Much of it has to do with the structure of the novel. Kundera tells the whole story in outline early in the novel. He then goes back and fills in details in subsequent sections. This removes any of the "page-turning, what comes next?" pleasure from the novel. Kundera is almost Brechtian in his desire to withhold conventional pleasures from the reader. Brecht, of course, attempted to remove the conventional pleasure from theatre to distance the audience so that they would focus on the didactic lesson rather than becoming involved in the story. Unfortunately for Brecht's aims, he was too much of a natural showman to pull this off. They may be more fortunate than Brecht would have realized since he would no longer be read or performed today if he had not written powerful plays.
I, personally, have the disadvantage of knowing the film version of TULoB. I own the DVD. It's one of my favorite films. It was written by Jean-Claude CarriŔre (screenwriter for most of Bu˝uel's most famous films, among others) and starring the marvelous Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche, and Lena Olin. These actors have so much presence, charisma, and emotional weight that it is no wonder that Kundera, who was involved in the production, was disappointed with the final result. The "light" characters, Tomas and Sabina, acquire the presence of Tereza (the "heavy" character, if my reading of the novel is correct.) It's a wonderful film, but the "lightness of being" is not really dramatized. In fact, in the film it seems to be involved with the relative "weight" of people under Eastern Communism as opposed to Western Democracy. Which either isn't present, or doesn't seem very important, in the novel.
Because the actors are so attractive, it is possible to enjoy spending time with all three (plus the luckless Franz). In the novel, the characters are so unappealing that I became very tired of them. Tomas' relentless womanizing is unpleasant, to say the least. While I was interested in Sabina as an artist (I would have loved to actually see her paintings), she's barely there as a character, except in contrast to poor old Franz. And Tereza's dependence and neediness is off-putting to me as well. (It is a bit in the film, too, but Binoche is so lovely that I can tolerate her character.)
In my opinion, if Nietzsche's eternal recurrence were true, it would make our actions less weighty, not more. Either we are automatons condemned to make the same choices eternally, which removes all agency and makes life pointless, or we can make new choices, which would inevitably cause the recurrence to veer so far from the previous time that it could not be called a recurrence. Our lives are more "weighty," more important, because they only happen once. It does not make things "unbearably light," in my opinion. Kundera's thesis fails to convince me. His philosophical musings were of little interest to me, for the most part. Predictably, for a psychologist, my favorite section was Words Misunderstood, because miscommunication is at the heart of what I do on a daily basis.
In summary, I'm glad I read it, but it did not lead me to wish to read more Kundera.
I look forward to your comments, Guillermo, and I hope that Joffre will rejoin us for this discussion. I know that you like Kundera very much, Joffre. I would like to read your comments.
« Back to index