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The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera (1984, Tr. 1984)

So I keep asking myself, what can I actually write about the novel that would reveal as little as possible about its matter?


Today I am going to write out of shame. At least that’s what it seems I am capable of doing right now. It is not a silent shame, which usually makes faces of some little scamps burn, after they have been caught stuffing the exhaust pipe of their grumpy neighbor’s car with a couple of plums. It is not the one petrified with guilt either – too grave to forgo all the self-explanatory possibilities. Dodging potential names and avoiding conclusive classifications, it more or less resembles the specific type of embarrassment which occurs when we are bound to confess that we have been peeped while sharing an intimate moment with someone and the vision of acknowledging our self-disclosure by the interlocutor (with all of the uncalled-for, one-dimensional, bawdy mental representations popping up uncontrollably in his/her mind) tramples us down into the pit of nauseating edginess. I am already feeling giddy due to the oncoming violation of my sense of privacy which I have tied up with everything The Unbearable Lightness of Being consists of for me. I am stuck between a rock of an unquenchable urge to expose myself totally (unfortunately, ‘naked’ letters are prone to contract ‘pneumonia’ of pretense in the blink of an eye) and a hard place of curling up and hiding behind the cover of Kundera’s masterpiece, blushing like an old spinster.

Torn between these two extremities, left at a loss for words of the golden mean, I am opening the novel to a random page. Just like during our first rendezvous, the letters are immediately beginning to caress my wholeness as a warmth of dream lover’s breath enfolds a cheek with its delicate breeze only seconds before landing on an earlobe as a passionate whisper. All at once, my shame is tamed and I realize I was wrong from the very start. I will write straight from the inside of my intimate relationship with The Unbearable Lightness of Being which is one of those ultimately ‘close’ novels the reader cannot help but simply fall in love with them.

I definitely wouldn’t avoid wearing sackcloth and ashes, were I to reveal any crucial details regarding the plot of Milan Kundera’s renowned book or to present thoroughly four main characters whose direct and indirect interactions are fuelling the possibility of affection between the reader and the text. Moreover, such a leak would be pointless anyway, because in order to uncover above connections, there needs to be someone who is actually reading the novel in the first place, not a lone ‘peeper’ (like the one I am trying NOT to become right now), who is indiscreet enough to take some exposed ‘propositional photographs’ or to write a few peeled ‘photographical sentences’, loaded with probable vivisections of how should interpretational so-and-so’s and what-if’s arrange themselves on the ‘premises’ of book’s appearances. Giving hints like that is unforgivable, because The Unbearable Lightness of Being should be left just with you, The Potential Reader of Kundera, for a subtle, flirtatious, enchanting tête-à-tête in a surrounding silence of everything else.

So I keep asking myself, what can I actually write about the novel that would reveal as little as possible about its matter? Shall I remain in the superposition of disclosing and not disclosing at the same time or would I rather try to overcome this feeling of being Schrödinger’s Peeping Tom?…

Czech author’s piercing, whiplash-sharp observations and notions of various existential issues – possessing a quotable thoughtfulness, insight and versatility of not only a thinker but also, and above all, a person who is deeply concerned about the contemporary human condition – are the main flywheel of the novel’s true inclination to unfold itself before the reader. Kundera’s masterpiece takes care of our honesty of thought, reciprocates the open-mindedness – or better yet – the open-heartedness of the approach towards its pages, fires up a knack for philosophical speculations, gives a comforting pat on the back, gently hugs our compassion and empathy, when dramatis personae are facing shifts from the overwhelming weight of existence to the titular unbearable lightness of being. And we catch ourselves being dragged along their metaphysical vertigo too. Having perceived our surprising participation, we try to gulp back the tears of emotional outbursts every time we experience the humane (and I really cannot stress the word “humane” enough!) warmth of Kundera’s prose. But there is even more to it than that!

From the very first page the reader is engulfed by the profound meta-impression of getting around in a ‘territory’ of a philosophical treaty which has taken shape of an existential novel. Keeping in mind the fact that a paraphrase might be calling the shots now, Gilles Deleuze wrote that the philosophy is the creation of concepts as intensive multiplicities. As we are immersing ourselves in the events which comprise the lives of Tomáš, Tereza, Sabina and Franz, we are swept off our feet by the unexpected notion that Kundera has actually written a philosophical work, which presents a remarkably impressive set of relations regarding human existence, using numerous already-coined terms and phrases on various levels of their significance or – putting it in a more bearable vibe – their lightness and weight. Starting from Nietzsche’s “eternal recurrence”, he sheds light on the whole chain of concepts, to name but a few: “betrayal”, “body”, “parades”, “strength”, “necessity”, “coincidence”, “soul”, “smile”, “cemetery”, “kitsch”, which are not only constituents of the human’s life motion alongside the main existential polarity “weight – lightness”, but they also depict the subsequent realization of the aforementioned movement, in this particular case mainly inside a reality of the country from behind the Iron Curtain – Czechoslovakia. All these nuances assemble an exceptionally convincing summarization of the contemporary human beings, whose unbalanced ‘dance’ of weight and lightness cannot be overshadowed even by a fact that the writer used already existing “intensive multiplicities”. Frankly, I suppose it is precisely because of this unmistakable formation of concepts working in an ‘already-being-here’ mode that the intimacy between the reader and the book is possible at all. Or is it just me?…

Leaving the above for you – My Dear Probable Reader of Milan Kundera’s Tour de Force – to mull it over, I must admit that I have never been caught in such a crossfire of the exposing lightness of review and the imposing weight of silence. I have an unbearable feeling that I must have gone too far with the former option. I am not sure whether or not the resulting text should be called “the unforgiveable weightlessness of writing”, but I’m certain about one thing. I overcame my shame and wrote straight from my intimate relationship with this brilliant book and I wish you developed as close a connection with this or maybe the other work as the intensively multiplied concept of “novel affection” has been a quintessence of my passionate romance with The Unbearable Lightness of Being for the past couple of years.

Amonne Purity


Review overview


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