The Unbearable Lightness Of Being Essays

The Unbearable Lightness Of Being Essays-55
Kundera first came to the notice of American readers in the mid-Seventies with a collection of short stories, was widely held to constitute Kundera’s patent of literary immortality, establishing him, in the words of one reviewer, “as the world’s greatest living writer.”Now, Kundera is indisputably a writer of enormous talent.But precisely because Kundera has assumed such eminence, his work deserves more than indiscriminate celebration.

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For them, the word ‘Europe’ does not represent a phenomenon of geography but a spiritual notion synonymous with the word ‘West.’”In proclaiming this cultural affiliation with Western Europe, Kundera underscores his allegiance to the fundamental Enlightenment values of skeptical rationality and individualism—traditional liberal values that he summarized in another essay as “respect for the individual, for his original thought, and for his inviolable private life.” It is no secret that these values have come increasingly under siege in modern society, most brutally and systematically in totalitarian regimes, but also, Kundera would insist, in democratic regimes, where the imperatives of mass culture compromise private life and discount genuine individuality.

It is of course this latter insistence—that freedom and man’s privacy are threatened as much in Western democracies as under Communism—that has won Kundera so many friends on the Left, for whom the defiant, anti-Communist stance of the dissident writer is perfectly acceptable provided that his defiance extends to all expressions of authority, notably to those that provide a haven for his dissidence.

“What does Europe mean to a Hungarian, a Czech, a Pole? “Their nations have always belonged to the part of Europe rooted in Roman Christianity.

They have participated in every period of its history.

went through three large printings in quick succession and instantly won Kundera a wide and enthusiastic readership in his homeland.

It also won him the somewhat less enthusiastic attention of the Communist Party.But taken in conjunction with his attempt to downplay the frankly political message of his work, Kundera’s criticisms of the West highlight ambiguities at the heart of his position—ambiguities that force us to question the good faith and ideological motives of this troubling and again, Kundera has praised the “wisdom of the novel” as a counter to the leveling influence of modern society.In the midst of an environment hostile to private life and the integrity of the individual, the novel appears as a sanctuary where the “precious essence of European individualism is held safe as in a treasure chest.” It is thus not surprising that the major thematic concern of Kundera’s fiction, from , is with the fate of the individual in modern society, especially in modern Communist society.was banned and removed from public libraries—“erased,” as Kundera put it, “from the history of Czech literature.” Finally, in 1975, Kundera emigrated to France, where he has since resided.Now, Kundera is indisputably a writer of enormous talent.Though he has developed a voice that is unmistakably his own, his best work exercises an appeal that can be said to epitomize the of contemporary “dissident” fiction: fiercely intellectual, it is charged with a cool, at times almost brutal eroticism and ironic humor, and it is everywhere at pains to declare its fictionality, to call attention to its novelistic status.Thus in coming to appreciate the distinctive appeal of Kundera’s fiction—its substance, its vitality, its challenging idiosyncrasies—we may also come to understand one of the most important (if also perhaps one of the most problematic) aspects of contemporary fiction generally.They were so young that the Russians did not have them on their lists yet and they could remain in editorial offices, schools, and film studios.These fine young friends, whom I will never betray, suggested I use their names as a cover for writing radio and television scripts, plays, articles, columns, film treatments—anything to earn a living.I accepted a few of their offers, but most I turned down.I couldn’t have gotten to them all, for one thing, and then too it was dangerous. The secret police wanted to starve us out, cut off all means of support, force us to capitulate and make public confessions.


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