Lena Olin as Sabina in the 1988 film adaptation. Put away your preconceptions! Let’s talk about this picture and what it represents to you. IB English A1 Introduction to:The unbearable lightness of being By Milan Kundera
The bowler hat: What does it represent? • It signified violence; violence against Sabina, against her dignity as a woman. […] The lingerie enhanced the charm of her femininity, while the hard masculine hat denied it, violated and ridiculed it. The fact that Tomas stood beside her fully dressed meant that the essence of what they both saw was far from good clean fun […]; it was humiliation. (3.2.3) • It was a memento of her father. After the funeral her brother appropriated all their parents' property, and she, refusing out of sovereign contempt to fight for her rights, announced sarcastically that she was taking the bowler hat as her sole inheritance. (3.2.6) • It was a sign of her originality, which she consciously cultivated. She could not take much with her when she emigrated, and taking this bulky, impractical thing meant giving up other, more practical ones. (3.2.8) • It was a vague reminder of a forgotten grandfather, the mayor of a small Bohemian town during the nineteenth century. (3.2.5) • It was a recapitulation of time, a hymn to their common past, a sentimental summary of an unsentimental story that was disappearing in the distance. (3.2.9) • The bowler hat was a motif in the musical composition that was Sabina's life. It returned again and again, each time with a different meaning, […] though all former meanings would resonate […] together with the new one. (3.2.10) Let’s discuss the importance of this picture in terms of its imagery, symbolism, and representation of some of the book’s greatest motifs
The Implications of the title and its origins • What is Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of "eternal return”? • Based on this idea time is ___________, not linear. • This concept is the “heaviest burden” We must live and act as though our lives functioned in eternal return This allows us to give our own lives meaning and weight by behaving this way. This leads to Amor fati(the love of one's fate). To embrace eternal return is, roughly speaking, to love one's fate.
Title Cont. • Kundera does not believe in the eternal return • "Human time does not turn in a circle…it runs ahead in a straight line" (7.4.13) • What are the consequcences? • Our lives are filled with lightness: “Einmalistkeinmal” • Here is the big question: Which is better: weight or lightness • Parmenides says lightness is positive and weight is negative. But the narrator of The Unbearable Lightness of Being isn't so sure about this. • "The heaviest of burdens is […] simultaneously an image of life's most intense fulfillment," he says (1.2.4). "The heavier the burden, […] the more real and truthful [our lives] become" (1.2.4). • Kundera discusses lightness in two contexts: • The sweet lightness of being • The unbearable lightness of being.
Title Cont. • But our lives are paradoxical (our lives are void of meaning but we want it) • Eternal Return (scary!) brings meaning to lives (weight/cyclical) • Since we only live once our lives mean no responsibility, no judgement, no meaning. Yikes! Don’t we want our lives to have meaning? (lightness/linear) • The title suggests two things: (be careful you have to read the entire book to see all the arguments these premises entail) • Nietzsche was wrong; there is no eternal return; our lives occur only once, and that makes them light. • Parmenides was wrong; such lightness is not sweet, it is unbearable.
What’s with the structure of the novel? • Non-linear narration (but very strong sense on continuity) • Chronological displacement allows us to focus on the individual’s relationship to society • Thematically connects different plot lines and reuses various motifs to provoke existential inquiries • Seven-Part Structure: • “The seven-part structure doesn’t represent some superstitious flirtation with magical numbers, or any rational calculation, but a deep, unconscious, incomprehensible drive, an archetype of a form that I cannot escape. My novels are variations of an architecture based on the number seven.” The Art of the Novel,Kundera
Structure Cont • Musical Influence: Kunderauses the metaphor of a music composition to describe an individual's life • Music, not literature, predominated Kudnera’s life until he was 25. He composed music for piano, viola, clarinet, and percussion, and divided each composition into seven parts. His music compositions consisted of parts that varied in form, each with different instrumentation. He played with emotional atmospheres by shifting tempos. • He balanced the diversity of instrumentation by creating a strong thematic unity between parts. The last three parts of his compositions were based on polyphony • The Unbearable Lightness of Being • Part VII: Pianissimo and adagio (Karenin’s smile has a calm, melancholy mood with few events • Part VI: Fortissimo and Pretissino ( “ The Ground March” has a rough, cynical mood full of events) Starting to see the connections to his writing?
Structure Cont • Polyphony (a style of musical composition employing two or more simultaneous but relatively independent melodic lines ) • The book contains the same story of two or more story lines of separate narrative content. Those lines are made of the thoughts and journeys of different characters of groups of characters and told simultaneously. (i.e. Parts 2 and 4, which focus on Tereza, alternate with parts 1 and 5, which focus on Tomas) • He provides an equality of voices • Most striking in Part VI—the polyphonetic passage is he keynote to the whole structure. It is also used as an essay rather than a part of plot. (Part VI is what Kundera calls a “digression”—we’ll talk more about it when we get there)
What Next?! • What about themes? Identity Betrayal Sex and Love Time Language and Communication Power Kitsch
How should we tackle this book? You know the very basics, so let’s delve into a closer analysis. Here is what I expect for next class: • Read my annotated copy of “Milan Kunderaon Politics and the Novel” and complete the accompanying outline • Be ready to discuss this!