Very slight thoughts on Kundera + outrageous banger quotes.
I’m about to go on a bit and am not sure I’ll be convincing: forgive if you read on: I have ten books by Kundera on my favored book shelf above the desk where I write. Many of them are highlighted but the most highlights are in _Testaments Betrayed_. I once wrote a bunch of quotes I entitled “What Is Art”. Most quotes are from Kundera and William Gass.
I’ve been most disturbed by the assertion by some of Kundera’s misogyny. To view Kundera through that lens is not to understand what art is.
Your longer quote on “What the novel teaches us about morality” and that I quoted a portion of—was it yesterday or the day before?— disputes any such conclusion, e.g., misogyny. If we understand what art is, then no such conclusion can be made.
Here are Kundera and Gass to help me:
Kundera: “But the conformism of public opinion is a force that sets itself up as a tribunal, and the tribunal is not there to waste time over ideas, it is there to conduct the investigations for trials.”
Gass: “Why are works of art so socially important? Not for the messages they may contain, not because they expose slavery or cry hurrah for the worker, although such messages in their place and time might be important, but because they insist more than most on their reality; because of the absolute way in which they exist. ... So I don’t think that it’s the message of a work of art that gives it any lasting social value. On the contrary, insisting on this replaces the work with its interpretation, another way of robbing it of its reality. … Works of art are meant to be lived with and loved, and if we try to understand them, we should try to understand them as we try to understand anyone—in order to know them (italics on “them”) better, not in order to know something else.”
dude I'm slowly making my way through these quotes...feels like eating a big plate of nachos for my brain.
on the idea of camaraderie, have you read stuff by Alfred Adler? I've not directly but via this book "The Courage to be Disliked" which is essentially a distillation of Adler, and a big thing he covers is understanding that other people are our comrades, not our competition. U might dig it
Thank you for this. I'd pretty much forgotten about Kundera until his death -- though I did use my favourite part of Immortality--Avenarius systematically slashing car tires in Paris at night--in a post a few months back.
Paris has been in mourning. There's been some great press tributes and radio panels about him. In one of the latter, on France Inter a couple of days ago, I learned that the Czech police had tracked his movements right through the 80s, a decade after his exile in France, and that during the last years of his life he only spoke Czech and wasn't sure what country he belonged to, other than the "la patrie de Vera" (his wife) and "la patrie du roman" (the novel). To your list I'd add L'Ignorance, one of the novels he wrote in French. And Life is Elsewhere. And...
Alright, you sold me. Was on the way to the library with my daughter for the afternoon. Going to pick up Immortality.
I’ve been a bit drained from all the screen time lately and needed something printed. This feels like the perfect fit. Never heard of Kundera but, damn, some of these quotes.
Thank you so much for this collection of passages. Kundera was the first truly philosophical novelist I encountered, at the (relatively late?) age of sixteen. I'm excited by him again, decades later. Perhaps dangerously - he might have been responsible for sending me off the rails a little, or at least spinning me round to totter off into the arms of Nietzsche. I'd forgotten his ascerbic edges - he seemed much softer to me as an immature, and perhaps less inhibited reader.
And I enjoyed your clarification that it was one of Kundera's *characters* declaring a commitment to hedonism. It makes me wonder how completely divorced we are from even our worst literary children.
When I read about his death my first thought was: “I wonder what Mills’ll post?”
I haven’t read any Kundera in 10+ years but I’m feeling like these quotes are a way back in. Testaments Betrayed was extremely helpful to me in my early twenties, as someone who’d read a lot of good novels but almost zero criticism.
For Nietzsche loves “a bold and exuberant intellectuality that runs presto,” and he makes fun of the savants.
I pity the SAVANTS. That said. I digg spiritual fiction aka the Philosphical novel. And even tho I write gritty black pulp fiction, at heart, its jes based on the spiritual of hoodoo I was raised in Louisiana/Mississippi. Gittin it out da MUD and tryna elevate it a lil skeetaste.
Tons of take-a-ways in this piece. I appreciated this drop.
Damn, brother-- this is really interesting. I’ve saved it so I can dig into it further, and downloaded the Testaments book.
You're remembering too much... :)
(I have a full Kundera shelve... and I'm from Eastern Europe too)
I love your post and I love the quote you chose for the title.
I think I will use it as well for the review I am planning to write on De Sade's Philosophy in the Bedroom.
I like Kundera, but to me, Kafka is the one with the gut-wrenching power.
Glad to meet a fellow Kundera reader. What you said about his covers is also true. Been reading this post since yesterday. It's beautiful.
i just finished the unbearable lightness of being & cannot get over the quotidien banality of tomas & tereza’s deaths vs the epic quality of their dog’s. an extraordinary demonstration of the power of aesthetics even as it left me a little cold
Though perhaps not the main point of this post, Kafka seems like an author for our time.
Reading Kundera now, joyfully!
The opening essay in TB is (i suspect) half the reason Rushdie named one of his sons Milan. Re your love for TB, did you ever read the Curtain? Imo his last great book (Encounter was cool, but more a miscellaneous collection, while the Curtain is as its subtitle says an essay in 7 parts (see https://mazinsaleem.substack.com/p/death-is-elsewhere for more). curtain, TB and art of the novel are like the ‘trilogy of lit crit they don’t teach you at college'
Thanks for putting this all together. I've only read The Unbearable Lightness - I know, shameful. I'm in a summer house of books and I'm confident I'll find some Kundera here. I'm going to go a hunting.