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Light but Sound - Kitsch and Desire in the Works of Marguerite Duras and Milan Kundera

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The works of Marguerite Duras and Milan Kundera are the most intense and non-conformingly crafted works I have read. They both lack the structured style of constructed art yet give the effect of amazing thoughts that in crumbling, forms into the most perfect patterns of representation, feeling and poetry. It is this great emphasis on the narrative rather than plot, the 'telling' of the story, without closure, the performance of the story not the 'writing' of it that makes their novels more art than writing. They are art, not an exercise in the presentation of morality, political consciousness or social dilemma for that matter, but in an amazing display of their art, without the judgmental, conviction of the believer and verifiable speculation of the observer, they nevertheless bring all these factors into plain view. 'Performance' becomes the value of writing.

Neurosis to Kundera is a global human condition; it is the state of life and the individual's relationship with and to this state of life. What everyone else tries to name and classify, for instance, words like love becoming a classification for people who feel a mixture of lust, respect and affection for another, is to Kundera and Duras, merely the paradoxical interplay of life and what our present sphere of relations consist of. I sense Kundera to be the man of the Enlightenment, one who is not loath to champion reason over emotion, pointing out as he has frequently done in his essays as well as fiction, that many of the worst disasters mankind has suffered were spawned by those who attended most passionately to the dictates of the heart. His The Unbearable Lightness of Being is the classic oeuvre of the psychology of Kundera's world: he actually defines what in other novels, were just ideas and formulations without any particular definition, here, he defines lightness as 'love' without obligation, and weight as 'love' with the responsibilities of caring, responding and nurturing. In this play out of the neurosis that has always been society's fixation as well as its site of repression, Kundera manages, without any form of judgmental criticism whatsoever, to analyze his believe of the world as an entity where one thing affects the other and lightness might as well be weight and weight, light.

'Kitsch' is a word Kundera is very fascinated with and which he refers to in a sense akin to horror. He returns to this concept again and again in his novels, and to me, this concept very much defines the neurosis he tries to present in his works, though the only time he actually names and defines it is in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Kitsch is an aesthetic ideal of being where everyone knows it exists but deny its existence. Anything unacceptable by the human consciousness, like the possibility of the non-existence of love, the question of truth and true happiness, of faith etcetera, is excluded. In The Unbearable Lightness... he writes of one of the characters, the US senator who takes the Czech painter Sabina for a drive and stops to allow his young children play on the grass in the sunshine. For him, the Senator declares, the sight of the gamboling youngsters is the very definition of happiness, at which there flashes through Sabina's mind an image of the senator on a reviewing stand in Prague smiling benignly down on the May Day parade.

"How did the Senator know that children meant happiness? Could he see into their souls? What if the moment they were out of sight, three of them jumped the fourth and began beating him up?"

"The Senator had only one argument in his favor: his feeling. When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object. In the realm of Kitsch, the dictatorship of the heart reigns supreme".

These speculations lead Kundera to an essential formulation: "The brotherhood of man on earth will be possible only on the basis of Kitsch". (p.248)

My summation: life would be unbearable without the lightness of denial.

This ability of Kundera to find the reality in the present is one of the most remarkable aspects of his writing. The characters are there to exact several possibilities of life in the trap of the world, what he calls "the investigation of human life in the trap the world has become". In Life is Elsewhere, the classic Oedipal story of a mother's attachment to the son in the definitive sexual way is turned upside down. In his subversive manner, Kundera re-analyses the age-old psychoanalytical theory of Sigmund Freud. In his presentation of Jaromil's mother's attachment to Jaromil, he shows a woman "whose womb has been offended". The sensual attachment to Jaromil is not madness nor perverse; it is simply the relationship a woman has with her body. She never had a satisfactory sexual relationship with her husband and because a child gives the mother the same security and love in his needful lifestyle, the role switching is not necessarily from the husband to the son, but to her body. Kundera shows how this relationship continues even after the child grows into an adult and how obscene it turns out. However, this obscenity is not shown with the intention to criticize, but with the intention to 'show', to 'perform' the process and the outcome. All Jaromil is, is an extension of his mother's thwarted life. He becomes his mother's existence, her being. In the performance of this whole novel, of Jaromil's alter-ego Xavier, of his sexual relationship with the red-head girl and the report he gives against her, is all an exploration of life; nothing is self-less, people do things for themselves, promiscuity is escapism. These are very well known human activities, but Kundera's purpose is to show how Kitsch is formed, humanity denies its perverseness and in doing so creates an institution for the unashamedly perverse, those who don't deny or hide their 'perverseness', and call them neurotic or mad.

Lightness and weight constantly switch roles, "where does the self begin and end?" Heaviness is an oppressing burden because it is the insight that there is meaning in the world and this pushes us to ponder upon our actions and to endeavor to carry out a project, and lightness is characterized by a peculiar situation where one lets go. What does one make of Sabina who leaves Frantz when his weight becomes light?, Tomas who cannot live in Geneva without the weight of Teresa's company?, the epic lover Eduardo, Martin in Laughable Loves and their eternal problem with the weight of actual acquisition and also the weight of non-acquisition



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