Captive Minds: Norms, Normativities and the Forms of Tragic Protest in Literature and Cultural Practice
Częstochowa, ul. Zbierskiego 2/4
Although generally resented and deemed unfavourable for individuals, societies and
nations, Murti-Bing was a Mongolian philosopher who had succeeded in producing
an organic means of transporting a “philosophy of life.” This Murti-Bing “philosophy
of life,” which constituted the strength of the Sino-Mongolian army, was contained
in pills in an extremely condensed form. A man who used these pills changed
completely. He became serene and happy. The problems he had struggled with until
then suddenly appeared to be superficial and unimportant. He smiled indulgently
at those who continued to worry about them. Most affected were all questions
pertaining to unsolvable ontological difficulties. A man who swallowed Murti-Bing
pills became impervious to any metaphysical concerns. […] More and more people
took the Murti-Bing cure, and their resultant calm contrasted sharply with the
nervousness of their environment. […] [O]nce tormented by philosophical “insatiety,”
now entered the service of the new society. Instead of writing the dissonant music
of former days, they composed marches and odes. Instead of painting abstractions
as before, they turned out socially useful pictures. But since they could not rid
themselves completely of their former personalities, they became schizophrenics.
(Czesław Miłosz, The Captive Mind)
In a world transforming faster than ever before, a Murti-Bing pill would do wonders to those who painfully discover that their heretofore professed philosophy of life has unexpectedly become a burden: an obstacle standing in the way to “serenity and happiness.” In fact, the miraculous power of the pill is simple: whatever norms gain on momentum at a given moment of time, they immediately become one’s own. With serenity and happiness at stake, the choice not to take the pill is a choice between one’s own “insatiable,” unique self and one’s peace of mind, the tranquility
of life and liberty not to judge success in life by the gauge of satisfaction. In a world transforming faster than ever, in which the Murti-Bing pills are available without prescription and advertised in all official media, the refusal to blend into the woodwork for the sake of the comfort of being “impervious to any metaphysical concerns” is nothing short of a tragic choice.
Therefore, the 2018 edition of the International Conference of the Institute of English Cultures and Literatures of the University of Silesia in Katowice aims at addressing one of the most elusive, albeit simultaneously most tangible aspects of our experience of being in the world. As a foundation and a product of grand narratives, norms apply to any and every aspect of individual, communal and social life. They regulate our behaviors, determine directions in the evolution of arts and philosophical ideas, condition intra- and cross-cultural understanding, organize hierarchies. Yet – when transformed into laws – norms become appropriated by dominant discourses becoming “truths.” Those in control of language always construe them as “universal” and, as such, “transparent”. Those once tormented by philosophical “insatiety,” sharply aware of this, face a choice: a pill-induced schizophrenia which must eventually come, or even more catastrophic consequences of the tragic protest, which are most likely to ensue. Oppressive normativity and protest have always gone hand in hand. The 2018 International Conference of the
Institute of English Cultures and Literatures, in a sense, is a product of the refusal to take the Murti-Bing pill.