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

By Jason M. Wirth | Go to book overview

7
Novel Idiocy

The history of the novel is the novel’s revenge on history itself.

—Kundera, Testaments Betrayed


The Idiot of History

Modernity is a contested tale, told by two different kinds of idiots: the idiot pedant and, as we shall see, a repetition of Iñigo of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, productively transformed by his repetition within the universe of the novel. And who is this other idiot, Ignatius reborn in another universe, giving birth in turn to another modernity? The other idiot is Don Quixote. Kundera: “Indeed, for me, the founder of the Modern Era is not only Descartes but also Cervantes” (AN, 4).

The contrast is immediately striking. Descartes locates his mind, discovers, like Leibniz after him, a reasonable and just God that does not deceive us nor create while on a bender, and when all is said and done Descartes proceeds to use science to appropriate the earth. Don Quixote, in contrast, loses his mind, inhabits a world that suddenly appears even madder than Don Quixote himself, and no one seems to be much in control of anything—certainly not Don Quixote, nor the authorities, the caretakers, the intellectuals, the Church—and presiding over all of this is a God who died laughing at his own creation.

If the oblivion of being is consummated in modernity, then modernity is summed up by the legacy of the idiot pedant. But this is to give philosophy’s account of itself and its universe the first and last word. A radically different type of idiot was already presiding over the Seinsfrage and the turmoil and anxiety of Dasein. Heidegger insists, with increasing drama

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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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