Milan Kundera: couple troubles, a universal question

Milan Kundera: couple troubles, a universal question

Milan Kundera is a world famous writer. The consecration came to him in the eighties with the publication of the novel The unsustainable lightness of being – a very fortunate title, so enigmatic and so musical as to be indelibly imprinted in the memory, which Calvino reformulated in the opposite way in The Ineluctable heaviness of living.

Kundera is considered the inventor of a literary genre, a skilful amalgamation of non-fiction and fiction. Within the fictionalized dimension in which the story unfolds, he inserts profound philosophical digressions with metaphysical tones. He mainly tells stories of couples, dealing with the love that overwhelms souls and bodies, with all its inevitable contradictions. While chance and history haunt human existence. – These are the years in which Eastern Europe is agitated by certain reformist aspirations, which the Soviet Union represses rather as a threat. And for some, all that remains is exile. – Time and memory, identity and nostalgia, the heaviness of living and the lightness of being, melancholy, sentiment, freedom, irony, modernity are some of the themes on which the author develops profound reflections, which like invisible threads connect an entire literary production, returning now here, now there, to the point of making it a sort of treatise on human feeling.

Kundera is considered a master of style: while not using particular virtuosity, he manages to be surprisingly refined. Certain titles of him already prove it. He has a musical sense of words – which resists even in translation. His prose resonates like a waltz: elegant, natural, delicate, sovereign and full of grace. In Kundera everything is movement, variation, incessant exploration of the possible: he manages to open up behind the facts that cross the lives of his characters, as many penetrating questions that ultimately lead us back to our personal experience.


For the author, the novelist’s task is precisely that of teaching people to grasp the world as a question, and the meaning of literature is that of discovering still unknown segments of existence: “The characters in my novels are my own possibilities that are not they have come true. This is why I love everyone in the same way and they all frighten me in the same way: each of them has crossed a border that I have only circumvented ”, he wrote. Which clearly means the attempt to tell far beyond what he knows, the effort to go beyond his own personal experience to reach an almost dreamlike dimension that has something supernatural in it.

Kundera’s story proceeds in waves: first comes the story of the characters, the story of the couples, in their singularity and unpredictability, then through the subsequent digressions and comments the private problem is transformed into the universal question – it becomes ours too. Here, this generalization, instead of adding gravity to the drama, lightens it: ironically it becomes not “the tragedy”, but only one of the more troubles of life. Literature resizes existences, makes us see them in perspective, with that certain detachment that almost makes us smile about our problems in the lives of others. The same ones by which too often, unfortunately, we let ourselves be overwhelmed.

Reading Kundera instead is a very useful exercise to remind us what the right approach should be. If somewhere it is written that things must be – in their heaviness – then they will be, no matter how much we damn ourselves to make sure they are not. They will repeat themselves, losing their drama.

And if instead, what is appears only once and is then destined to disappear as if it never really existed – in all its lightness – in the same way, why be so damned about the best choice to make? After all, if every situation is unrepeatable and presents itself to us for the first time, we certainly cannot make use of experience. “Any student in the class of physics can prove with experiments the accuracy of a scientific hypothesis. Man, on the other hand, living only one life, has no possibility of verifying a hypothesis by means of an experiment, and therefore he will never know whether or not he should have listened to his feelings ”, he wrote.

There are beautiful pages of Kundera dedicated to love: in its necessity, in its need to be, perhaps the heaviest thing that exists in the world. There is no choice in love, love is inevitable: “Against feelings we are disarmed, because they just exist – and they escape any censorship. We can blame ourselves for a gesture, a phrase, but not a feeling: we have no power over it ”.

Yet, we crave that heaviness to achieve the fulfillment that leads to happiness, with its corollary of lightness. And there are beautiful pages of Kundera dedicated to nostalgia: the suffering caused by the unfulfilled desire to return. Nostalgia illuminates everything with the reddish light of the sunset. Still, he deceives. We think it makes us remember the things that have been, and instead makes us forget them. We think it feeds on the past, and instead feeds on vivid imagination. Nostalgia does not intensify the activity of memory, it does not awaken memories, it is enough in itself: Ulysses “for twenty years had only thought about returning. But when he was back home he understood, with amazement, that his life, the very essence of his life, his center, his treasure, was outside Ithaca, in those twenty years. of wandering “.

The past does not come back, not even in memories. A kind of wisdom belongs to Milan Kundera. A touch, in which sweetness, pain, tenderness, melancholy, bitterness, irony, lightness, a certain inner detachment and a certain “strangely joyful coldness” merge. He has always composed his novels of him as symphonies. Attracted by everything molecular: the beat of a pupil, the mysterious expression of a wrinkle. He has always built by wandering. Having chosen a motif, he takes it up and transforms it, losing and rediscovering the thread of the discourse, and then inlaid it with other motifs, repeating and rediscovering the thread, in a continuous game of echoes and assonances in which the story seems to get lost each time, dragged by the conversation. . But at the end of many variations, he managed to design the most rigorous construction. To Kundera belongs that kind of wisdom of those who are able to perceive and follow the inexorable rhythm of life.

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Milan Kundera: couple troubles, a universal question – Il Quotidiano del Sud