LITERATURE: The Unbearable Lightness – Enter, the Author!

There were a few–not many–times that this book switched from third person to first, and maybe it can all be considered first but then, I’d have to go back and assure myself that Kundera’s narrator was always on the scene, and I do not believe that he was.  Several times I went to post about it but it was always slipped in there, hiding within pages and pages of story, coming out only for a brief moment in which he acknowledges himself as a watcher, and teller therefore, of the tale.  Then suddenly without warning (again) Kundera comes out full blown:

And once more I see him the way he appeared to me at the very beginning of the novel: standing at the window and staring across the courtyard at the walls opposite. (p. 221)

Did I miss something? My prior impression of the switch to first was just as a friend or acquaintance, even a stranger who is repeating what he’s heard of Tomas.  But Kundera here has made his position clear; Tomas and the rest are characters in a novel, and it looks like he’s just met them too.

This is the image from which he was born. As I have pointed out before, characters are not born like people, of woman; they are born of a situation, a sentence, a metaphor containing in a nutshell a basic human possibility that the author thinks no one else has discovered or said something essential about.
But isn’t it true than an author can write only about himself?

Okay, now we know what’s going on here. As his character faces up to a situation wherein he refuses to sign a petition that he claims he doesn’t care if it gets him in trouble, when thinking of Tereza, he chooses to protect her and not take the risk.  Then, within days, he forgets why he chose not to sign. What are we to make of this? Is there a struggle between the nature of author and that of his character that puts Kundera in such a reflective mood?

The characters in my novels are my own unrealized possibilities. That is why I am equally fond of them all and equally horrified by them.  Each one has crossed a border that I myself have circumvented. Is it that crossed border (the border beyond which my own "I" ends) which attracts me most. For beyond that border begins the secret the novel asks about.

I love it! Kundera is telling us that a writer draws upon experience and his own set of values, but in the writing–as in the vicariousness of reading–the bars are lifted and all bets are off. The writer is free to open door #2 and #3, which is what his mother taught him he must never do. Hell, he can even touch the stove when it’s hot!

It’s funny, but I just mentioned in an email this morning to a friend who kindly offered to read one of my latest stories, that a story that’s currently in the submission process is one I feel kind of funny about because it’s closest of any of my writing to my own life experiences. And yet, Kundera relieves me of my guilt:

The novel is not the author’s confession; it is an investigation of human life in the trap the world has become.

Yes, and all the possibilities of opportunities and choices that we can imagine–rather than rely upon–to tell a story that becomes just that; a story. And with that wonderful little passage, while Kundera takes us aside and admits his participation, he goes back to the business of story:

But enough. Let us return to Tomas.

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