Monday, June 23, 2014

Reread: The Unbearable Lightness of Being (by Milan Kundera)

Memory Reaction:

I was eager to go back and re-read this book because all I could remember about it was that I felt that reading it would change my life, my perspective on humanity, and my entire relationship to the world. So... no pressure, then.

Reread Reaction:

This is a relatively short, fast read, except that it took me a while to get through it.  I was especially worried at first, because for a while I couldn't figure out why I'd remembered the book being so good and I thought this was going to be a huge letdown. However, the book gets more philosophical as it goes, and I did enjoy the wonderful nuggets of philosophy and the sense of history (post-Prague Spring) that Kundera explores.

The novel is self-consciously metatextual at times (the narrator talks frankly about his characters as created characters, although he does also give them agency and solidity, which is interesting) and not really overly plot-driven, so I think that's why it was a bit of a slow read. It's also got at least one questionable "she secretly wants it in spite of herself" sex scene, so there's that.

So, did it change my life and my philosophy of the world? No, not really. But I did ultimately come away understanding why a younger me might have felt that way, and I still think it's excellent. Especially in quote form. I guess in that sense, the parts for me are greater than the whole.

Previous Reaction:

Yep, there I am talking about it being life-changing, which is a little embarrassing, but apparently I caught the undertone of sexism ten years ago too, so go younger me. The really creepy thing is that as quotable as this novel is, I chose the exact same quote about Anna and the train, so I'm going to use a different one instead.


Human life occurs only once, and the reason we cannot determine which of our decisions are good and which bad is that in a given situation we can make only one decision; we are not granted a second, third, or fourth life in which to compare various decisions... There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself? That is why life is always like a sketch. No, “sketch” is not quite a word, because a sketch is an outline of something, the groundwork for a picture, whereas the sketch that is our life is a sketch for nothing, an outline with no picture. 

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