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Forgetting the Book of Forgetting

October 30, 2009

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
By Milan Kundera

I picked this one up at the beginning of the semester, because when I can’t think of anything to read, I’ll just choose a Kundera novel I haven’t read. This is because I always know what I’m getting with Kundera. I’m going to get some confused, dispossessed middle-aged Czechs who have lots of extramarital sex and are staggered by what communism has done to their psyches but don’t know how to process it. That’s what Kundera always delivers.

Even though it’s basically the same story every time, I keep returning to Kundera because he’s just good. He’s good at this story. He knows it so well and he can write it fluidly, with that persuasive movement that marks his prose. Kundera isn’t tired of these people and he ensures that we don’t either.

He tells us that they are stunted in love:

The absolute quality of love is actually a desire for absolute identification. We want the woman we love to swim as slowly as we do; we want her to have no past of her own to look back on happily. But as soon as the illusion of absolute identity falls apart (the girl looks back happily on her past or picks up speed), love turns into a permanent source of that great torment we call litost.

He’s going to be reflexive:

The reason we write books is that our kids don’t give a damn. We turn to an anonymous world because our wife stops up her ears when we talk to her.

He’s going to remind us that history always counts:

In times when history still moved slowly, events were few and far between and easily committed to memory. They formed a commonly accepted backdrop for thrilling scenes of adventure in private life. Nowadays, history moves at a brisk clip. A historical event, though soon forgotten, sparkles the morning after with the dew of novelty. No longer a backdrop, it is now the adventure itself, an adventure enacted before the backdrop of the commonly accepted banality of private life.

But that’s what we rely on him for. It’s notable that even though I only read this book in September, I can’t tell you any of the characters’ names. I don’t even remember much of what happened to them. Their faces and story lines begin to blur with the other dozen or so Kundera characters I’ve already met. But I don’t mind. I’ve met them all before anyway.

READ IF: Like me, you’ve already gone through Kundera’s better novels (The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Joke) and have some time to kill on a cozy autumn evening.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Stella permalink
    October 17, 2010 3:06 am

    interesting view, love your post, but also love Kundera 😉

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