Tonight I started The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It was that or Everything is Illuminated. I realized on the second page of the book I started that the title of the book I did not start was probably an allusion to this book. So Everything is Illuminated will be next. I only got halfway through Lightness tonight.
Lightness was recommended to me by a friend during one of our many conversations. Although we have many conversations they tend to fall into ridges, ruts, of subject matter: birds, travel, relationships, the Adirondaks, our common past, our common friends, design, and understanding. By understanding I mean that sometimes we speak about something within us, common to us both. The book came up in conversation so it may have just been a book recommendation. But because our friendship is predicated upon our common knowledge of a friend with whom I had a relationship, and about whom we sometimes speak, I think the book recommendation also has to do with this relationship. It may or may not. As Kundera points out, it may just be a coincidence with which I’m imbuing special significance because my personal life narrative has aesthetic value to me.
I am not overly impressed with the book. I think the character descriptions are accurate but overly simplified, and the “deep thoughts” have somewhat of a “Book of Quotations” feel to them. I don’t like the clear style. Everything is too easily explained, like a textbook. I like Duras and Woolf. I like the complexity, the translucency of human relationships to be reproduced in complex, translucent ways. Kundera’s lightness (of hand, stylistically) results in language that is too transparent for the weightiness, the opacity of the subject.
I identify with the character Sabina, and the friend described above is like Tomas (though I see myself in Tereza too, and former lovers in Franz). If every book that portrays characters or tells about people (tales, biographies, historical and religious documents, fiction) could be said to be an approximation of something real, so that all that written information is like a vast archive of possibilities for People none of which are Quite Like the Real Thing, then The Unbearable Lightness of Being is another piece of that database. But from the halfway point of the book I have not found something that puts it into a more interesting category than fodder for that archive. Again, I think it is partly because of the style. It is too clear. People are fuzzy.
I was talking to my boss recently about OFC and I was explaining that part of the reason that things are all broken up is that memory does not work in nice clear grammatical trajectories. There is a grammar to memory, but it is not the same as the grammar to which I constrain myself in this blog post. Relationships are similar. There is always so much to convey at once that time and space do not correspond. To try to convey multiple, competing claims at once as well as all the spin-offs, memories, projections, etc. protruding from the claims is impossible in what (in a grammatical sentence) is essentially two-dimensional space (or to be more precise, nacheinander). This (and not the blankness of the page) is what makes writing like painting: it is a way of constraining 4D life to 2D space. It’s certainly an interesting quandary and gives rise to many experiments, even experiments that claim that they are not trying to represent anything (but even in doing so are commenting upon reality, or recording or leaving a trace of reality, as in Pollock’s paintings). To me this challenge of representation is much more interesting than what is represented, since what is represented is never really real anyway. Kundera has chosen to try to explain things very neatly, very clearly in his book although he obviously wants to report in-depth on the complexities of his characters, and that strategy doesn’t appeal to me as a way of answering to the problem of representing the (unbearably light) complexity of life.