Tag Archives: Kundera

The Joke;

I am currently reading another book by Kundera, which gives a satirical account of totalitarianism in the Communist era- and I realized that it is in some senses a personal biography as well:

From W: Kundera was born in 1929 into a middle class family. His father, Ludvík Kundera (1891-1971), once a pupil of the composer Leoš Janáček, was an important Czech musicologist and pianist who served as the head of the Janáček Music Academy in Brno from 1948 to 1961. Milan learned to play the piano from his father, later going on to study musicology and musical composition. Musicological influences and references can be found throughout his work; he has even gone so far as including notes in the text to make a point.

Kundera belonged to the generation of young Czechs who had had little or no experience of the pre-war democratic Czechoslovak Republic. Their ideology was greatly influenced by the experiences of World War II and the German occupation. Still in his teens, Kundera joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia which seized power in 1948.

Kundera completed his secondary school studies in Brno in 1948. He studied literature and aesthetics at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague. After two terms, he transferred to the Film Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, where he first attended lectures in film direction and script writing. In 1950, his studies were briefly interrupted by political interference.

In 1950, he and another writer, Jan Trefulka, were expelled from the party for “anti-party activities”. Trefulka described the incident in his novella Pršelo jim štěstí (Happiness Rained On Them, 1962). Kundera also used the incident as an inspiration for the main theme of his novel Žert (The Joke, 1967).

After graduating in 1952, the Film Faculty appointed him a lecturer in world literature. In 1956 Milan Kundera was readmitted into the Party. He was expelled for the second time in 1970. Kundera, along with other reform communist writers such as Pavel Kohout, were partly involved in the 1968 Prague Spring. This brief period of reformist activities was crushed by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968.

Kundera remained committed to reforming Czech communism, and argued vehemently in print with fellow Czech writer Václav Havel, saying, essentially, that everyone should remain calm and that “nobody is being locked up for his opinions yet”, and “the significance of the Prague Autumn may ultimately be greater than that of the Prague Spring”. Finally, however, Kundera relinquished his reformist dreams and moved to France in 1975. He taught for a few years in the University of Rennes. He has been a French citizen since 1981.

Will share more about the book soon.

The Joke/Synopsis: The novel takes place during the Czechoslavian transition into a Communist country.

The novel is composed of many jokes which hold strong effect on the characters. The story is told in the four viewpoints of Ludvik Jahn, Helena Zemanek, Kostka, and Jaroslav. Jaroslav’s joke is the transition away from his coveted Moravian folk lifestyle and appreciation. Kostka, who has separated himself from the party due to his Christianity, serves as a counterpoint to Ludvik. Helena serves as Ludvik’s victim and is satirical of the seriousness of party supporters. Ludvik demonstrates the shortcomings of the party and propels the plot in his search for revenge and redemption.

Written and set in 1965 Prague and first published in Czechoslovakia in 1967, the novel opens with Ludvik Jahn looking back on the joke that changed his life in the early 1950s. Ludvik was a dashing, witty, and popular student who supported the Party. Like most of his friends he was an enthusiastic supporter of the still-fresh Communist regime in post-World War II Czechoslovakia. In a playful mood he writes a postcard to one of the girls in his class during their summer break. Since she seems, according to Ludvik, to be a bit too serious he writes on the postcard “Optimism is the opium of the people! A healthy atmosphere stinks of stupidity! Long live Trotsky!” His colleagues and fellow young-party leaders did not quite see the humor in the sentiment expressed in the postcard. Ludvik finds himself expelled from the party and college and drafted to that part of the Czech military where alleged subversives form work brigades and spend the next few years working in mines.

Despite the interruption in his career Ludvik has become a successful scientist. But despite his success, his treatment at the hands of his former friends has left him bitter and angry. An opportunity arises when he meets Helena, who is married to Pavel Zemanek, the friend who led the efforts to purge Ludvik from the party. Ludvik decides to seduce Helena as a means of exacting his revenge. In essence this is the second `joke’ of the novel. Although the seduction is successful things do not quite play out the way Ludvik expects, the novel’s third joke’ and he is left once more to sit and think bitter thoughts. Ultimately he decides that these sorts of jokes and their bitter repercussions are not the fault of the humans who set them in motion but are really just a matter of historic inevitability. Ultimately then one cannot blame forces that cannot be changed or altered.

I have started on the first few chapters and already it is stunningly well written. It has been pure sweet temptation tearing myself away from the book to do something else- and do something else I must.

Sometimes I find myself trembling a little in the train when reading Kundera. It seems as though his books are one long treatise, each book slowly revealing a portion or hidden secret of a thought. They are somehow connected, like characters in a Cirque du Soleil performance, in mysterious, solemn ways. Then when I look up suddenly, I realize it is my train stop. These times spent in solitary reading, are some of my favourite times in the day. I think I am the sort of person who often craves for quiet time away, yet cannot bear to be away from a social crowd. But how wonderfully Kundera writes about the different faces of his protagonist!

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Laughable Loves

Rather depressed and lonely tonight, there haven’t been pictures uploaded lately, as haven’t felt in the mood for that.

 I feel more ancillary as the days go by. Wishing something could happen to whisk the current state away of longing.

When you miss someone but that someone has forgotten about you.

When reading Kundera, I often feel like the other character, the ancillary person, who is evoked to made a point, whom is tested on like a social experiment to effect the point of the certain professor. I’ve practically finished the whole of Laughable Loves, and when I finished the book I stared into the air blankly for a period…and then suddenly broke down into a long cry. I don’t know why it happened, maybe it has been due for some time.

On another note, the cat has grown independent and does not want to be cuddled any more.

I read this passage from Kundera which I loved :

She experienced this same anxiety even in her relations with the young man, whom she had known for a year and with whom she was happy, perhaps because he never separated her body from her soul, and she could live with him wholly. In this unity there was happiness, but it is not far from happiness to suspicion, and the girl was full of suspicions. For instance, it often occurred to her that other women (those who weren’t anxious) were more attractive and more seductive, and he knew this kind of woman well, would someday leave her for a woman like that. (True, the young man declared that he’d had enough of them to last his whole life, but she knew that he was still much younger than he thought). She wanted him to be completely hers and herself to be completely his, but it often seemed to her that the more she tried to give him everything, the more she denied him something: the very thing that a light and superficial love or a flirtation gives a person. It worried her that she was not able to combine seriousness with lightheartedness.

Another one:

Why in fact should one tell the truth? What obliges us to do it? And why do we consider telling the truth to be a virtue? Imagine that you meet a madman, who claims that he is a fish and that we are all fish. Are you going to argue with him? Are you going to undress in front of him and show him that you don’t have fins?

If you told him the whole truth and nothing but the truth, only what you really thought, you would enter into a serious conversation with a madman and you yourself would become mad. And it is the same way with the world that surrounds us. If I obstinately told the truth to its face, it would mean that I was taking it seriously. And to take seriously something so unserious means to lose all one’s own seriousness. I have to lie, if I don’t want to take madmen seriously and become a manman myself.

But in truth I am taking these out of context, it is better you pick up Kundera’s Laughable Loves– a truly remarkable book, although a tad disturbing and the stories encircle your daily consciousness long after you have read it…and submerge into your daily conversations… like a lost pin at the bottom of the ocean which is indecipherable but you know it is lingering there, waiting to prick you and leave you wanting.

The first story Nobody will Laugh was particularly my favourite…has the aura of the song…(was it the Beatles?) I Started a Joke…and started the whole world crying…

I’ve never read The Great Gatsby, though loved the movie. It reminded me in the strangest of ways to Philadelphia (and yes, made me depressed that it was haute couture after all, Katherine Hepburn in haute couture!) and I’m in a sudden mood to read every single novel that F Scott Fitzgerald has ever written.

Nicole was the product of much ingenuity and toil. For her sake trains began their run at Chicago and traversed round the belly of the continent to California; chicle factories fumed and link belts grew link by link in factories; men mixed toothpaste in vats and drew mouthwash out of copper hogsheads; girls canned tomatoes quickly in August or worked rudely at the Five-and-Tens on Christmas Eve; half-breed Indians toiled on Brazilian coffee plantations and dreamers were muscled out of patent rights in new tractors – these were some of the people who gave a tithe to Nicole, and as the whole system swayed and thundered onward it lent a feverish bloom to tuch processes of hers as wholesale buying, like the flush of a fireman’s face holding his post before a spreading blaze.

I want images, I want fancy, I want to escape in a book and not come back for the moment. But every ten pages, I read a line of Schweser – see, my cat is now poised over the page which discusses the relationship of coupon rates to duration- she always sits over the blackest of pages, and becomes a little blacker herself.

I feel a little better writing all these, although my thoughts have scarcely formed words.