lightness pt. 1

2 chapters of Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being and, i feel like i have to jot down all my thoughts about it immediately here (if you excuse the super gay gif)

i first thought that the book is written in the first person, opened with first few pages spawning various thoughts, concepts and ideas (mostly philosophical, sometimes quoting notable philosophers) of the narrator's regarding 'eternal return' in which 'everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum'. the narrator made a point that if things were to happen on constant loop, circumstances were to repeat themselves eternally, we would not take things for granted... but in reality we just have to 'deal with something that will not return', thus we do not give much thoughts to our actions, for our past experiences will only be frozen in photographs, or videos, or writing, or discussions, or songs, or melodies, which indeed have the capability of reliving the feel and atmosphere, but limited to one or two of our senses: the smell can never be brought back, the feel, the touch of the texture belonging to various objects can never be preserved: these sensations can never, ever liquefy and encompass themselves into one solid set of encounters we previously underwent...

but also, i think, because life only happens once, we give the best for it don't we

mine is a common argument, while i'd say the argument presented by the narrator serves a fresh, invigorating perspective of the matter even to those not familiar with the subject of philosophy (me)

my view however, is later discussed in the same chapter, the story has by then shifted to the story of Tomas and Tereza; told from a know-all point of view (which had enticed me into thinking that the novel was written in third person). it's a rather succinct explanation with relevant comparisons and analogies
There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, and without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself? That is why life is always like a sketch. No, 'sketch' is not quite the word, because a sketch is an outline of something, the ground-work for a picture, whereas the sketch that is our life is a sketch for nothing, an outline with no picture.

Eimmal ist keinmal, says Tomas to himself. What happens but once, says the German adage, might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all.
on the other hand, the speculated consequence of experiencing 'eternal return', of not taking things for granted, of having constantly recurring series and episodes of our lives, is bearing the heaviest of responsibilities. therefore the narrator argues that the opposite set of lightness and heaviness is the most ambiguous, for lightness can deflect into calamity, and heaviness into prosperity, a sense of contentment and fulfillment

the book itself focuses on its characters' infedilities as it introduces the concept of 'erotic friendship', which can be summarised in tomas' rule of threes
Needing to create a compromise between fear and desire, he devised what he called erotic friendship. He would tell his mistresses: the only relationship that can make both partners happy is one in which sentimentality has no place and neither partner makes any claim on the life and freedom of the other.

To ensure that erotic friendship never grew into the aggression of love, he would meet each of his long-term mistresses only at intervals. He considered this method flawless and propagated it among his friends: The important thing is to abide by the rule of threes. Either you see a woman three times in quick succession and then never again, or you maintain relations over the years but make sure that the rendezvous are at least three weeks apart.
i think this method is not uncommon (though not specific to such 'threes' rules), it has been widely used by both men and women as a defence so as to prevent themselves from getting wounded too deeply from carelessly letting their position vulnerable, by opening their hearts to only one person, letting one sole love grow in heart, and finally watching it wither or die violently... (written very well in one of neil gaiman's passages, i think)

further on, tomas realises that he really is in love with teresa, and at one night succeeds to make distinction between the love he has for tereza, and the lust he has for all his mistresses
He never spent the night with the others. It was easy enough if he was at their place: he could leave whenever he pleased. It was worse when they were at his and he had to explain that come midnight he would have to drive them home because he was an insomniac and found it impossible to fall asleep in close proximity to another person. Though it was not far from the truth, he never dared tell them the whole truth:

after making love he had an uncontrollable craving to be by himself; waking in the middle of the night at the side of an alien body was distasteful to him, rising in the morning with an intruder repellent; he had no desire to be overheard brushing his teeth in the bathroom, nor was he enticed by the thought of an intimate breakfast.

That is why he was so surprised to wake up and find Tereza squeezing his hand tightly. Lying there looking at her, he could not quite understand what had happened. But as he ran through the previous few hours in his mind, he began to sense an aura of hitherto unknown happiness emanating from them.


Tomas came to this conclusion: Making love with a woman and sleeping with a woman are two separate passions, not merely different but opposite. Love does not make itself felt in the desire for copulation (a desire that extends to an infinite number of women) but in the desire for shared sleep (a desire limited to one woman).
despite being truly in love with tereza, tomas is unable to ditch his treacherous acts from his new 'lifestyle', polygamy has become his second skin. tereza later finds herself having a series of dreams very frequently, studded with codes and full of symbols: a reaction to tomas' disloyal acts, an automatic response triggered by her subconscious...

i like this description of tomas' love for tereza because it's true, because i believe we all once had this kind of love too: a love so sublime yet wearisome, a love better left as a reminiscence, a keepsake from the past, not to be gone through but to be occasionally harked back all over again
He paid the bill, left the restaurant, and started walking through the streets, his melancholy growing more and more beautiful. He had spent seven years of life with Tereza, and now he realized that those years were more attractive in retrospect than they were when he was living them.

His love for Tereza was beautiful, but it was also tiring: he had constantly had to hide things from her, sham, dissemble, make amends, buck her up, calm her down, give her evidence of his feelings, play the defendant to her jealousy, her suffering, and her dreams, feel guilty, make excuses and apologies. Now what was tiring had disappeared and only the beauty remained.
the first chapter is closed with an alternative explanation to tomas' first encounter with tereza in a small town a while ago, with this paragraph the book firmly states its stance on 'coincidence' (later elaborated in the second chapter)
Seven years earlier, a complex neurological case happened to have been discovered at the hospital in Tereza's town. They called in the chief surgeon of Tomas's hospital in Prague for consultation, but the chief surgeon of Tomas's hospital happened to be suffering from sciatica, and because he could not move he sent Tomas to the provincial hospital in his place. The town had several hotels, but Tomas happened to be given a room in the one where Tereza was employed. He happened to have had enough free time before his train left to stop at the hotel restaurant. Tereza happened to be on duty, and happened to be serving Tomas's table. It had taken six chance happenings to push Tomas towards Tereza, as if he had little inclination to go to her on his own.
the second chapter recounts the first chapter, but if the first chapter examines tomas' actions, his philosophy and apparent reasons behind his infedilities, the second one weighs more on teresa's side, it divulges her various sentiments and elucidations behind the things she's gone through, most of which not disclosed in previous chapter

it opens with a beautiful paragraph reminding us to understand the artificiality, the nonexistence of every character in any fictional work, including tomas and tereza
It would be senseless for the author to try to convince the reader that his characters once actually lived. They were not born of a mother's womb; they were born of a stimulating phrase or two or from a basic situation. Tomas was born of the saying Einma! ist keinmal. Tereza was born of the rumbling of a stomach.
later it proceeds to reveal tereza's past gradually, how her soul becomes separate from her physical body. the story travels back a generation earlier, when tereza's mother is a heartthrob and has a difficulty to choose a marriage partner
Then came the time for her to marry. She had nine suitors. They all knelt round her in a circle. Standing in the middle like a princess, she did not know which one to choose: one was the handsomest, another the wittiest, the third was the richest, the fourth the most athletic, the fifth from the best family, the sixth recited verse, the seventh traveled widely, the eighth played the violin, and the ninth was the most manly. But they all knelt in the same way, they all had the same calluses on their knees.

The reason she finally chose the ninth was not so much that he was manly of all as that when she whispered 'Be careful, very careful' to him during their lovemaking he was purposely careless, and she had to marry him after failing to find a doctor willing to perform an abortion. And so Tereza was born.
tereza's father then leaves the family and after giving birth to three children, tereza's mother-- who is used to people's homage for her beauty-- becomes depressed after discovering her reflection in the mirror: a saggy, ugly old face, no longer a desirable beauty

as promised before, an elaboration of the narrator's stance on coincidence
After Tomas had returned to Prague from Zurich, he began to feel uneasy at the thought that his acquaintance with Tereza was the result of six improbable fortuities.

But is not an event in fact more significant and noteworthy the greater the number of fortuities necessary to bring it about?

Chance and chance alone has a message for us. Everything that occurs out of necessity, everything expected, repeated day in and day out, is mute. Only chance can speak to us. We read its message much as gypsies read the images made by coffee grounds at the bottom of a cup.
the most important parts of the chapter are the explanation of symbolism in tereza's dreams; what each element represents, the other one is the part in which the narrator further points out an additional factor behind tereza's agitation: her mother

edit: i just finished chapter 3

i left out the political/historical elements of the story, not very fluent at that (russian occupations of european countries)

i like this book because, often appearing are the characters' thoughts, speculations and feelings, each of them of profound depth, which i feel impossible had it been told from a first person (because most of these things require a tight cooperation between your conscious and subconscious selves, and we are more than often better at observing our surroundings than what is inside us). the book doesn't really concentrate on the realisation of events, or the execution of all things (descriptive text of movements/characteristics of various tangible objects), instead its focus exists on what lies behind them all.

one of the books that i do not want to rush through

(reference to rilo kiley's song intended)

No comments:

Post a Comment