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The Unbearable Lightness of Being

(The book, not the film!)
Milan Kundera, 1984

How can I express how much this book means to me?! I first read it when I was about 20-21? I never stopped thinking about it really, thinking that there is something at the bottom of it that points the way for me and certainly did with Beginners. To name a few examples: the way Kundera’s constantly breaking his own form; the way he talks about romantic love as inseparable from family-culture-history; his gentle self-reflexiveness; the accuracy of his description of all the strange stories we create and recreate for ourselves and our partners when we’re in love; the way Kundera is always tracking the characters’ choices and desires and ways of organizing the world - tracking all that back through the ever-larger stories of their parents, their family, their town, their country, their moment in history. But mostly, the way Kundera was able to conceive of the novel as being formally polymorphic but thematically unified. It contains, to name a few of the writing modes off the top of my head: 1. The author directly addressing the reader 2. Several different interweaving love stories with plots and sex and all that. 3. Essays on kitsch – the emotional kind. 4. An essay on words the couples in the story shared, or thought they were sharing; “words misunderstood” 5. Lots of Czech/Soviet history; a quick biography of the plight of Stalin’s son, how the Czechs tore down all the street names during the Russian takeover in ‘68, so the invaders would be lost, and the unexpected result of the Russians renaming everything with Soviet names. 6. Philosophical meanderings on lightness and weight. This collage of perspectives, this broken-open method of writing, of really - investigating these people and how they came to think of the world as they do is endlessly inspiring to me.

Here is a quote form his book “Testaments Betrayed” that I kept on my script binder during shooting (I know, I know - pretentious! Pretentious!!)

“Kitsch-making (the urge to generalize and sentimentalize) is not the personal defect of some American professor or any one person, it is a seduction that comes out of the collective unconscious; a command from the metaphysical prompter; a perennial social imperative, a force. That force is aimed not at art alone but primarily at reality itself… it throws a veil of commonplaces over the present moment in or that the face of the real will disappear.”

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