Milan Kundera is perhaps my favourite writer… I know! How could I say such a thing? He’s perhaps not the most famous, but Milan Kundera is a very special writer to me. His style and form, philosophies and rhetoric are the things which inspired me to pick up the pen myself. His novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being is perhaps what he is most famously known for, and it was indeed my first introduction to his work. I was completely mesmerised. It was like nothing I had ever had the pleasure of reading before, it seemed to elude all genre and confinement. A truly magical novel, but above all a true original.
Milan Kundera was born in 1929 to his home country Czechoslovakia, as it was named before it was established the Czech Republic in 1993. Kundera wrote books while living in his home country until he was exiled in 1975 by the Communist regime that was in charge at the time. Kundera’s Czech citizenship was completely revoked by the government in 1979 and he became a naturalised French citizen in 1981. To this day Kundera sees his work as French literature and believes it should be studied as such.
Kundera is a mysterious man, he is now living incognito with very little to do with the media or indeed the literary world, but we still have his novels. He’s known as an avid commentator on the tragedy of totalitarianism and an insightful novelist with a unique approach toward character development. Kundera embodied the ideologies of Nietzsche & Sartre in his incredibly culturally significant literature, and grappled with the “unbearable lightness” of being alive! Here are some of my favourite quotes from Milan Kundera with regards to love, life and the human condition.
Love is the longing for the half of ourselves we have lost.
The traditional romantic notions of love would have us believe that we have only a finite amount of partners. Kundera believes we only pursue the parts of ourselves we no longer possess when exploring our romantic possibilities. It’s as if we believe that people can make us whole again when we find that part of ourselves we thought we had lost. Perhaps different people bring out different individual possibilities for each of us or maybe the traditional notions of love are true: we constantly seek the one who will complete us.
In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia, even the guillotine.
Confusion and disappointment can turn to rage very quickly. The rose tinted spectacles of nostalgia certainly have the propensity to make traditional values and principles romantic. The world around us offers plenty of proof of this notion, the yearning for the prestige and imperialistic values of the British colonialism period can be seen in the Brexit vote, the political ideology of making America great again assumes that America’s secret to greatness lies in the past not the present. The aura of nostalgia is certainly as relevant today as it was to Kundera and the guillotine.
A person who longs to leave the place he lives, is an unhappy person.
Very few are content in the places they live. Kundera was undoubtedly influenced by the existentialists — the likes of Nietzsche and Sartre. The notions of leaving our homes in search of better things ties into the ideology that we lack purpose in our current environment. Something as subtle as moving is perhaps an indication that we are not happy, and that we are in search of better things.
There is no perfection only life.
We only get one life. This phrase is something that Kundera grapples with and embodies in his writing. We all battle with the suffering that comes with being human on a daily basis, perhaps if we understood that perfection is not measurable or necessarily achievable, then we could do what we were born to do: live a life.
A single metaphor can give birth to love.
Love has been explored romantically by poets and novelists alike in many different ways, Kundera included. In fact it’s possible to imagine that Kundera was perhaps not the first to write about love in such a manner. His novels capture the blindness of his characters, the lengths they will go to in order to achieve their own individual and unique perception of love. The naïve and the refined explore the romantic possibilities of the world in stark difference and view love in incomparable ways. Kundera shows us that metaphors are how we explore the world around us especially the romanticised notions of love and life.
And therein lies the whole of man’s plight. Human time does not turn in a circle; it runs ahead in a straight line. That is why man cannot be happy: happiness is the longing for repetition.
We live life once and can never experience the identical circumstances of our life twice. Kundera’s novels are not necessarily about love or totalitarianism, they are a window into the pain of being human. They embody acceptance of the world around us and the philosophies associated with the existential nature of what it means to live on planet earth. Maybe, we can never be happy due to our nature or perhaps we just have to stop pursuing the impossible.
What do you think?
Have any of you read any of Milan Kundera’s works? Let me know if you enjoyed The Unbearable Lightness of Being as much as I did down in the comments. If any other writers spring to mind when reading about these themes. Be sure to share them with us, I’m always intrigued to learn something new!