Links for the East Side Readers' discussion.

Thanks for the great turnout & conversation on Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being. For those reading along at home, I'd say our consensus was * * , with some liking it more and some liking it less. We talked about post-modern literature and its (& his) lack of emotional involvement with the characters, novels of ideas, rather than story/structure, and regular old descriptive narratives.

Quick links:
Times Review

More from Wikipedia:
And from Mates: A literary history [Matching sock, erotic target or fellow damned soul chained to your wrist? From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Kundera, a guided tour of the Big Two.] By Gary Kamiya, Oct. 14, 2003 Copyright 2005 Salon.com
"... The ending of Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" reveals another strategy of indirection. It attempts to resolve the question posed at the outset of the book: How can you know if your decision to settle down with one person is driven by love or sentimental exhaustion -- what Kundera calls "hysteria"? The problem with questions like this is that once they are asked, there is almost never going to be a satisfactory answer. And the book's protagonist, Tomas, is nothing if not a bed-hopper and question-asker. Kundera needs to assert that Tomas has experienced some kind of romantic epiphany that has made him choose Tereza once and for all, but he is also too sophisticated to be satisfied with that answer.
He falls back first on a venerable narrative device: prolepsis or foreshadowing. The reader is told that Tomas and Tereza are both going to die in a truck crash. This omniscient knowledge bathes their last scene in a golden glow; it becomes doubled, like a vista observed by a man with cancer uncertain he will ever see it again. Yet even with this doubling, which would perhaps have allowed Kundera to get away with a sentimental portrayal of marital happiness, he distances himself. "Tereza leaned her head on Tomas' shoulder. Just as she had when they flew together in the airplane through the storm clouds. She was experiencing the same odd happiness and odd sadness as then. The sadness meant: we are at the last station. The happiness meant: we are together. The sadness was form, the happiness was content. Happiness filled the space of sadness."
Which comes first, happiness or sadness? In this dialectical game of tag, in order for us to believe in the happiness that the author is asserting, it is also necessary for us not to believe in it. Without shadow, no light.
And then, having adjusted his chiaroscuro perfectly, in the book's last lines the author retreats altogether and turns things over to the God of narrative. Tomas and Tereza retire to bed. A butterfly flies up. "The strains of the piano and violin came up weakly from below." The greatest intimacy can only be communicated by the neutral turning of the world.
There is, of course, far more to the mately story than these kind of deconstructive and reconstructive finesses. Byron is wrong: Not all comedies are ended with a marriage -- many, in fact, begin with one. Marriage may be rarely chosen as a romantic subject, its intimacies and their meanings may be terra incognita, but it frequently serves as a kind of rumpus room, an arena where all the furniture can be wiped off, the laugh track is always going, and the wet bar is well stocked. Literature is filled with companionable, often jesting and jawboning mates, an endless procession of Nicks and Noras and Mr. and Mrs. Bennetts. Statistically, matedom is comic. But comic matedom is simply taken for granted, as background; it no longer has any meaning, any fizz. Love's daemon is dead -- and you can often discern a distinct element of thank god -- and pure vinegar reigns. "

1 comment:

ES said...

How funny you are doing Kundera's ULoB....we did that for our book club in Cali! One of the women suggested it, because she had loved it when she read it for the first time 15 years ago. Well, what was quite interesting, all of the twenty-somethings who read the book for Book Club found it to be quite profound, but all of the women in their late 40s/50s when they reread it now, they found it less profound and not as good as they remembered! How funny.