Poorly-poetic translation? Prior-generation amorality? Misunderstood-ergodicity? First-world problems of an Angst-ridden, exiled, aging author? Deep political-philosophical insight overlaid with proto-pornography? Prudish, picky, envious, and/or unsympathetic reviewer? ... <sigh> ...
For whatever reason(s), upon recent reading Milan Kundera's much-praised and high-literary novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being falls, rather than floats. Distracting implied racism from the first pages? (Do African lives count for nothing compared to those lost in the French Revolution?) Near-constant male-oriented voyeurism and sexism? (beginning with "But in the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man's body.") Near-constant focus on coincidence vs choice, fortune vs fate? Overly-mystical philosophizing about mathematical recurrence, but without any equations?
There are admittedly rhapsodic moments:
- Once is Not Enough — "Einmal ist keinmal" in German
- Category Theory — "...metaphors are dangerous. Metaphors are not to be trifled with. A single metaphor can give birth to love."
- Shared Sleep — "... the goal of their lovemaking was not so much pleasure as the sleep that followed it." and "Making love with a woman and sleeping with a woman are two separate passions, not merely different but opposite. Love does not make itself felt in the desire for copulation (a desire that extends to an infinite number of women) but in the desire for shared sleep (a desire limited to one woman)." (but note again the male-dominant perspective)
- Book Power — "... In Tereza's eyes, books were the emblems of a secret brotherhood. For she had but a single weapon against the world of crudity surrounding her: the books she took out of the municipal library ..."
- Nothingness — "... That darkness was pure, perfect, thoughtless, visionless; that darkness was the infinite we each carry within us. ... "
- Æsthetics — " ... The beauty of New York rests on a completely different base. It's unintentional. It arose independent of human design, like a stalagmitic cavern. Forms which are in themselves quite ugly turn up fortuitously, without design, in such incredible surroundings that they sparkle with a sudden wondrous poetry. ... Unintentional beauty. Yes. Another way of putting it might be 'beauty by mistake.' ..."
- Incongruity — "... She was staring at the water—it seemed sadder and darker here—when suddenly she spied a strange object in the middle of the river, something red—yes, it was a bench. A wooden bench on iron legs, the kind Prague's parks abound in. It was floating down the Vltava. Followed by another. And another and another, and only then did Tereza realize that all the park benches of Prague were floating downstream, away from the city, many, many benches, more and more, drifting by like the autumn leaves that the water carries off from the woods—red, yellow, blue. ..."
- Perspicacity — "... A question is like a knife that slices through the stage backdrop and gives us a look at what lies hidden behind it. ..."
But then, so much literary erotica — existentialist-meaningless sex-scenes shot through testosterone-tinted filters:
- Two naked women take photos of each other — "What would you say to some nude shots?"
- A woman disrobes and describes her own reflection — "... Tereza went in to get dressed and stood in front of the large mirror. No, there was nothing monstrous about her body. ..."
- Female characters who are "weak" themselves and "weaken" their partners — "What she meant was: I want you to be weak. As weak as I am."
- Anti-marriage — "... his conjugal sex life was hardly worth mentioning ... he would have rather slept by himself, but the marriage bed is still the symbol of the marriage bond, and symbols, as we know, are inviolable ..."
- Male dominance plus eager female subjugation — "... it was humiliation. But instead of spurning it, she proudly, provocatively played it for all it was worth, as if submitting of her own will to public rape; and suddenly, unable to wait any longer, she pulled Tomas down to the floor. The bowler hat rolled under the table, and they began thrashing about on the rug at the foot of the mirror. ..."
- Mocking of strength and love — "... Not that he lacks sensuality; he simply lacks the strength to give orders. There are things that can be accomplished only by violence. Physical love is unthinkable without violence. ..."
- Fantasy sex with hundreds of willing women, free of commitment and cost — "... When his friends asked him how many women he had had in his life, he would try to evade the question, and when they pressed him further he would say, 'Well, two hundred, give or take a few.' The envious among the accused him of stretching the truth. 'That's not so many,' he said by way of self-defense 'I've been involved with women for about twenty-five years now. Divide two hundred by twenty-five and you'll see it comes to only eight or so new women a year. That's not so many, is it?'..."
- Parenthetical boasts of boyish potency — "... he had grown physically tired (he had one, sometimes two erotic engagements a day), and that although he had not lost his zest for women, he found himself straining his forces to the utmost. (Let me add that the strain was on his physical, not his sexual powers; his problem was with his breath, not with his penis, a state of affairs that had its comical side.) ..."
Does the context of the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia give gravitas to otherwise-pointless prose? Is the disclaimer disingenuous, that the author's characters aren't aspects of himself, real or imaginary? Whence the aside, "... The characters in my novels are my own unrealized possibilities. That is why I am equally fond of them all and equally horrified by them. Each one has crossed a border that I myself have circumvented. ..."?
... <big sigh> ...
^z - 2016-11-23