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

By Jason M. Wirth | Go to book overview

1
Tamina at the Border

The moment scatters. Motionless,
I stay and go: I am a pause.

—Octavio Paz1


Giving the Spiders a Rest

In Kundera’s first novel, The Joke, Helena, underway to an affair with Ludvik, convinced herself that she was doing so to avoid crossing a border, a border beyond which her habits of being, her life commitments, would become meaningless. Having an affair with someone you love, despite being a nuptial infidelity, at least remains faithful to the idea of love, an idea that made Helena recognizable to herself. On the other side of the border, a border already operating within her own body, the Sirens called: there is no meaning to bodies coming together; it is just a sick joke, the unbearable lightness of being. Unlike Ivan Karamazov, Helena did not need to collect stories of our cruelty to innocent children and animals to experience the vacuum of a godless universe. Without love to endow the sexual body with meaning, she would “cross the border into the realm of that monstrous freedom where shame, inhibitions, and morals have ceased to exist, that vile, monstrous freedom where everything is permitted, where deep inside all you need to understand is the throb of sex, that beast” (J, 21–22).2

That beast, so unbearably light that it makes all human affairs suddenly float like feathers (everything is permitted, nothing has gravity), haunts the border of meaning itself, but it does so in such a way that it ceases to be merely an academic problem. Ludvik, his revenge absurdly foiled, suddenly “felt the oppressive lightness of the void that lay over my life”

-1-

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Abbreviations xv
  • 1 - Tamina at the Border 1
  • 2 - Caught Looking the Universe of the Novel 30
  • 3 - Laughter 48
  • 4 - Dogs and History 73
  • 5 - Kitsch 101
  • 6 - Idiocy on the Verge of the Novel 131
  • 7 - Novel Idiocy 163
  • Notes 187
  • Bibliography 211
  • Index 223
  • Perspectives in Continental Philosophy 229
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