Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Confessions of a Window Cleaner

The Unbearable Lightness of Being was one of the key books of my adolescence and was much discussed as 'everyone' had read it. I picked it up in the local charity shop thinking I'd read it again someday. Ended up starting to reread it that very day as I finished the book I was reading while out and had no other book to hand. It's interesting to read books that you have almost forgotten and turning pages is like an act of memory as much as discovery. Anyway, to the book iteslf...

"There was a bed in the middle of the room. It was like a platform in the theatre. Tomas ordered her to stand in the corner while he made love to Sabina. The sight of it caused Teresa intolerable suffering."

This partial description of a dream by Teresa, one of the two central characters of this novel sets the scene for the whole book - the performance of man and the suffering of woman - or vice versa. It also encapsulates a problem I had with the book, the feeling that I was reading a self conscious performance. Tomas has a rule for his 'erotic friendships' which he thinks will stop them from becoming more serious entanglements. Kundera proposes a philosophy that, if life only occurs once, it is merely frivolous and not to be taken seriously. Both Tomas and Kundera have a polished line in seduction, but also a continual desire to remove the weight of meaning from their choices. I can't help feeling Kundera's hand slipping down my expensive black lace underwear to skillfully manipulate my (metaphoric) clitoris while attempting to dip his pen in my inkwell, all the while whispering "impromtu fairy tales about" me"or gibberish, words he repeated monotonously, words soothing or comical" into my ear while blowing softly on my lobes. Beethoven's music is playing in the background, 'must it be' transforming into 'it must be'.

Milan Kundera
The book is clearly marked as a meta fiction - "It would be senseless of the author to try and convince the reader that his characters once actually lived. They were not born of a mother's womb; they were born of a stimulating phrase or two or from a basic situation." The characters are opportunities for philosophical musings on the meaning of life, exploration of the Freudian motivations behind how we live, a fugue between the characters where they all circle each other waiting for the earth to drag them down, some finding comfort in the embrace of the earth and others hoping to escape like vapour trails in the sky.

"Human lives" "are composed like music. Guided by his sense of beauty, an individual transforms a fortuitous occurence (Beethoven's music, death under a train) into a motif, which then assumes a permanent place in the composition of the individual's life." This is of course, especially true when the character is really only a motif. The novel takes music as it's prime formal model and ideas and events are repeated with slight changes and in such a way as to challenge previous interpretations. In this way he has also challenged my problems with the book, and has indeed put enough of them into the narrative for me to almost forgive what faults there are.

"It is to be regretted that a portion of our community should be practically in slavery, but to propose to solve the problem by enslaving the entire community is childish. Every man must be left quite free to choose his own work. No form of compulsion must he exercised over him. If there is, his work will not be good for him, will not be good in itself, and will not be good for others. And by work I simply mean activity of any kind." - Oscar Wilde - The Soul of Man Under Socialism

Another element in the book is the Prague Spring and its aftermath, and the interaction between the individual and totalitarianism. The individual can do little and what little they can is really only 'playacting' because there is no effect. One of the only place they can achieve any kind of freedom is by seeking out the bottom of the pile, where life is more unregarded. At this point Carry on Doctor meets The Soul of Man Under Socialism. It is also suggested that life needs to move away from performance to be fulfilling and that performance may be to seduce, to ensure our place in society, to gain political kudos or to fulfill the individuals own sense of 'misson'. It suggests that perhaps there have to be  imperatives if we are to achieve happiness and that love may be that imperative.

And if you can't find love you could use some quotes from this book that can help you to avoid loneliness...

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your review! I added a link to your much more substantive review on my short one: http://www.rosecityreader.com/2013/02/review-unbearable-lightness-of-being.html