September 25, 2011

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

DSC_0016DSC_0015 I finished my three hundred and seven page novel in one sitting yesterday, and it was truly one of the most outstanding pieces of literature I think I have ever read (no exaggeration here). It was Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I have intended to read for quite some time now, however I always shied away from it. This was probably a result of the many reviews which highly commended Kundera's work, which, despite being flattering, made me believe that the novel was going to be a complex read. You see, I very rarely find myself in philosophical reading moods when I'm in the middle of university due to the fact that I generally always have several volumes of intense reading to do already. However I found Kundera's writing far from convoluted. Despite being highly philosophical (the book essentially challenges Nietzche's concept of eternal recurrence), his writing was poised, succint and thorough throughout the whole book. Kundera begs the reader to consider the essential dichotomy of life, which reflected in the title of the novel, is the paradox between light and weight. Furthermore, he links this with the very essence of men (light) and women (weight). They exist as separate entities, but both are a necessary element for existence and they are both forever complimenting each other.
The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man's body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life's most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?
Kundera establishes an intricate set of events through the eyes of four starkly different, however intertwined characters that both question the fundamental nature of the human condition however also a historical perspective of the Russian invasion into Kundera's home country the Czech Republic. I saw a lot of myself in both the two female leads, which represent both weight and light respectively. Tereza, who is the prime example of weight, has several insecurities that are almost identical to my own. She is idealistic, and thinks concisely in black and white. She holds an obsession with being different and not fading into the distance, if only it was a simple act of holding a book under her arm. She finds weight in her work and in being an intellectual. She holds a fear of simply just being another body, which is amplified by Tomas' continuous infidelities.
She had come to him to make her body unique, irreplaceable. But he, too, had drawn an equal sign between her and the rest of them: he kissed them all alike, stroked them all alike, made no, absolutely no distinction between Tereza’s body and the other bodies. He had sent her back into the world she tried to escape, sent her to march naked with the other naked women
On the other hand, Sabina is the prime female example of light through her obsession with rebellion and disobedience. She is light as a result of her profound satisfaction in the act of betrayal.
Betrayal. From tender youth we are told by father and teacher that betrayal is the most heinous offense imaginable. But what is betrayal? Betrayal means breaking ranks. Betrayal means breaking ranks and going off into the unknown. Sabina knew of nothing more magnificent than going off into the unknown
Tomas is clearly the hero of the quartet, despite being a womanizer. He is the archetypal example of light as he separates love and sex into two unrelated entities- something that Tereza cannot do- whilst loving Tereza, has sex with several other woman at the same time. He is by no means a romantic idealist, and doesn't really change too much within the novel. I was incredibly attracted to Tomas' lightness throughout the novel and his cynicism towards the perfect ideals of politics and romantic love.
Making love with a woman and sleeping with a woman are two separate passions, not merely different but opposite. Love does not make itself felt in the desire for copulation (a desire that extends to an infinite number of women) but in the desire for shared sleep (a desire limited to one woman).
And the last of the characters is Franz. I disliked his character the most, he was obsessed with weight and incapable of lightness. In all honesty, I found him a rather conservative and pathetic character. All the characters compliment each other on their need for their opposites. Tomas needs Tereza's weight, and conversely Tereza needs the lightness of Tomas. Sabina and Tomas are drawn together by their lightness, however their relationship is nothing more than a physical meaningless one. All in all, The Unbearable Lightness of Being was a wonderfully elegant read about irreconcilable love and difference within the nature of being.

This is probably the longest review that I've written in quite some time, and probably haven't perfected it as much as my writings back in the day (you see, I would very much like to go back into the pool right about now because it is the middle of the afternoon and the sun is heating up). I'm going home tomorrow evening and will be back in Perth early Tuesday morning. I've heard it's cold and rainy there.

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