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Kundera brilliantly examines the work of such important and diverse figures as Rabelais, Cervantes, Sterne, Diderot, Flaubert, Tolstoy, and Musil. He is especially penetrating on Hermann Broch, and his exploration of the world of Kafka's novels vividly reveals the comic terror of Kafka's bureaucratized universe. Kundera's discussion of his own work includes his views on the Kundera brilliantly examines the work of such important and diverse figures as Rabelais, Cervantes, Sterne, Diderot, Flaubert, Tolstoy, and Musil. He is especially penetrating on Hermann Broch, and his exploration of the world of Kafka's novels vividly reveals the comic terror of Kafka's bureaucratized universe. Kundera's discussion of his own work includes his views on the role of historical events in fiction, the meaning of action, and the creation of character in the post-psychological novel.


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Kundera brilliantly examines the work of such important and diverse figures as Rabelais, Cervantes, Sterne, Diderot, Flaubert, Tolstoy, and Musil. He is especially penetrating on Hermann Broch, and his exploration of the world of Kafka's novels vividly reveals the comic terror of Kafka's bureaucratized universe. Kundera's discussion of his own work includes his views on the Kundera brilliantly examines the work of such important and diverse figures as Rabelais, Cervantes, Sterne, Diderot, Flaubert, Tolstoy, and Musil. He is especially penetrating on Hermann Broch, and his exploration of the world of Kafka's novels vividly reveals the comic terror of Kafka's bureaucratized universe. Kundera's discussion of his own work includes his views on the role of historical events in fiction, the meaning of action, and the creation of character in the post-psychological novel.

30 review for The Art of the Novel

  1. 5 out of 5

    Glenn Russell

    NOVEL. The great prose form in which an author thoroughly explores, by means of experimental selves (characters), some great themes of existence. LETTERS. They are getting smaller and smaller in books these days. I imagine the death of literature; bit by bit, without anyone noticing, the type shrinks until it becomes utterly invisible. The above two quotes convey the richness and creamy depth along with the playfulness a reader will encounter in this book by one of the giants of modern literature, NOVEL. The great prose form in which an author thoroughly explores, by means of experimental selves (characters), some great themes of existence. LETTERS. They are getting smaller and smaller in books these days. I imagine the death of literature; bit by bit, without anyone noticing, the type shrinks until it becomes utterly invisible. The above two quotes convey the richness and creamy depth along with the playfulness a reader will encounter in this book by one of the giants of modern literature, Czech-born Milan Kundera. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t imagine a collection of essays containing more gems of wisdom on each and every page. And since Mr. Kundera consistently composes his works in a seven part structure to accord with his own artistic, literary and musical sensibilities, I think it only fair that I list seven quotes, one from each of his seven parts, and make my modest comments accordingly. Part One – The Depreciated Legacy of Cervantes “To take, with Cervantes, the world as ambiguity, to be obliged to face not a single absolute truth but a welter of contradictory truths (truths embodied in imaginary selves called characters), to have as one’s only certainty the wisdom of uncertainty, requires no less courage.” ---------- I recall a lecturer on The Platonic Tradition accusing non-Platonists of being nihilistic skeptics and relativists for denying there is a truth as well as thinking how even if there was a truth it couldn’t be known, and even if it could be known, it couldn’t be communicated. Contrary to this accusation, Mr. Kundera outlines with flair and in some detail how the wisdom of the novel transcends the overly simplified binary categories of good/evil, either/or, black/white in dogmatic discourse. Part Two – Dialogue on the Art of the Novel “I’m too fearful of the professors for whom art is only a derivative of philosophical and theoretical trends. The novel dealt with the unconscious before Freud, the class struggle before Marx, it practiced phenomenology (the investigation of the essence of human situations) before the phenomenologists.” ---------- Mr. Kundera underscores how his novels and the great novels of other writers are not philosophy per se; rather, any ideas or philosophy arises from the specific existential situation of characters. Part Three – Notes Inspired by “The Sleepwalkers" “The world is the process of disintegration of values (values handed down from the Middle Ages), a process that stretches over the four centuries of the Modern Era and is their very essence.” ---------- This is a most intriguing section where the author analyzes the historical and cultural context of the various possibilities of freedom we face and how novelist Hermann Broch outlines three such possibilities in his great work. Part Four – Dialogue on the Art of Composition “Let me return to the comparison between the novel and music. A part is a movement. The chapters are measures. These measures may be short or long or quite variable in length. Which brings me to the issue of tempo. Each of the parts in my novels could carry a musical indication: moderato, presto, adagio, and so on.” ---------- We are told how the author was drawn more to music than to literature up to the age of twenty-five. Much of this section delves into some detail in comparing the structure of music with the structures of his novels, enough philosophic material here to keep both musicians and non-musicians ruminating for quite some time. Part Five – Somewhere Behind “There are periods of modern history when life resembles the novels of Kafka.” ---------- The author relates some of his own experience and stories living in Prague under a totalitarian regime. One story is about a mother of a one-year old baby boy who was unjustly imprisoned by the government. Years go by and the mother is released from prison. Then, some years after her release, the author visits the mother in her apartment. He watches as the mother dissolves in tears, waling and heaving, upset at her now twenty-five-year-old son over some minor matter like oversleeping. The author watches all this in shock; he see how the mother has taken the place of the totalitarian state and the son, like many of Kafka’s characters, accepts his guilt. Part Six – Sixty-three Words “IDEAS. My disgust for those who reduce a work to its ideas. My revulsion at being dragged into what they call “discussions of ideas.” My despair at this era befogged with ideas and indifferent to works.” ---------- At another point in the section, he says how novelists who think they are larger than their novels should get another job. Love his frankness! Part Seven – Jerusalem Address: The Novel and Europe “No peace is possible between the novelist and the agelaste. Never having heard God’s laughter, the agelasts are convinced the truth is obvious, that all men necessarily think the same thing, and that they themselves are exactly what they think they are.” ---------- The agelaste is a man or woman who does not laugh, who has no sense of humor. You know the type – and they hate literary novels like the ones written by Milan Kundera.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    I just came across a website called Theregoesanother25minutesyoullnevergetback.com and it has a whole new attitude to literary criticism which I for one think is long overdue. They have the following eye-catching picture sections: Can you recognize these overweight authors? Wait till you see what these Shakespearian heroines look like now Number 17 is jawdropping 15 transgender characters from Dostoyevsky no one knew about Youll never recognize these formerly hot Henry James male protagonists 15 I just came across a website called Theregoesanother25minutesyou’llnevergetback.com and it has a whole new attitude to literary criticism which I for one think is long overdue. They have the following eye-catching picture sections: Can you recognize these overweight authors? Wait till you see what these Shakespearian heroines look like now – Number 17 is jawdropping 15 transgender characters from Dostoyevsky no one knew about You’ll never recognize these formerly hot Henry James male protagonists 15 characters in the novels of the Brontes who died before the age of 11 What Cathy Earnshaw looks like now is insane Rare childhood photos of the Sherlock Holmes family that will make your flesh crawl Groundbreaking laser eye surgery which is sweeping English literature Your favourite characters from Beowulf – where are they now? If only my undergraduate studies had been enlivened by such fascinating material. Kids these days, they don’t know they’re born.

  3. 4 out of 5

    P.E.

    A collection of essays, interviews and speeches, with 69 definitions and notes tagging along. "alas, the novel too is assailed by the termites of depreciation that not only depreciate the meaning of the world but also the meaning of art works. The novel (like any cultural item) is increasingly in the hands of the media ; those, being the agents of uniformization of world history, strenghten and go along with the process of depreciation ; they spread the same oversimplifications and hackneyed A collection of essays, interviews and speeches, with 69 definitions and notes tagging along. "alas, the novel too is assailed by the termites of depreciation that not only depreciate the meaning of the world but also the meaning of art works. The novel (like any cultural item) is increasingly in the hands of the media ; those, being the agents of uniformization of world history, strenghten and go along with the process of depreciation ; they spread the same oversimplifications and hackneyed ideas likely to be accepted by the greatest many, by all people. And it is of little import whether various political leanings appear in their various organs. Behind this makebelief difference the same rules apply. You only have to leaf through American or European weekly political papers, both from left wing and right wing. They all share the same worldview, mirrored by their common layout, their common topics, their common writing style, their common vocabulary, their common artistic tastes, their common hierarchy as to what is important and what is not. This common spirit of mass media in the guise of political diversity is the spirit of our times. To me, this spirit seems contrary to that of the novel. The spirit of the novel is the spirit of complexity. Each novel tells to its readers : "Things are more complex than you suppose." This is the evergreen truth of the novel, each time less perceptible in the racket of quick, simple-minded answers bypassing the question and excluding it. According to the spirit of our times, this is either Anna or Karenina who is right, and the old wiseness of Cervantes telling us about how hard it is to know looks cumbersome and useless." ----------------- Une compilation d'essais, d'entretiens et discours, de 69 définitions et de notes. " hélas, le roman est, lui aussi, travaillé par les termites de la réduction qui ne réduisent pas seulement le sens du monde mais aussi le sens des œuvres. Le roman (comme toute la culture) se trouve de plus en plus dans les mains des médias ; ceux-ci, étant agents de l'unification de l'histoire planétaire, amplifient et canalisent le processus de réduction ; ils distribuent dans le monde entier les mêmes simplifications et clichés susceptibles d'être acceptés par le plus grand nombre, par tous, par l'humanité entière. Et il importe peu que dans leurs différents organes les différents intérêts politiques se manifestent. Derrière cette différence de surface règne un esprit commun. Il suffit de feuilleter les hebdomadaires politiques américains ou européens, ceux de la gauche comme de la droite, du Time au Spiegel ; ils possèdent tous la même vision de la vie qui se reflète dans le même ordre selon lequel leur sommaire est composé, dans les mêmes rubriques, les mêmes formes journalistiques, dans le même vocabulaire et le même style, dans les mêmes goûts artistiques et dans la même hiérarchie de ce qu'ils trouvent importants et de ce qu'ils trouvent insignifiants. Cet esprit commun des mass media dissimulé derrière leur diversité politique, c'est l'esprit de notre temps. Cet esprit me semble contraire à celui du roman. L'esprit du roman est l'esprit de complexité. Chaque roman dit au lecteur : « Les choses sont plus compliquées que tu ne le penses. » C'est la vérité éternelle du roman mais qui se fait de moins en moins entendre dans le vacarme des réponses simples et rapides qui précèdent la question et l'excluent. Pour l'esprit de notre temps, c'est ou bien Anna ou bien Karénine qui a raison, et la vieille sagesse de Cervantes qui nous parle de la difficulté de savoir et de l'insaisissable vérité paraît encombrante et inutile. " - L'art du roman (1986), Editions Gallimard, Folio pp. 29-30.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ahmad Sharabiani

    L'art du roman = The Art of the Novel, Milan Kundera Kundera brilliantly examines the work of such important and diverse figures as: Rabelais, Cervantes, Sterne, Diderot, Flaubert, Tolstoy, and Musil. He is especially penetrating on Hermann Broch, and his exploration of the world of Kafka's novels vividly reveals the comic terror of Kafka's bureaucratized universe. Kundera's discussion of his own work includes his views on the role of historical events in fiction, the meaning of action, and the L'art du roman = The Art of the Novel, Milan Kundera Kundera brilliantly examines the work of such important and diverse figures as: Rabelais, Cervantes, Sterne, Diderot, Flaubert, Tolstoy, and Musil. He is especially penetrating on Hermann Broch, and his exploration of the world of Kafka's novels vividly reveals the comic terror of Kafka's bureaucratized universe. Kundera's discussion of his own work includes his views on the role of historical events in fiction, the meaning of action, and the creation of character in the post-psychological novel. تاریخ نخستین خوانش: هشتم ماه سپتامبر سال 1992 میلادی عنوان: هنر رمان؛ نویسنده: میلان کوندرا؛ مترجم: پرویز همایون پور؛ تهران، گفتار، 1367؛ در در بیست و سه و 246 ص؛ مصور؛ کتابنامه بصورت زیر نویس؛ ویرایش دوم 1368؛ در سی و پنج و 286 ص؛ چاپ چهارم 1377؛ شابک: 9645570441؛ چاپ پنجم 1380؛ چاپ دیگر: تهران، قطره، 1383؛ در 288 ص؛ چاپ هفتم 1386؛ شابک: 9788643412180؛ چاپ نهم 1391؛ چاپ دهم 1393؛ موضوع: داستان نویسی ، قرن 20 م دو مقدمه هست از مترجم، و یک مقدمه از نویسنده، سپس بجای چهار فصل سال به تعداد روزهای هفته هفت فصل دارد: 1) «میراث بیقدر شده ی سروانتس». 2) «گفتگو در باره هنر رمان». 3) «یادداشتهایی ملهم از خوابگردها»، 4) گفتگو در باره هنر ترکیب رمان». 5) «جایی در آن پس و پشت ها». 6) «هفتادودو کلمه». 7) رمان اروپا. ا. شربیانی

  5. 4 out of 5

    Emily Rapp

    Kundera is able to talk about the structure of his novel in a way that is both profound and accessible to writers of any ilk. I especially like his attitudes (negative!) toward the mass-production of "market books" which he compares to another form of celebrity culture encroaching on the literary world. His comparisons of novelistic "movements" to those in music are especially profound. The best thing about this book: Kundera's idea that novels are in fact an inquiry into a facet of human Kundera is able to talk about the structure of his novel in a way that is both profound and accessible to writers of any ilk. I especially like his attitudes (negative!) toward the mass-production of "market books" which he compares to another form of celebrity culture encroaching on the literary world. His comparisons of novelistic "movements" to those in music are especially profound. The best thing about this book: Kundera's idea that novels are in fact an inquiry into a facet of human existence at a deep and profound level. The novel DISCOVERS something new, probing both the psychology of "imaginary selves" (Characters) and how their actions speak to larger issues of our time. Some great analysis of Kafka. If you want to understand why you hate chic lit, read this book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    I first read this book in the early 90s. Recently I was in a spirited conversation about Boccaccio's Decameron. One friend said that the stories were "enjoyable, but ultimately empty." Now my friend is a smart guy, but his remark struck me as remarkably stupid. It just proved that he didn't "get it." The Decameron is full of laughter you can almost argue that it is constructed for laughter, and laughter in the history of the novel is a value of its own. Mocking wit, a refusal of piety and I first read this book in the early 90s. Recently I was in a spirited conversation about Boccaccio's Decameron. One friend said that the stories were "enjoyable, but ultimately empty." Now my friend is a smart guy, but his remark struck me as remarkably stupid. It just proved that he didn't "get it." The Decameron is full of laughter – you can almost argue that it is constructed for laughter, and laughter in the history of the novel is a value of its own. Mocking wit, a refusal of piety and platitude, is intrinsic to the craft. And thus I remembered Kundera. The chapters in The Art of the Novel advert to Kundera's heroes: Rabelais, Cervantes, Sterne and Diderot. Speaking of Don Quixote, he observersAt the time, novels and readers had not yet signed the verisimilitude pact. They were not looking to simulate reality; they were looking to amuse, amaze, astonish, enchant. They were playful, and therein lay their virtuosity.In the final chapter, speaking of Gargantua and Pantagruel, he insistsThe novel is born not of the theoretical spirit but of the spirit of humor… The art inspired by God's laughter does not by nature serve ideological certitudes, it contradicts them. Like Penelope, it undoes each night the tapestry that the theologians, philosophers, and learned men have woven the day before.I've been convinced of this perspective ever since I first read Slaughterhouse-Five as a teenager. Humor, however black, is (for me) the best, wisest, truest response of the artist to the horror of the world. Last year I reread Metamorphosis and was astonished by how wickedly funny it was. Kundera is excellent on Kafka, Broch and Gombrowicz, and eloquent in his conviction that "The sole raison d'être of a novel is to discover what only the novel can discover. A novel that does not discover a hitherto unknown segment of existence is immoral."

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sidharth Vardhan

    Got like 7500+ words in quotes I collected only. Can't share full review because of limits imposed by goodreads. This gonna be too big a long review. Chapter 1 The Depriciated Legacy of Cervantes Milan Kundera draws a rough and brief sketch of history of novel. Kundera insists that the novels should do what only novels can do. Can novels die? It has already happened "About half a century ago the history of the novel came to a halt in the empire of Russian Communism. That is an event of huge Got like 7500+ words in quotes I collected only. Can't share full review because of limits imposed by goodreads. This gonna be too big a long review. Chapter 1 The Depriciated Legacy of Cervantes Milan Kundera draws a rough and brief sketch of history of novel. Kundera insists that the novels should do what only novels can do. Can novels die? It has already happened "About half a century ago the history of the novel came to a halt in the empire of Russian Communism. That is an event of huge importance, given the greatness of the Russian novel from Gogol to Bely. Thus the death of the novel is not just a fanciful idea. It has already happened. And we now know how the novel dies: it's not that it disappears; it falls away from its history. Its death occurs quietly, unnoticed, and no one is outraged." But it is not because the novels are useless "If the novel should really disappear, it will do so not because it has exhausted its powers but because it exists in a world grown alien to it." The novels published in Soviet Russia are inconseqential: "By discovering nothing, they fail to participate in the sequence of discoveries that for me constitutes the history of the novel; they place themselves outside that history, or, if you like: they are novels that come after the history of the novel." Chapter 2 A Dialogue on the art of novel Kundera here argues two adjectives - 'Psychological' and 'philosphical' can not be used for his novels. To be honest, as much as I understand his desire to avoid such labels - Nabhokov didn't like them either; Atwood doesn't like being feminist. I think most great authors won't have been fans of these labels. Such labels seem to arise of critics' analysing the books. Kundera also debunks several misconceptions on the rules-of-thumb regarding how novels should be written - including psychological realism. Kundera appreciates it (it is defining quality of most of what I love in books) in that excessive importance given to it can be really limiting to what novels can do. He is more critical of 'so-called modern novels' of 21 st century and writing novels that are too historical. "Historiography writes the history of society, not of man. That is why the historical events my novels talk about are often forgotten by historiography. Example: In the years that followed the 1968 Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, the reign of terror against the public was preceded by officially organized massacres of dogs. An episode totally forgotten and without importance for a historian, for a political scientist, but of the utmost anthropological significance! By this one episode alone I suggested the historical climate of The Farewell Party." Part 3 Notes Inspired by "The Sleepwalkers" Gonna have to read that book. Most underrated of all great novels of last century according to Kundera. "All great works (precisely because they are great) contain something unachieved. Broch is an inspiration to us not only because of what he brought off but also because of what he aimed for and missed." "The unachieved in his work can show us the need for (1) a new art of radical divestment (which can encompass the complexity of existence in the modern world without losing architectonic clarity); (2) a new art of novelistic counterpoint (which can blend philosophy narrative, and dream into one music); (3) a new art of the specifically novelistic essay (which does not claim to bear an apodictic message but remains hypothetical, playful, or ironic)" Part 4 The Art of Composition Another interview. First of all, the novel is like music which should have "Harsh juxtapositions instead of transitions, repetition instead of variation, and always head straight for the heart of things: only the note that says something essential has the right to exist. Roughly the same idea applies to the novel: it too is weighed down by "technique," by the conventions that do the author's work for him: present a character, describe a milieu, bring the action into a historical situation, fill time in the characters' lives with superfluous episodes; each shift of scene calls for new exposition, description, explanation. My own imperative is "Janacekian": to rid the novel of the automatism of novelistic technique, of novelistic verbalism; to make it dense." If you have read his books, you probably have noticed that his writings do try to cut to the main point. To make your work longer is so 19the century according to Kundera. And then, here is something I hear a lot myself "Show, not tell". Kundera often speaks himself in his books, Rushdi does it too and I can understand why they should do so - the trouble is showing makes books bigger than they need be and "Even if I'm the one speaking, my reflections are connected to a character. I want to think his attitudes, his way of seeing things, in his stead and more deeply than he could do it himself." And last, Kundera would have considered 'Games of thrones' and most of netflix series a farce. "C.S.: What does the word "farce" mean to you? M.K.: A form that puts enormous stress on plot, with its whole machinery of unforeseen and exaggerated coincidences." Part 5 Somewhere Else "When Kafka read the first chapter of The Trial to his friends, everyone laughed, including the author" Kundera discusses the meaning of word 'Kafesque'. This is best analysis I have found on Kafka even better than one provided by Camus in 'Myth of Sysphyus'. But then Kundera had the added advantage of having lived in Czech Republic which was highly Kafesque. One quality of Kafesque is ability of powerful to make the punished feel guilty "One day, Amalia receives an obscene letter from a Castle official. Outraged, she tears it up. The Castle doesn't even need to criticize Amalia's rash behavior. Fear (the same fear our engineer saw in his secretary's eyes) acts all by itself. With no order, no perceptible sign from the Castle, everyone avoids Amalia's family like the plague. Amalia's father tries to defend his family. But there is a problem: Not only is the source of the verdict impossible to find, but the verdict itself does not exist! To appeal, to request a pardon, you have to be convicted first! The father begs the Castle to proclaim the crime. So it's not enough to say that the punishment seeks the offense. In this pseudotheological world, the punished beg for recognition of their guilt!." And the humor: "The comic is inseparable from the very essence of the Kafkan" .... "But it's small comfort to the engineer to know that his story is comic. He is trapped in the joke of his own life like a fish in a bowl; he doesn't find it funny. Indeed, a joke is a joke only if you're outside the bowl; by contrast, the Kafkan takes us inside, into the guts of a joke, into the horror of the comic." Which worsens the tragedy: "the tragic more bearable by lightening the tone; it doesn't accompany the tragic, not at all, it destroys it in the egg and thus deprives the victims of the only consolation they could hope for: the consolation to be found in the (real or supposed) grandeur of tragedy." There is a loss of solitude and privacy: "The Land-Surveyor K. is not in the least pursuing people and their warmth, he is not trying to become "a man among men" like Sartre's Orestes; he wants acceptance not from a community but from an institution. To have it, he must pay dearly: he must renounce his solitude. And this is his hell: he is never alone, the two assistants sent by the Castle follow him always. When he first makes love with Frieda, the two men are there, sitting on the cafe counter over the lovers, and from then on they are never absent from their bed. Not the curse of solitude but the violation of solitude is Kafka's obsession!" USSR was heavily Kafesque in all these ways. But "Kafka made no prophecies. All he did was see what was "behind." He did not know that his seeing was also a fore-seeing. He did not intend to unmask a social system. He shed light on the mechanisms he knew from private and microsocial human practice, not suspecting that later developments would put those mechanisms into action on the great stage of History." Chapter 6 Sixty-three words "I once left a publisher for the sole reason that he tried to change my semicolons to periods." A dictionary Kundera created to help his translators. "Obscenity. We can use obscene words in a foreign language, but they are not heard as such. An obscenity pronounced with an accent becomes comical. The difficulty of being obscene with a foreign woman. Obscenity: the root that attaches us most deeply to our homeland." "Opus. The excellent custom of composers. They give opus numbers only to works they see as "valid." They do not number works written in their immature period, or occasional pieces, or technical exercises." "Vulgarity: the humiliating submission of the soul to the rule of the down-below. The novel first undertook the immense theme of vulgarity in Joyce's Ulysses." "Kitsch. Unknown in France, or known only in a very impoverished sense. In the French version of Hermann Broch's celebrated essay, the word "kitsch" is translated as "junk art" (art de pacotille). A misinterpretation, for Broch demonstrates that kitsch is something other than simply a work in poor taste. There is a kitsch attitude. Kitsch behavior. The kitsch-man's (Kitschmensch) need for kitsch: it is the need to gaze into the mirror of the beautifying lie and to be moved to tears of gratification at one's own reflection." "Misomusist. To be without a feeling for art is no disaster. A person can live in peace without reading Proust or listening to Schubert. But the misomusist does not live in peace. He feels humiliated by the existence of something that is beyond him, and he hates it. There is a popular misomusy just as there is a popular anti-Semitism. The fascist and Communist regimes made use of it when they declared war on modern art. But there is an intellectual, sophisticated misomusy as well: it takes revenge on art by forcing it to a purpose beyond the aesthetic. The doctrine of engage art: art as an instrument of politics." "The desire to be modern is an archetype, that is, an irrational imperative, anchored deeply within us, a persistent form whose content is changeable and indeterminate: what is modern is what declares itself modern and is accepted as such." "Nonthought. This cannot be translated by "absence of thought." Absence of thought indicates a nonreality the disappearance of a reality. We cannot say that an absence is aggressive, or that it is spreading. "Nonthought," on the other hand, describes a reality, a force; I can therefore say "pervasive non-thought"; "the nonthought of received ideas"; "the mass media's nonthought"; etc. "The moment Kafka attracts more attention than Joseph K., Kafka's posthumous death begins." Chapter 7 Jerusalem Address: The Novel and Europe "But what is that wisdom, what is the novel? There is a fine Jewish proverb: Man thinks, God laughs. Inspired by that adage, I like to imagine that Francois Rabelais heard God's laughter one day, and thus was born the idea of the first great European novel. It pleases me to think that the art of the novel came into the world as the echo of God's laughter." What is opposite of a novelist? an agelaste: "Francois Rabelais invented a number of neologisms that have since entered the French and other languages, but one of his words has been forgotten, and this is regrettable. It is the word agelaste; it comes from the Greek and it means a man who does not laugh, who has no sense of humor. Rabelais detested the agelastes. He feared them. He complained that the agelastes treated him so atrociously that he nearly stopped writing forever." "No peace is possible between the novelist and the agelaste. Never having heard God's laughter, the agelastes are convinced that the truth is obvious, that all men necessarily think the same thing, and that they themselves are exactly what they think they are. But it is precisely in losing the certainty of truth and the unanimous agreement of others that man becomes an individual. The novel is the imaginary paradise of individuals. It is the territory where no one possesses the truth, neither Anna nor Karenin, but where everyone has the right to be understood, both Anna and Karenin." and most of self-claimed philosphers I have come across are agelaste. "The novel's wisdom is different from that of philosophy. The novel is born not of the theoretical spirit but of the spirit of humor. One of Europe's major failures is that it never understood the most European of the arts—the novel; neither its spirit, nor its great knowledge and discoveries, nor the autonomy of its history. The art inspired by God's laughter does not by nature serve ideological certitudes, it contradicts them. Like Penelope, it undoes each night the tapestry that the theologians, philosophers, and learned men have woven the day before." Another problem a novelist fights is 'received ideas'. Flaubert used to collect such ideas: "He put them into a celebrated Dictionnaire des idees regues. We can use this title to declare: Modern stupidity means not ignorance but the nonthought of received ideas. Flaubert's discovery is more important for the future of the world than the most startling ideas of Marx or Freud. For we could imagine the world without the class struggle or without psychoanalysis, but not without the irresistible flood of received ideas that—programmed into computers, j propagated by the mass media—threaten soon to become a force that will crush all original and individual thought and thus will smother the very essence of the European culture of the Modern Era." Kind of reminds me of most Modi-Bhakts who would go repeating whatever the few right wings organisations tell them. And the last enemy of novelist is kitsch "The word "kitsch" describes the attitude of those who want to please the greatest number, at any cost. To please, one must confirm what everyone wants to hear, put oneself at the service of received ideas. Kitsch is the translation of the stupidity of received ideas into the language of beauty and feeling. It moves us to tears of compassion for ourselves, for the banality of what we think and feel. Today, fifty years later, Broch's remark is becoming truer still. Given the imperative necessity to please and thereby to gain the attention of the greatest number, the aesthetic of the mass media is inevitably that of kitsch" Which is kind of my problem with most YA books.

  8. 5 out of 5

    W.D. Clarke

    This has profoundly affected the way I view the history (and future) of the novel. From Barthes' "Death of the Author" through Barth's "Literature of Exhaustion" (and beyond--to the comparatively Lilliputian debate between Ben Marcus and Jonathan Franzen, the repetition-as-farce of the Broch/Brecht debates of the e20C, as entertaining as they were), nothing else has given me such a clear and, yes, Olympian vista. If interested, see my extended meditation on this book at This has profoundly affected the way I view the history (and future) of the novel. From Barthes' "Death of the Author" through Barth's "Literature of Exhaustion" (and beyond--to the comparatively Lilliputian debate between Ben Marcus and Jonathan Franzen, the repetition-as-farce of the Broch/Brecht debates of the e20C, as entertaining as they were), nothing else has given me such a clear and, yes, Olympian vista. If interested, see my extended meditation on this book at http://longform.wdclarke.org/kundera-...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ali

    I like Kundra because he doesnt imprison me in a fastened frame of a classic narration. Reading Kundra seems as if you meet an old friend after ages in a cafe shop, and while she/he relates her / his life story, you zip your coffee, listen to the cafe music, hear some chats and laughs at nabouring tables, look at the peddlers at side walk, or a passing tramvay, as life is flowing around, . کوندرا را به این دلیل بسیار دوست دارم که مرا در چهارچوب بسته ی یک روایت زندانی نمی کند. خواندن کونرا مثل I like Kundra because he doesn’t imprison me in a fastened frame of a classic narration. Reading Kundra seems as if you meet an old friend after ages in a cafe shop, and while she/he relates her / his life story, you zip your coffee, listen to the cafe music, hear some chats and laughs at nabouring tables, look at the peddlers at side walk, or a passing tramvay, … as life is flowing around, …. کوندرا را به این دلیل بسیار دوست دارم که مرا در چهارچوب بسته ی یک روایت زندانی نمی کند. خواندن کونرا مثل این است که دوستی را پس از سال ها در یک کافه ملاقات کنید و در حالی که به قصه ی روزگار رفته ی او گوش می دهید، قهوه تان را می نوشید، به موسیقی که از بلندگوی کافه پخش می شود، گوش می کنید، گهگاه متوجه ی صحبت ها و خنده هایی از میزهای کناری می شوید، صدای عبور و مرور خیابان در پس پشت این همه جاری ست، دوره گردی چیزی می فروشد، عبور تراموای، و همه چیز، درست مثل خود زندگی، ... ـ هنررمان توسط پرویزهمایون پور ترجمه و در 1377 منتشر شده است.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Durrant

    Kundera's view of the novel is very much shaped by his own experience as an exile from Communist Czechoslovakia (beware, "Czechoslovakia" is a proper noun he never uses [p126]) . For him the novel is the surest voice confronting totalitarianism: "Totalitarian Truth excludes relativity, doubt, questioning; it can never accommodate what I would call 'the spirit of the novel.'" Kafka is the great prophet of totalitarianism, and Kundera is at his best, I believe, when he describes what he calls "the Kundera's view of the novel is very much shaped by his own experience as an exile from Communist Czechoslovakia (beware, "Czechoslovakia" is a proper noun he never uses [p126]) . For him the novel is the surest voice confronting totalitarianism: "Totalitarian Truth excludes relativity, doubt, questioning; it can never accommodate what I would call 'the spirit of the novel.'" Kafka is the great prophet of totalitarianism, and Kundera is at his best, I believe, when he describes what he calls "the Kafkan spirit," which will find its sad, real-world expression decades later in Communist Prague. Kafka is one of a series of comic novels that take center stage in Kundera's small book: Cervantes' "Don Quixote," Diderot's "Jacques the Fatalist," Kafka's "The Trial" and "The Castle," Hermann Broch's "The Sleepwalkers," etc. His vision of the comic is expressed in the following words: "By providing us with the lovely illusion of human greatness, the tragic brings us consolation. The comic is crueler: it brutally reveals the meaninglessness of everything" (p125). As such, the comic becomes a bulwark against those who proclaim grand meaning--whether that meaning is religious or political. "The Art of the Novel" bristles with insights and is well worth reading for all of us who love the novel. I do, however, have some reservations. While I very much like Kundera's novels, especially "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," his frequent references to his own works become a bit aggravating. Surely he is making enough money from his novels that he doesn't need to advertise them on almost every page. Also, while we all agree there really is something abroad in the land that we might call "kitsch," it is difficult to play the role of the kitsch cop without sometimes sounding a bit high-minded. Genuine liberating power can sometimes be found in popular culture--it too sometimes confronts the villain Kundera calls "Totalitarian Truth."

  11. 4 out of 5

    Robert W

    I just finished Milan Kunderas The Art of the Novel. There are lots of little interesting things in it, but Ill just mention a couple that caught my attention. The book was published in 1985, and Kundera doesnt foresee the end of the Soviet empire. In an amusing bit about translation, he explains why good translation is so important to him. Its because his books couldnt be published in Czech. He was an unperson there. Its a small country and there arent a lot of Czech speakers elsewhere in the I just finished Milan Kundera’s The Art of the Novel. There are lots of little interesting things in it, but I’ll just mention a couple that caught my attention. The book was published in 1985, and Kundera doesn’t foresee the end of the Soviet empire. In an amusing bit about translation, he explains why good translation is so important to him. It’s because his books couldn’t be published in Czech. He was an unperson there. It’s a small country and there aren’t a lot of Czech speakers elsewhere in the world. So he was dependent on translators to provide him a readership, and wanted them to do their job well. Imagine being in that situation. What if you were a writer not quite of Kundera’s Olympian stature? Who’s going to translate your works? The other thing that amused me was the word “Kafkan.” This appears to be Kundera’s alternative to “Kafkaesque.” He has a lot to say about Kafka, who looms large for him as a key writer. Kafkan refers to kinds of situations—endless bureaucratic labyrinths, for example. Kundera might even classify those impossible phone navigation systems as Kafkan—getting an answer from them is like Joseph K. getting to the Castle. Another Kafkan situation is the file, the report on an individual taking the place of the individual—the file is the real thing, and the person is just a shadow. Another Kafkan situation is that of the punished seeking the offense—you are locked in a jail and tortured, so you conclude you must have done something! Obviously this can apply to the spurious admissions of torture victims in show trials, but Kundera makes it out to be more of an interior problem. The accused concludes for himself that he must have done something wrong. A relatively recent case of this was the Sheriff up near Olympia who came to believe that he had raped his daughters and participated in bizarre satanic rituals, after being accused and jailed for these crimes (which never happened). The final Kafkan attribute is that the situation seems to be a joke, except for those in the joke—where the situation is a nightmare. Kundera provides examples from Communist Czechoslovakia, but rightly points out that the thing Kafka had identified is a world ruled by offices, by bureaucracy. He is careful to point out that Kafka wasn’t thinking about the future—he wasn’t warning anyone of anything. He wasn’t political, and the ideas in his novel feel so true today. They are as true in the capitalist world of credit reports and extended warranties as they were in the Communist world.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    What a wonderful day it has been. Cool and sunny, the weather welcomes with only a slim wink of menace behind such. I awoke early and after watching City i went and joined some friends for smoked wheat beer and colorful conversations about public vomiting and the peasant revolts during the Reformation. Oh and there was a parade. I didn't pay much attention to that. Returning home I watched Arsenal's triumph and enjoyed the weather and picked up this witty distillation. Zadie Smith's Changing My What a wonderful day it has been. Cool and sunny, the weather welcomes with only a slim wink of menace behind such. I awoke early and after watching City i went and joined some friends for smoked wheat beer and colorful conversations about public vomiting and the peasant revolts during the Reformation. Oh and there was a parade. I didn't pay much attention to that. Returning home I watched Arsenal's triumph and enjoyed the weather and picked up this witty distillation. Zadie Smith's Changing My Mind had engendered this recent interest in essays, especially those concerning the history of the novel. I bought the volume in Camden when we went to London in 2004. I truly bought it for my wife but it certainly fit my own present situation. Kundera weaves together an intriguing portrait of modernity. He also sidesteps the English literary tradition aside from a handful of nods to Fielding and Sterne. Such is fine. Thinking about my own influences, I remain intrigued that Nietzsche remains so fixed and central and Kafka has slinked to the dark margins. Perhaps Hrabal (that usurper) took his place in my murky mindpool.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Appleton

    The beginning of this started really well with some great quotes on the "art of the novel". Notably, the quote, 'If the novel should really disappear, it will do so not because it has exhausted its powers but it exists in a world grown alien to it.' That's just a fantastic quote. There are more but why would I write them all here? That would be like those terrible trailers that show the best bits of the movie; then you go into the cinema and come out and think, oh. Believe me though, there are The beginning of this started really well with some great quotes on the "art of the novel". Notably, the quote, 'If the novel should really disappear, it will do so not because it has exhausted its powers but it exists in a world grown alien to it.' That's just a fantastic quote. There are more but why would I write them all here? That would be like those terrible trailers that show the best bits of the movie; then you go into the cinema and come out and think, oh. Believe me though, there are some more. The other parts, are then kinda disappointing. Kundera goes off on his Kundera-esque ramblings. He explains his fascination of music and how all (but one, at this point, I think) his novels have seven parts (even this, I noticed, The Art of the Novel). Then there's a fairly lengthy explanation about music and types of music and speed and Beethoven. I listen to music most of the day, and listen far more than many of the people I know do, but my interest in technical music doesn't go very far. There's a part with 'Sixty-three Words' which I was excited for and then disappointed. Instead of words he found important to the novel, and more lessons, it was more Kundera rambling, leaving me looking for the relevance at times. He tells us how he once got rid of a translator because they changed his semi-colons into full stops. Most of the words he ends up quoting from his books: Life is Elsewhere, The Joke and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. He even uses one of the words to justify doing something in one of his novels. Parts for me did come across as being arrogant. Maybe that isn't the right word...his tone, possibly, irked me at points. In one of the conversations within the book, a question and answer, the interviewer says to Kundera that the seven parts of TBoLaF could have been written as seven different novels, if he fleshed them out. He replies by saying, 'But if I had written seven separate novels, I'd have no hope of "encompassing the complexity of existence in the modern world" in one single book.' Granted, he says, hope, not that he has indeed achieved that feat, but still. I don't know, at times I did roll my eyes a little. I was expecting more talk about the novel, how to write the novel, the struggles of writing a novel, more to do with the novel...but instead, parts just felt like reading another Kundera book, him talking about things and then connecting them to other things and himself and before you know, he's spoken for pages about music and you forget the original point was the novel.

  14. 5 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    I saw this sitting on my re-read shelf, along with all of Kundera's novels and figured, hey, I write every now and again, what does Kundy have to tell me about the hows and whatsits? Plus, I have fond memories of wandering around southwestern Czech Republic where I bought this book, getting drunk and attending church. There's a few nice essays and discussions here about codes of characters, meanings, lack of description, and a very refreshing and reassuring approach to the novel as a way to I saw this sitting on my re-read shelf, along with all of Kundera's novels and figured, hey, I write every now and again, what does Kundy have to tell me about the hows and whatsits? Plus, I have fond memories of wandering around southwestern Czech Republic where I bought this book, getting drunk and attending church. There's a few nice essays and discussions here about codes of characters, meanings, lack of description, and a very refreshing and reassuring approach to the novel as a way to explore human nature, not just a way to tell a story. That said, most readers and writers will find him baffling and probably pretentious without really knowing why and this is where his value lies, in his utter lack of fear to point out that commercial-driven shlock is precisely that. If phrases like "the novel is the most fearsome weapon against the forgetting of being" then this probably isn't for you.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kurdo Chali

    A must-read for every serious reader of literature, and more, for every one who wants to live as a modern mind in this modern world.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Clayton

    The Ludic Lightness of Literature No peace is possible between the novelist and the agelaste [ those who do not laugh] . Never having heard God's laughter, the agelastes are convinced that the truth is obvious, that all men necessarily think the same thing, and that they themselves are exactly what they think they are. But it is precisely in losing the certainty of truth and the unanimous agreement of others that man becomes an individual. The novel is the imaginary paradise of individuals. It The Ludic Lightness of Literature No peace is possible between the novelist and the agelaste [ those who do not laugh] . Never having heard God's laughter, the agelastes are convinced that the truth is obvious, that all men necessarily think the same thing, and that they themselves are exactly what they think they are. But it is precisely in losing the certainty of truth and the unanimous agreement of others that man becomes an individual. The novel is the imaginary paradise of individuals. It is the territory where no one possesses the truth, neither Anna nor Karenin, but where everyone has the right to be understood, both Anna and Karenin. The trick to reading The Art of the Novel, if there is a trick, is that every pronouncement about "novels" should really be read as "novels by Milan Kundera and his self-appointed literary forebears." How else to explain such a radically condensed version of the novel--its history, meaning, and structure--that squares suspiciously well with everything Milan K. has published? Taking him at his word, all novels are light, musical, non-psychological, ironic (but not kitschy!), apolitical, philosophical, and cantankerously Continental, with a light patina of metafiction occasionally allowed. Hence a literary history with room for Rabelais, but not Richardson; Diderot, not Dickens; Kafka, not Conrad. What this book amounts to is a guided tour through Kundera's private library, with the old master palavering on about Kafka and existentialism while you thumb through dusty old stacks, which are completely bereft of anything political or English (poor Orwell, being both, is completely nefas). And yet, Kundera's brand of literature is admittedly potent, and there are certainly worse ways to spend an afternoon than basking in the uncommon wisdom of a master who writes and acts exactly as he pleases. There's plenty of entertaining theories to sift through (especially on Kafka), but if there's a through-line in this book, it's the idea of the novel as an ironic game that lets us try on the conflicting truths that have characterized human existence since Descartes's homunculi started shouldering the burden of existence. God being dead and all, the font of Truth that is our inheritance from him has to be distributed evenly, and these days there are as many realities as there are minds. Everybody's right and nobody's wrong (if you doubt this, you live a charmed life), so it takes a delicate, ironic touch to navigate affairs anymore. Novels--even (or especially) ones with confounding and alien surfaces, as in Kafka or Joyce--function as a playful guide for the perplexed children of Cartesianism, as well as a rebuke to those dogmatic, boorish agelastes (priests, generals, Republicans) who make modern living such a chore. All in all, a charming little book. I look forward to skimming through this book for years to come.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Keith

    Milan Kundera is more than a well-regarded novelist, he is also an engaged literary intellectual and in this book he begins to describe his idea of what the novel is, how it came to be, and its ultimate fate. It is an argument that begins with this book and continues with The Curtain. In analyzing the fate of the novel Kundera looks back to Cervantes, Fielding and Richardson. He talks of how those novels worked and points at the main culprit: But I don't want to predict the future paths of the Milan Kundera is more than a well-regarded novelist, he is also an engaged literary intellectual and in this book he begins to describe his idea of what the novel is, how it came to be, and it’s ultimate fate. It is an argument that begins with this book and continues with The Curtain. In analyzing the fate of the novel Kundera looks back to Cervantes, Fielding and Richardson. He talks of how those novels worked and points at the main culprit: “But I don't want to predict the future paths of the novel, which I cannot know; all I mean to say is this: If the novel should really disappear, it will do so not because it has exhausted its powers but because it exists in a world grown alien to it.” “Like all of culture, the novel is more and more in the hands of the mass media; as agents of the unification of the planet's history, the media amplify and channel the reduction process; they distribute throughout the world the same simplifications and stereotypes easily acceptable by the greatest number, by everyone, by all mankind. . . . This common spirit of the mass media, camouflaged by political diversity, is the spirit of our time. And this spirit seems to me contrary to the spirit of the novel.” “The novel's spirit is the spirit of complexity. Every novel says to the reader: ‘Things are not as simple as you think."’That is the novel's eternal truth, but it grows steadily harder to hear amid the din of easy, quick answers that come faster than the question and block it off. In the spirit of our time, it's either Anna or Karenin who is right, and the ancient wisdom of Cervantes, telling us about the difficulty of knowing and the elusiveness of truth, seems cumbersome and useless.” “The novel's spirit is the spirit of continuity: each work is an answer to preceding ones, each work contains all the previous experience of the novel. But the spirit of our time is firmly focused on a present that is so expansive and profuse that it shoves the past off our horizon and reduces time to the present moment only.” Both books continue in this vein, uncompromising but with commentary reflective of a long and successful writing life, and of immersion in an Eastern European tradition that might possibly be the savior of the modern literary novel. I don’t necessarily recommend either of Kundera’s essay collections since that time can be spent reading the books that might outlive the decline but his surefooted arguments are beguiling and prophetic.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

    High-level literary criticism, if somewhat limited by Kudnera's regional perspectives. Some chapters are more insightful than others, which prove long-winded, eccentric, or just plain boring. His break down and analysis of the origin of the novel and how the novel functions as an exploratory voice of wisdom is important. Kundera's insight into what gives the novel life, and how this life is sustained by the curiosities of the novelist, are also important. However, there are limitations to this one High-level literary criticism, if somewhat limited by Kudnera's regional perspectives. Some chapters are more insightful than others, which prove long-winded, eccentric, or just plain boring. His break down and analysis of the origin of the novel and how the novel functions as an exploratory voice of wisdom is important. Kundera's insight into what gives the novel life, and how this life is sustained by the curiosities of the novelist, are also important. However, there are limitations to this one novelist's interpretation of an entire medium. Kundera uses history, philosophy, and human culture to explain the complexities of literature, but fails to mention (or even see) that these explanations he offers are seasoned from personal experience and are not always or entirely applicable. Kundera's experiences hail from a fractured western Europe. His view of the origin, purpose, and future of the novel is colored by those experiences. And yet, he doesn't seem interested in forging possibilities pulled from others who may draw similar or different or comparable observations through contrasting experiences borne from other regions. Kundera's writing is fantastic. Sometimes it'll put you to sleep. But usually, it's fantastic. You just have to be careful, to keep questioning, and remember to think for yourself at the end of every chapter.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kent Winward

    I've found this book a continued and useful resource in analyzing and evaluating the novels I read and those I'm writing. Kundera's differentiation between the lyrical and the epic lovers has been a fruitful area of inquiry for me. The lyrical he defines as looking for the personal ideal in the individual and the epic is seeking out the infinite variety of the universe. Ultimately, novel reading and writing is about accessing the epic, which ironically can be done through examining the lyrical. I've found this book a continued and useful resource in analyzing and evaluating the novels I read and those I'm writing. Kundera's differentiation between the lyrical and the epic lovers has been a fruitful area of inquiry for me. The lyrical he defines as looking for the personal ideal in the individual and the epic is seeking out the infinite variety of the universe. Ultimately, novel reading and writing is about accessing the epic, which ironically can be done through examining the lyrical. (See Kundera's "Life is Somewhere Else"). The theme taken up in "The Curtain" of the novel as a device to make existential inquiries is begun, along with the idea that the morality of the novel is based upon its ability to increase knowledge. Kundera's words are a clarion call to any writer that wants to call themselves a novelist: "A novel that does not discover a hitherto unknown segment of existence is immoral." Writers trying to show me something that has never been shown to me before -- those are the writers I love to read. I've completed most of the Kundera canon this year, so you can be certain that he is one of those writers who try to always give me something I haven't seen.

  20. 5 out of 5

    James

    Kundera is always worth reading. And this book is no exception. The emphasis on the formal aspects of fiction in ''The Art of the Novel'' is a principle for Kundera that is accompanied by an overt disavowal of any political agenda. A second principle is derived from the first, and it is the rejection of kitsch. Not simply bad or laughable art, kitsch is, in Kundera's definition from ''Sixty-three Words'' (his dictionary of the terms and categories that organize his imagination), ''the need to Kundera is always worth reading. And this book is no exception. The emphasis on the formal aspects of fiction in ''The Art of the Novel'' is a principle for Kundera that is accompanied by an overt disavowal of any political agenda. A second principle is derived from the first, and it is the rejection of kitsch. Not simply bad or laughable art, kitsch is, in Kundera's definition from ''Sixty-three Words'' (his dictionary of the terms and categories that organize his imagination), ''the need to gaze into the mirror of the beautifying lie and to be moved to tears of gratification at one's own reflection.'' One antidote to kitsch is to write novels according to Kundera's third principle - what he refers to throughout ''The Art of the Novel'' as ''novelistic counterpoint'' or ''polyphony.'' ''Counterpoint,'' or ''polyphony,'' is, strictly speaking, the play among different kinds of writing - essay, dream, narrative - in a single text. One can see examples of these principles in Kundera's own novels, but he uses examples from Cervantes to Kafka, Joyce, and Broch to make his case.

  21. 4 out of 5

    David Waid

    I love his books and yet this came across as pretentious--one of the cardinal sins according to my philosophy. He is a guy who definitely looks down on books that are "merely" fun and that pretty much disqualified the whole thing for me. While I love his books, I don't think weighty thoughts are a necessity to make a novel good. They are a pleasant flavor, but one of many. It would be like saying only salty dishes taste good--an insult to chocolate cakes everywhere!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Will

    Kundera is one of those people who can surprise you with a good idea but once he explains it, you realize how stupid it is. "Knowledge is the novel's only morality" sounds fine as an aphorism, but lengthened into an entire chapter, I wanted to ram my head through a wall.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Farhan Khalid

    The rise of the sciences propelled man into the tunnels of the specialized disciplines The more he advanced in knowledge, the less clearly could he see either the world as a whole or his own self Heidegger called "the forgetting of being" With Cervantes a great European art took shape that is nothing other than the investigation of this forgotten being With Cervantes and his contemporaries, novel inquiries the nature of adventure With Richardson, it begins to examine "what happens inside", to unmask The rise of the sciences propelled man into the tunnels of the specialized disciplines The more he advanced in knowledge, the less clearly could he see either the world as a whole or his own self Heidegger called "the forgetting of being" With Cervantes a great European art took shape that is nothing other than the investigation of this forgotten being With Cervantes and his contemporaries, novel inquiries the nature of adventure With Richardson, it begins to examine "what happens inside", to unmask the secret life of the feeling With Balzac, it discovers man's rootedness in history With Flaubert, it explores incognita of everyday With Tolstoy, it focuses on the intrusion of the irrational in human behavior and decisions It probes time: the elusive past with Proust, the elusive present with Joyce With Thomas Mann, it examines the role of the myths from the remote past that control our present actions Husserl: Passion to know is the essence of European spirituality Novel protects it against "the forgetting of being" Hermann Broch: Knowledge is novel's only morality With Descartes, the thinking self as the basis of everything, and thus to face the universe alone With Cervantes, the world as ambiguity, to be obliged to face not a single absolute truth but a welter of contradictory truths (truths embodied in imaginary characters) Man desires a world where good and evil can be clearly distinguished Religious and ideologies are founded on this desire The either-or encapsulates an inability to tolerate the essential relativity of things This inability makes the novel's wisdom (the wisdom of uncertainty) hard to accept and understand Novel is incompatible with the totalitarian universe Totalitarian truth excludes relativity, doubt, questioning; it can never accommodate what I would call the spirit of the novel Totalitarian novels discover no new segment of existence; they only confirm what has already been said There are four appeals which I am especially responsive The appeal of play: Stern and Diderot The appeal of dream: Franz Kafka The appeal of thought: Musil and Broch The appeal of time: Marcel Proust The novel's spirit is the spirit of complexity. Every novel says to the reader: things are not as simple as you think The novel's spirit is the spirit of continuity: each work is an answer to preceding ones All novels, of every age, are concerned with the enigma of the self As soon as you create an imaginary being, a character, you are automatically confronted by the question: what is the self? Joyce analyzes something still more ungraspable than Proust's "lost time": the present moment Each instant represents a little universe, irrevocably forgotten in the next instant The quest for the self has always ended in a paradoxical dissatisfaction Kafka does not ask what internal motivations determine man's behavior What possibilities remain for man in a world where the external determinants have become so overpowering that internal impulses no longer carry weight? The novel is not the author's confession; it is an investigation of human life in the trap the world has become We are born without having asked to be, locked in a body we never chose, and destined to die Gombrowicz had an idea as comical as it is ingenious: The weight of our self depends on the size of the population on the planet Thus Democritus represented a four-hundred-millionth of humanity Brahms a Billionth, Gombrowicz himself two-billionth By the calculation, the weight of a Proustian infinity - the weight of a self, of a self's interior life - becomes lighter and lighter The Hitchhiking Game: the girl is so upset by her certain hold on her identity that she sobs, "I am me, I am me, I am me…" Philosophy develops its thought in an abstract realm, without characters, without situations To apprehend the self in my novels means to grasp the essence of its existential problem. To grasp its existential code As I was writing The Unbearable Lightness of Being, I realized that the code of this or that character is made up of certain key words For Tereza: body, soul, vertigo, weakness, idyll, Paradise. For Tomas: lightness, weight In the part called "Words Misunderstood," I examine the existential codes of Franz and Sabina by analyzing a number of words: woman, fidelity, betrayal, music, darkness, light, parades, beauty, country, cemetery, strength You see, I don't show you what happens inside Jaromil's head; rather, I show what happens inside my own The whole novel is nothing but one long interrogation. Meditative interrogation (interrogative meditation) is the basis on which all my novels are constructed "Laughable love" is love stripped of seriousness The novel dealt with the unconscious before Freud, the class struggle before Marx The self is determined by the essence of its existential problem A character is not a simulation of a living being. It is an imaginary being. An experimental self the reader's imagination automatically completes the writer's. Is Tomas dark or fair? Was his father rich or poor? Choose for yourself! Her entire life was a mere continuation of her mother's Much as the course of a ball on the billiard table is the continuation of the player's arm movement Because making a character "alive" means: getting to the bottom of his existential problem Which in turn means: getting to the bottom of some situations, some motifs, even some words that shape him Nothing more Heidegger: Man does not relate to the world as subject to object, as eye to painting; not even as actor to stage set The world is part of man, it is his dimension, and as the world changes, existence changes as well There is on the one hand the novel that examines the historical dimension of human existence and on the other the novel that is the illustration of a historical situation My way of treating history: First: All historical circumstances I treat with the greatest economy. I behave toward history like the stage designer who constructs an abstract set out of the few items Second principle: Of the historical circumstances, I keep only those that create a revelatory existential situation for my characters Third principle: Historiography writes the history of society, not of man That is why the historical events my novels talk about are often forgotten by historiography Fourth principle: Not only must historical circumstance create a new existential situation for a character in a novel But History itself must be understood and analyzed as an existential situation Weakness as a very general category of existence: Any man confronted with superior strength is weak C.S.: To understand your novels, is it important to know the history of Czechoslovakia? No. Whatever needs to be known of it the novel itself tells. For me, [Life is Elsewhere] is a novel of the European revolution as such, in its condensed form All these characters fulfill not only their personal histories but also the suprapersonal history of the European experience If God is gone and man is no longer master, then who is master? The planet is moving through the void without any master There it is, the unbearable lightness of being But when the agony draws to a close, we are already looking elsewhere The death becomes invisible It's some time now since the river, the nightingale, the paths through the fields have disappeared from man's mind No one needs them now When nature disappears from the planet tomorrow, who will notice? Where are the successors to Octavio Paz, to Rene Char? Where are the great poets now? Have they vanished, or have their voices only grown inaudible? But if man has lost the need for poetry, will he notice when poetry disappears? The end is not an apocalyptic explosion. There may be nothing so quiet as the end A novel examines not reality but existence And existence is not what has occurred, existence is the realm of human possibilities A possibility for Europe. A possible vision of Europe. A possible situation for man The novelist is neither historian nor prophet: he is an explorer of existence The world is the process of the disintegration of values (values handed down from the Middle Ages) Encompassing the complexity of existence in the modern world demands a technique of ellipsis, of condensation A theme is an existential inquiry Poets don't invent poems The poem is somewhere behind It's been there for a long long time The poet merely discovers it —JAN SKACEL K's entire existence is a mistake K and the Prague engineer are the shadows of their file cards They are the shadows of a mistake in the file, shadows without even the right to exist as shadows But if man's life is only a shadow and true reality lies elsewhere, in the inaccessible, in the inhuman or the suprahuman, then we suddenly enter the domain of theology Indeed, Kafka's first commentators explained his novels as religious parables K's case: the punishment seeks the offense The punished beg for recognition of their guilt! Totalitarian society, especially in its more extreme versions, tends to abolish the boundary between the public and the private; Power, as it grows ever more opaque, requires the lives of citizens to be entirely transparent Totalitarian societies want to be seen as "one big family Not the curse of solitude but the violation of solitude is Kafka's obsession! Joseph K.'s story also begins with the rape of privacy Sabina knew of nothing more magnificent than going off into the unknown Central Europe: a laboratory of twilight History has always been considered an exclusively serious territory But there is the undiscovered comic side to history European: one who is nostalgic for Europe He felt responsible for his fate, but his fate felt no responsibility for him A hedonist resists the transformation of his life into a fate The will to forget is very different from a simple temptation to deceive The novelistic exploration of the theme of forgetting has no end and no conclusion Graphomania: The mania not to create a form but to impose one's self on others The most grotesque version of the will to power Hat. Magical object. Hatstand. Magical object Its metallic nudity and ludicrously raised arms filled me with anxiety The meaning did not precede the dream; the dream preceded the meaning By insisting on decoding him, the Kafkologists killed Kafka We are born one time only, we can never start a new life equipped with the experience we've gained from a previous one We leave childhood without knowing what youth is We marry without knowing what it is to be married And even when we enter old age, we don't know what it is we're heading for In that sense, man's world is the planet of inexperience Infantocracy: the ideal of childhood imposed on all of humanity The novel is, by definition, the ironic art: its "truth" is concealed, undeclared, undeclarable Irony irritates Not because it mocks or attacks but because it denies us our certainties by unmasking the world as an ambiguity There is a kitsch attitude Kitsch behavior The kitsch-man needs for kitsch In Prague, we saw kitsch as art's prime enemy Lyric. In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, there is a discussion of two types of womanizer: The lyrical (who seek their personal ideal in each woman) The epic (who seek in women the infinite variety of the feminine universe) This corresponds to the classical distinction between the lyric and the epic (and the dramatic) Hegel's Aesthetics: The lyric is the expression of a self-revealing subjectivity the epic arises from the urge to seize hold of the objectivity of the world Lyrical age = youth He tells a story (Fielding), he describes a story (Flaubert), he thinks a story (Musil) I have kept faith with the essence of the novel as an art: irony And irony doesn't give a damn about messages! Novel = antilyrical poetry It pleases me to think that the art of the novel came into the world as the echo of God's laughter Because man thinks and the truth escapes him Because the more men think, the more one man's thought diverges from another's

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bernie Gourley

    This is a collection of essays by the renowned Czech novelist about the literary novel, and particularly the European literary novel. That said, the pieces gather nicely into this collection without seeming disparate. Points and themes carry across the essays such that the book has a life as a whole. Also, the there is food for thought in this book even if one isnt particularly interested in literary novels. There are ideas that could be of interest to any story crafters or writers. There are This is a collection of essays by the renowned Czech novelist about the literary novel, and particularly the European literary novel. That said, the pieces gather nicely into this collection without seeming disparate. Points and themes carry across the essays such that the book has a life as a whole. Also, the there is food for thought in this book even if one isn’t particularly interested in literary novels. There are ideas that could be of interest to any story crafters or writers. There are seven parts (essays) in the book. The first and third part take specific novels as their focal point: Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” and Hermann Broch’s “Sleepwalkers,” respectively. That said, the feel isn’t greatly varied from the more general chapters of 2, 4, and 5. That is, Kundera uses critique of those novels (as well as others) to make general points about what is more or less effective, artistically speaking, in the novel. Besides those two novels, not surprisingly given Kundera’s heritage, he also repeatedly uses the novels of Franz Kafka and “The Good Soldier Svejk” by Jaroslav Hasek as examples. That said, many well-known novels come up in the discussion including those of Tolstoy, Musil, and even Faulkner (I say "even" because he's clearly not a European novelist.) The sixth and seventh parts are both a bit different. Part six is entitled, “Sixty-Three Words,” and it’s Kundera’s discussion of words that he believes are misconstrued. In some cases, they are words prominent in his own works, and in other cases they are of interest regarding novels more generally. Like many writers, Kundera takes a strict approach to words, arguing that synonyms don’t exist because if meanings were truly identical one of the words should die. The last piece is from an address that he made about the novel as a European artform. While I read this with interest as a writer, I found that the discussion that most intrigued me did so on the level of a jnana yogi. That is, what interested me was his discussion of what constitutes a person – fictional or not. Kundera speaks in considerable detail about this issue. He’s writing about fictional selves, but some questions carry over. What makes a character and what is superfluous information – i.e. the illusion of a self? What is necessary and beneficial to convey to reader? Kundera criticizes the modern novel for getting bogged down in describing physical attributes and background information. On the other hand, Kundera praises novels in which one learns little about the character beyond what they do in the novel. His objection is that this denies the reader the opportunity to mentally build the character, him or herself. However, it also raises the question of whether those characteristics are really the relevant information. I learned a few things from this book. It’s short and surprisingly readable given the topic-at-hand’s potential to become arty and pompous. If you’re a writer (particularly if you’re interested in the novel as an artform) this book is worth a read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Shane Code

    Today the novel struggles to find its place in a society that no longer stops moving. It's a solid anchor for anyone curious about the novel medium and what it could be used to accomplish. Erudite, tight, and succinct, you cannot go too far wrong with Mr Kundera's work.

  26. 4 out of 5

    prbeckman

    I read this book for the first time in 1996 along with Kundera's Testaments Betrayed. In both I encountered a novelist reflecting on the novel in a way that transformed my own understanding of the form.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Johnny Kennedy

    agelaste - one who doesnt laugh.

  28. 4 out of 5

    kate

    I have the satisfying feeling of having attended a semester at a european university I would never have the time or money to attend, to listen to a great writer teach a course on the european novel. Meaning: the insight into the themes of western thought are expressed - a skeletal, eloquent journey from cervantes to the predicted death of the novel is provided in a few chapters. A defence of kafka from unintelligence in another. Dialogues offer insight into kundera's own writing process, a I have the satisfying feeling of having attended a semester at a european university I would never have the time or money to attend, to listen to a great writer teach a course on the european novel. Meaning: the insight into the themes of western thought are expressed - a skeletal, eloquent journey from cervantes to the predicted death of the novel is provided in a few chapters. A defence of kafka from unintelligence in another. Dialogues offer insight into kundera's own writing process, a dictionary of his most meaningful words, frustrations with translations, his approach and thoughts on the novel as reflected by his own. I found his insights especially interesting because life behind the iron curtain, life in a totalitarian society, is coming closer to life in western democracy's new reality of surveillance, wiretapping, spying, informants. Living through the iron curtain oppression, accepting the kafkaesque nature of this giant bureaucracy, yet maintaining an intellectual life, an artistic voice, the ability to be openeyed and conscious before the Castle or the bureaucracy, is a skill the West will have to learn if it cannot regain lost freedoms and privacies from its own governments. A quote: "But Flaubert discovered stupidity. I daresay that is the greatest discovery of a century so proud of its scientific thought. Of course, even before Flaubert, people knew stupidity existed, but they understood it somewhat differently: it was considered a simple absence of knowledge, a defect correctable by education. In Flaubert's novels, stupidity is an inseparable dimension of human existence. .....Stupidity does not give way to science, technology, modernity, progress; on the contrary, it progresses right along with progress! With a wicked passion, Flaubert used to collect the stereotyped formulations that people around him enunciated in order to seem intelligent and up-to-date. he put them into a celebrated Dictionnaire des idees recues. We can use this title to declare: Modern stupidity means not ignorance but the nonthought of received ideas. Flaubert's discovery is more important for the future of the world than the most startling ideas of Marx or Freud. For we could imagine the world without the class struggle or without psychoanalysis, but not without the irresistible flood of received ideas that - programmed into computers, propagated by the mass media - threaten soon to become a force that will crush all original and individual thought and thus will smother the very essence of the European culture of the Modern age."

  29. 4 out of 5

    David

    The first three essays are difficult to get through because Kundera believes in Eliot's Great Tradition and that the modern era is characterised by a disintegration of values. He displays that European knowingness which too often amounts to little more than miserabilism. He's a sexist; he's a racist. He argues that you don't need any knowledge outside of any given novel to understand it, yet insists you must know the history of the Novel, and constantly refers to the geographical origins of The first three essays are difficult to get through because Kundera believes in Eliot's Great Tradition and that the modern era is characterised by a disintegration of values. He displays that European knowingness which too often amounts to little more than miserabilism. He's a sexist; he's a racist. He argues that you don't need any knowledge outside of any given novel to understand it, yet insists you must know the history of the Novel, and constantly refers to the geographical origins of novelists (and the Novel). Still, there is value here, though Testaments Betrayed already contains most of what he has to say, and in more depth. I particularly value his efforts to re-open the possibilities of the novel, and his characterisation of it as the ironic art: playful, hypothetical, provocative, inquiring. The fifth essay, 'Somewhere Behind', was my favourite, and essential reading for any theorist of science fiction. In it, Kundera argues for a non-metaphorical reading of Kafka. Any correspondences, he says, must be between processes rather than things. Art and history are already implicit in natural capabilities, so that an artist discovers their work, just as the world discovers its history; and so, both the artist and the world perform experiments that may reveal the same thing.Kafka made no prophecies. All he did was see what was 'behind'. He did not know that his seeing was also a fore-seeing. He did not intend to unmask a social system. He shed light on the mechanisms he knew from private and microsocial human practice, not suspecting that later developments would put those mechanisms into action on the great stage of history.(I wonder if Kundera has ever written on Stanislaw Lem?)

  30. 4 out of 5

    John David

    This book has the property of timelessness, much like the writing on writing that is seen in Eric Auerbach and Kenneth Burke. However, it is in no way literary theory, nor is it, contrary to what some of the other reviewers seem to believe, philosophical. It is a careful explication of the authors principles, not a grand theoretical schema. The instantiation of real human circumstances, ones deeply concerned with the problems entailed by Heideggers in-der-Welt-sein, is what differentiates the This book has the property of timelessness, much like the “writing on writing” that is seen in Eric Auerbach and Kenneth Burke. However, it is in no way literary theory, nor is it, contrary to what some of the other reviewers seem to believe, “philosophical.” It is a careful explication of the author’s principles, not a grand theoretical schema. The instantiation of real human circumstances, ones deeply concerned with the problems entailed by Heidegger’s in-der-Welt-sein, is what differentiates the novel from philosophy. It is nothing less and nothing more than a series of seven disquisitions on the historical development of the European novel. “The Depreciated Legacy of Cervantes,” serves to offer the substance for latter explication, meditation, and the occasional tangent. Its subject is the history and development of the European novel that is deeply rooted in existential concern. As Kundera says, “A novel that does not discover a hitherto unknown segment of existence is immoral.” He is careful to delineate the novel’s uniqueness as a historical artifact, and sees modernity as closely tied to the regnant existential themes as those explored by Joyce, Kafka, Sterne, Gombrowitz, and Broch (a somewhat epigrammatic essay on The Sleepwalkers is contained herein). But Kundera sees the inaugural journey into modernity as one that is essentially Cervantes’. Don Quixote enters a world that has seen the weakening influence of religious dogmatism. His experience contains none of the certitude of categorical absolutes that were so indicative of earlier existence (again, that desideratum for novelists).

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