Commiserating with Devastated Things: Milan Kundera and the Entitlements of Thinking

Commiserating with Devastated Things: Milan Kundera and the Entitlements of Thinking

Commiserating with Devastated Things: Milan Kundera and the Entitlements of Thinking

Commiserating with Devastated Things: Milan Kundera and the Entitlements of Thinking

Synopsis

Commiserating with Devastated Things seeks to understand the place Milan Kundera calls "the universe of the novel." Working through Kundera's oeuvre as well as the continental philosophical tradition, Wirth argues that Kundera transforms--not applies--philosophical reflection within literature.

Reading between Kundera's work and his self-avowed tradition, from Kafka to Hermann Broch, Wirth asks what it might mean to insist that philosophy does not have a monopoly on wisdom, that the novel has its own modes of wisdom that challenge philosophy's.

Excerpt

In Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Sabina and Franz understood different things by the words light and darkness. For Sabina, the enemy of kitsch, light and darkness were the two poles within which seeing was possible. Too much light and one is blinded. Total darkness was the opposite extreme, but some darkness also made seeing possible. This may explain why Sabina was averse to extremism: “extremes mean borders beyond which life ends, and a passion for extremism, in art and politics, is a veiled longing for death” (ulb, 94). Her lover Franz, however, associated the light with its source. Like Plato’s sun outside the cave, it illuminated the true and the good. Beyond the light, however, was not death, but infinity. Darkness was without borders, free of limits. When having sex with Sabina, he left the light on, but closed his eyes and lost himself in the infinite. “That darkness was pure, perfect, thoughtless, visionless; that darkness was without end, without borders” (ulb, 95). Sabina found Franz’s transport to the infinite distasteful, and so she too shut her eyes, but “for her, darkness did not mean infinity; for her it meant disagreement with what she saw, the negation of what was seen, the refusal to see” (ulb, 95).

This is a book by a philosopher about Kundera’s universe of the novel, including his remarkable critical reflections on that universe. It is aware that such an enterprise risks debacle, being like Plato attempting to seduce Sabina. Kundera shuts his eyes in distaste for philosophy’s clumsy and aggressive relationship to truth, to its devotion to the light of certainty and its need for transcendence (an infinite darkness that negates the here and . . .

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