest and open film could not be made in America. This is nonsense, the usual American chest-beating. The truth is that such a film could not be made in America for entirely different reasons than a lack of honesty. I saw the capitalist financing of films in prewar Poland by the owners of movie theaters, who dictated what should be in the films. That old Polish capitalism is to American capitalism as a street in Drohobycz, as described in Bruno Schulz’s Street of Crocodiles, is to an American street. The American crocodiles who finance films make sure that they contain the appropriate dose of sex and violence and, if possible, of madness, illness, and perversion, too. Another factor is unconscious infection by a dehumanizing atmosphere which paralyzes the imagination independently of any financial concerns.

What if one were to investigate the political tendencies of particular individuals, tracing them back to their innate features, their character? Then my permanent aversion to capitalism would turn out to be more or less the same as my aversion to nature. The reason is a feeling of menace, my revulsion against brutality, pity, all mixed together, difficult to disentangle. All my observations of cruelty in nature. “The cry of the hare as it is torn to pieces fills the forest.” And my consciousness, perhaps even exaggerated, of the fate of the poor in America, their miserable neighborhoods, their hard labor, their fear of unemployment, also the hell of the inner-city ghetto. America does not threaten me. I experienced success in America, but so what? It is not out of the question that, sufficiently protected by my industriousness and my ability to submit to discipline, I would not have perished in America under any circumstances. Still, I could never assent to the state of nature—that is, that each person should have to live as if he is constantly endangered, as in the time of the cavemen. Of course, capitalism is natural; whoever wants something different is going against the elementary right of survival of the strong, and no one knows if attempts at escaping from that right can be successful.

Almost every day, Public Television airs nature programs, mainly for young people. About spiders, fish, lizards, coyotes, animals of the desert or of alpine meadows, and so on. The technical excellence of the photography doesn’t prevent me from considering these programs obscene. Because what they show offends our human, moral understanding—not only offends it, but subverts it, for the thesis of these programs is: You see, that’s…

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