"The Unbearable Lightness Of Being" By Milan Kundera 2. PART ONE. Lightness and Weight. The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has. identity Books by Milan Kundera The Joke Laughable Loves Life Is Elsewhere Farewell Waltz (EARLIER TRANSLATION: The Farewell Party) The Book. Milan Kundera - Slowness (PDF) - Free ebook download as PDF File .pdf), Text File .txt) or read book online for free.
|Language:||English, Spanish, Indonesian|
|Distribution:||Free* [*Registration needed]|
"A magic curtain, woven of legends, hung before the world," writes Milan Kundera in The Curtain, his fascinating new book on the art of the novel. "Cervantes. Translating Milan Kundera. Read more · Milan Kundera (Bloom's Modern Critical Views) The Art of Memory in Exile: Vladimir Nabokov & Milan Kundera. INTRODUCTION In his Jerusalem Address (), meditating on the European tradition of the novel, Milan Kundera asks: But what is that wisdom, what is the.
From time to time the dream would turn into a nightmare. Only, in real life, a nightmare is over soon, you start yelling and you wake up, but I couldn't yell. And that was the worst of it: Being incapable of yelling in the midst of a nightmare. Now, yes. I can't shake off the idea that after death you keep being alive.
That to be dead is to live an endless nightmare. But that's enough. Let's talk about something else. But his fears were needless: However much F. The account plunged Jean-Marc into depression but stirred no affection in him. One day, some years back, he learned that F. He was there and he said not a single word in Jean-Marc's defense. Not wanting to be wrong, Jean-Marc took meticulous care to verify that F.
When he was thoroughly certain, for a few minutes he felt immensely wounded; then he decided never to see F. I was a sixteen-year-old twerp.
And I can see you now; you stopped, you looked at me hard, and you said in an oddly experienced tone, sincere, firm: For me all it takes is seeing how her eye blinks, seeing that movement of the eyelid over the cornea, and I feel a disgust I can barely control. The movement of the eyelid. Such a strange idea! Besides, he was not even trying to search his memory. You really don't remember that? As he left the hospital, he felt an irresistible yearning to be with Chantal. If he had not been so worn out he would have left on the spot.
On his way to Brussels, he had imagined having an elaborate breakfast the next morning and getting on the road when he felt like it, in no rush. But after the encounter with F. On her way toward the shore, she kept coming across weekend tourists. Every cluster of them presented the same pattern: This pattern Chantal saw repeated in several variants: Then, finally, with no man, a woman was pushing the stroller; she was doing it with a force unseen in the men, such that Chantal, walking on the same sidewalk, had to leap out of her way at the last moment.
Chantal thinks: They aren't fathers, they're just daddies, which means: Taking advantage of a moment when the wife stopped at a shop window, she would whisper an invitation to the husband. What would he do? Could the man transformed into a baby-tree still turn to look at a strange woman?
The idea strikes Chantal funny and puts her in a good mood. She thinks to herself: I live in a world where men will never turn to look at me again.
Then, along with a few morning strollers, she found herself on the seawall: It was a long time since she had come to the Normandy coast, and she was unfamiliar with the activities in fashion there now: The kite: And never women, always men. In fact, they were the daddies! The daddies without their children, the daddies who had managed to escape their wives!
They dicln't run off to mistresses, they ran off to the beach, to play! His reaction? She hadn't a doubt: She returned to the hotel. But in the parking lot outside the lobby, she spotted Jean-Marc's car. At the desk, she learned that he had arrived at least a half-hour before. The receptionist handed her a message: I'm going out to look for you. When he was very close, he saw her gaping mouth: He reached the seawall; down below, on the beach, he saw men with their heads thrown back releasing kites into the air.
Farther along the beach, children twelve to fourteen years old, their small bodies buckling beneath big colored helmets, were clustered around some odd vehicles: Why are the children helmeted?
It must mean the sport is dangerous. He went down the staircase to the beach and looked carefully along the ebbing waterline; among the distant silhouettes he strained to make out Chantal; finally he recognized her; she had just stopped to gaze at the waves, the sailboats, the clouds. He walked past children whom an instructor was seating in the sailcars, which then started to circle slowly. Other sailcars were speeding in all directions around them.
There's only the sail with its guide rope to keep the vehicle straight and dodge pedestrians by swerving aside. But can a clumsy amateur really control the sail?
And is the vehicle really infallible at responding to the pilot's will? Jean-Marc watched the sailcars, and when he saw one heading at racing-car speed for Chantal, he frowned.
An old man lay in the thing like an astronaut in a rocket. Flat on his back like that, the man can't see anything ahead of him! He railed against her, against her overly offhand nature, and quickened his pace. She turned halfway around. He would like to shout to her to stop being so distracted, to pay attention to those idiotic cars running all over the beach. Suddenly he imagines her body crushed by the car, sprawled on the sand, she is bleeding, the car is disappearing clown the beach and he sees himself clash toward her.
Turning back in his direction, she seemed to see him; overjoyed, he raised his arm again. But she paid him no mind and stopped anew to look at the long line of the sea caressing the sand. As he drew closer his step suddenly much less urgent , the woman he had thought was Chantal became old, ugly, pathetically other.
But she was so sleepy! She entered the cafe; music struck her, very loud. Irritated, she moved forward between the two rows of tables. In the large, empty room, two men stared at her: Thinking to take a seat, she said to the brawny one: She repeated reducing her demand: You don't like it?
The man with the tattoo was very near her. His smile seemed malicious. She capitulated: What will you have? You have a nice place here. He has moved again: The obsequious tone of his voice has stirred panic in her.
She feels caught in a snare about to close around her any minute. She wants to act fast. To get out, she will have to go through where the young man is barring her way. Like a person hell-bent on her own ruination, she moves toward the exit. She sees before her the young man's sickly sweet smile, and she feels her heart beating.
Only at the last moment does he step aside and let her pass. He opens the door to the hotel room. At last, there she is. This time, without the slightest doubt, it is she, but not looking like herself either. Her face is old, her glance strangely harsh.
As if the woman he had been waving at on the beach must, now and forevennore, replace the one he loves. As if he must be punished for his inability to recognize her. What's happened?
I had almost no sleep. I've had a bad morning. She finally says: He wants to say to her: And me? What about me? Me who goes searching for you for kilometers on the beach, me who shouts your name in tears and who could chase after you the length and breadth of the planet? He doesn't say it. Instead, slowly, his tone low, he repeats her words: Is that really why you're sad? She flushes as he has not seen her , flush for a long time. That flush seems to betray unconfessed desires. Desires so violent that Chantal cannot resist them, and she repeats: She saw him gaze at her, lengthily, gravely, and she had the feeling that deep inside her body that gaze was touching off a fire.
In Jean-Marc's eyes there suddenly flares a light she knows, which is like a rescue lantern: That was why, when he tried to take her in his arms, she stiffened; she was afraid to be clasped against him; afraid that her damp body would divulge the secret.
The moment was too brief and gave her no time to monitor herself; and so, before she could suppress her gesture, timidly but firmly she pushed him away.
Does Chantal still remember those several seconds of misapprehension? Does she still recall the phrase that upset Jean-Marc? The episode has been forgotten like thousands of others. About death? Chantal's boss has asked her to give some thought to an advertising campaign for the Lucien Duval Funeral Homes.
The idea itself is so obviously funny, an ad campaign for death! Your boss, that old Trotskyite! Sharp as a scalpel. Advertising, he claims, is realizing that poetic project after the fact. It transforms the simple objects of life into poetry. Thanks to advertising, everydayness has started singing. He's highly aware of the subtle difference between them.
I never laugh. Don't forget, I've got two different faces. I've learned to draw some pleasure from the fact, but still, having two faces isn't easy. It takes effort, it takes discipline! You have to understand that whatever I do, like it or not, I do with the intention to do well. If only so as not to lose my job.
And it's very hard to be a perfectionist in your work and at the same time despise that work. When I'm at the office, I wear the serious face. I get the resumes of people looking for work at our place. It's up to me to recommend them or reject them. Some of them, in their letters, express themselves in this perfectly up-to-date lingo, with all the cliches, with the jargon, with all the required optimism. And then there are the ones who, in other times, would certainly be going into philosophy, or art history, or teaching French literature, but these days, for want of anything better, almost out of despair, they're looking for work at our place.
I know that in their hearts they feel contempt for the j ob they're seeking and that therefore they are my kinfolk. And I have to decide. I behave half as traitor to my company, half as traitor to myself. I'm a double traitor. And that state of double treason I consider not a defeat but a triumph. Because who knows how long I'll still be able to hold on to my two faces? The day will come when I'll have only one face.
The worse of the two, of course. The serious one. The acquiescent one. Will you still love me then?
She smiles and raises her wine glass: I don't know why, since I was very young I've always been fascinated by poems about death. I've learned lots and lots of them by heart. I can recite some, you want me to? You can use them. For instance, these lines from Baudelaire, you must know them: Let's weigh anchor! This land bores us, 0 Death! Let's cast off! Your old Trotskyite loves poetry! And what better consolation for a dying person than to say to himself: For your ads, you'd only have to change them a bit: You're getting bored with this land.
Lucien Duval, the old captain, will help you weigh anchor. They're not the ones who'll be calling for Lucien Duval's services. And the living people who are burying their dead want to enjoy life, not celebrate death. Keep this in mind: The word "adventure'!
The word "future'! And the word "hope'! By the way, do you know the code name for the atomic bomb they dropped on Hiroshima? That's a genius, the fellow who invented that code! They couldn't have dreamed up a better one. Little boy, kid, tyke, tot-there's no word that's more tender, more touching, more loaded with future. And thus was the postwar era inaugurated. Later, during the summer vacation, her sister-in-law told her: You should have another child.
That's the only way you'll forget. A shadow rapidly fading into its successor. But she did not wish to forget her child. Against the future she was guarding a past, the neglected and disdained past that was the poor little dead child. A week later, her husband told her: We should have another child right away. Then you'll forget. That was the moment she decided to leave him. It was clear to her that her husband, a fairly passive man, was speaking not for himself but for the more general interests of the family group dominated by his sister.
At the time, the woman was living with her third husband and the two children born of her previous marriages; she had managed to stay on good terms with her former husbands and to regroup them around her, along with the families of her brothers and her cousins.
Their huge gatherings took place in an enormous country house during school vacations; she tried to bring Chantal into the tribe so that bit by bit, imperceptibly, she would become part of it. And there, in a little bedroom, she refused to make love with him. Every one of his erotic invitations reminded her of the family campaign for another pregnancy, and the idea of making love with him became grotesque.
They all assumed rights of scrutiny over her belly. Even the little nephews were enlisted as mercenaries in the war. One of them asked her: Irritated, she went on: Before her son was born, she had taught high school. She felt guilty at betraying her own inclinations for the sake of money, but this was the only way to obtain her independence. To obtain it, nevertheless, money wasn't enough. She also needed a man, a man who would be the living example of a different life, because though she yearned desperately to escape her earlier life, she could not Imagme another.
She was to wait a few years before meeting Jean-Marc. Two weeks after that, she asked her astonished husband for a divorce. He runs after her and shouts her name. Yet it is not someone different, it is Chantal, his Chantal, he has no doubt of that, but his Chantal with a stranger's face, and this is horrifying, this is unbearably horrifying. He grasps her, holds her to his body, and, sobbing, he chants: The dream woke him.
Chantal was no longer in bed, he heard the morning sounds from the bathroom. Still in the grip of the dream, he felt an urgent need to see her.
He rose and went toward the half-open door of the bathroom. There he stopped, and like a voyeur avid to steal a glimpse of some intimate scene, he watched her: At about six he came into the lobby, turned down the corridor, and stopped at her door.
It was ajar, as the bathroom door had been in the morning. Chantal was in her office with two women, her colleagues. That morning, in the bathroom, he had recovered the being he'd lost during the night, and now, in the late afternoon, she was changing again before his eyes. He went in. She smiled at him. But the smile was fixed, and Chantal almost rigid. In France, over the past twenty years, kissing on both cheeks has become an almost obligatory convention and, for that reason, painful for people who love each other.
The gesture was artificial, and it left them with a false taste. They went out, and only after a while did he see her again as the Chantal he had known. It is always that way: At their first encounter, in the mountains, he had had the luck to get away alone with her almost immediately. To these questions he has no answer.
That phrase was unlike her. And her face, looking harsh, looking old, was unlike her too. His first reaction was jealousy: But less than an hour later, he came around to thinking: Wouldn't it be ridiculous to take offense at that?
Still, without taking offense, he did not agree. Because on the day they first met he had already noted traces of slight aging on her face she is older than he by four years. Her beauty, which struck him at the time, did not make her look younger than her age; he might sooner have said that her age made her beauty more eloquent. Chantal's phrase echoed in his head and he imagined the story of her body: However much he may tell her he loves her and thinks her beautiful, his loving gaze could never console her.
Because the gaze of love is the gaze that isolates. Jean-Marc thought about the loving solitude of two old persons become invisible to other people: No, what she needs is not a loving gaze but a flood of alien, crude, lustful looks settling on her with no good will, no discrimination, no tenderness or politeness-settling on her fatefully, inescapably.
Those are the looks that sustain her within human society. The gaze of love rips her out of it. With some remorse he recalled the dizzyingly headlong beginnings of their love. Turn to look at her? No need. She was instantly with him, in front of him, beside him. Unjustifiable inequality, iniquitous inequality. She was weaker because she was older. But she was not by nature a woman born to run through lovers, and this vague, lyrical dream quickly fell dormant in her marriage, which started off calm and happy.
And in this bath of white she was struck by a feeling of unbearable nostalgia for Jean-Marc. How could she feel nostalgia when he was right in front of her? How can you suffer from the absence of a person who is present?
Jean-Marc knew how to answer that: During that moment of strange nostalgia at the seaside, she suddenly thought of her dead child, and a wave of happiness flooded over her. Soon she would be frightened by this feeling. But no one can do a thing about feelings, they exist and there's no way to censor them. The memory of her dead son filled her with happiness and she could only ask herself what that meant.
The answer was clear: She was happy that her son was dead. Seated across from Jean-Marc, she wished she could say this aloud but did not dare.
She was not confident of his reaction, she feared he would see her as a monster. She relished the utter absence of adventures. She no longer wanted to embrace the world. She no longer wanted the world.
That same evening, just before falling asleep Jean-Marc was sleeping already , again she remembered her dead child and the memory was again accompanied by that scandalous wave of happiness. Someone must have brought it personally.
She was a little rushed, so she put it unopened into her purse and hurried toward the bus. Once she was seated, she opened the envelope; the letter contained only one sentence: Then she told herself that after all it was unimportant. What woman hasn't gotten such a message sometime or other? She reread the letter and realized that the woman seated beside her could read it too. She put it back into her purse and glanced around her. Usually, on the bus, she would ignore everyone else.
This time, though, because of that letter, she believed herself watched, and she watched too. Was there always someone staring at her, the way the black man was today?
As if he knew what she had just read, he smiled at her. What if he were the one who wrote the message? She quickly rejected that idea as too absurd and rose to get off at the next stop.
She would have to slip past the black man, who was blocking the way to the exit, and that made her uncomfortable. She left the bus and said to herself: She kept hearing that mocking laughter all day long, like a bad omen. She looked at the letter two or three times again in her office, and back at home later, she considered what to do about it. Keep it? What for?
Show it to Jean-Marc? That would embarrass her, as if she'd meant to boast!
Well then, destroy it? Of course. She went into the bathroom, and leaning over the toilet, she looked at the liquid surface; she tore the envelope into several bits, threw them in, flushed, but the letter she refolded and carried into her bedroom. She opened the wardrobe and put the letter underneath her brassieres.
As she did this, she heard the black man's mocking laughter again and thought that she was just like every other woman; her brassieres suddenly looked vulgar and idiotically feminine. She took Jean-Marc by the arm and drew him into the living room where she sat down facing him. But that's not the point. I told you about that strange feeling of joy I had when I decided, back then, not to see him anymore.
I was cold as an ice cube and that pleased me. Well, his death hasn't changed that feeling at all. You really do frighten me.
Then, after swallowing a mouthful: He reminded me what I must have said when I was sixteen. When he did that, I understood the sole meaning of friendship as it's practiced today. Friendship is indispensable to man for the proper function of his memory. They are our mirror; our memory; we ask nothing of them but that they polish the mirror from time to time so we can look at ourselves in it.
But I don't care a damn about what I did in high school! What I've always wanted, since my early adolescence, maybe even since childhood, was something else entirely: I liked to say: I said it to be provocative, but I really thought it.
Today I know that maxim is obsolete. But for us it isn't anymore. But that doesn't affect their friendship. They still go on helping one another, secretly, cunningly, without giving a damn for the truths of their respective camps. They put their friendship above the truth, or the cause, or orders from superiors, above the king, above the queen, above everything.
Or is the disappearance of friendship a more recent phenomenon? Friendship isn't a problem for women. Friendship is a problem for men. It's their romanticism.
Not ours. Certainly as an alliance against adversity, an alliance without which man would be helpless before his enemies.
Maybe there's no longer a vital need for such an alliance. Bureaucracies, laws. What can a friend do for you when they decide to build an airport outside your windows, or when they fire you? Friendship can no longer be proved by some exploit. The occasion no longer lends itself to searching out your wounded friend on the battlefield or unsheathing your saber to defend him against bandits. When the other people jumped on me, he kept quiet. But I have to be fair: Someone told me he even boasted of not knuckling under to the prevailing psychosis about me and of not having said anything that could hurt me.
I was wrong to hope for more from him than neutrality. If he had put himself on the line to defend me in that bitter. How could I demand that of him? Especially since he was my friend! That would have been extremely unfriencllike of me! To put it another way: Because friendship emptied of its traditional content is transformed these clays into a contract of mutual consideration, in short, a contract of politeness.
Well, it's impolite to ask a friend for something that could be embarrassing or unpleasant for him. All the more reason why you should say it without bitterness.
Without irony. That's how things are. That second category, discreet and tactful, those are your friends. Listen, Jean-Marc, I've known that forever. A hand is caressing it tenderly, enjoying the skin of this naked, compliant body.
Then the camera pulls back and we see the body entire, lying on a small bed: In the next sequence she lifts him up and her parted lips kiss the lax, wet, wide-open mouth of the nursling. At that instant the camera draws in, and the same kiss, by itself, in close-up, suddenly becomes a sensual love kiss. There Leroy stopped the film: Like the candidates for president in an American election campaign. We set a product within the magic circle of a few images likely to attract a majority of downloaders.
In the search for those images, we tend to overvalue sexuality. I want to alert you. Only a very small minority really enjoys sex. They had long been aware that what flattered their boss was not their quick acquiescence but their astonishment.
For that reason, a refined lady, with many rings on her aged fingers, dared to contradict him: Even if the person doesn't know your name, even if he's asking his questions over the phone and doesn't see you, you' re going to lie: When it comes to commerce, the erotic is a touchy issue, because while everyone may covet the erotic life, everyone also hates it, as the source of their troubles, their frustrations, their yearnings, their complexes, their sufferings.
She herself is amazed: Yes, they have. It was back when they still didn't know each other by name. She opened her mouth and pressed her tongue into Jean-Marc's mouth, eager to lick whatever she would find inside. Neither person had the courage to say outright and aloud, "I want to make love with you, right now, without delay," so they let their salivas speak for them.
Again Leroy stopped the spot: That's what interests us in this sequence: Incidentally, somebody's filmed the life of a fetus inside a mama-to-be. The fetus's self-fellation will move every grandmother in the world, even the sourest ones, even the most prudish. Because the baby is the strongest , the broadest, the most reliable common denominator of all majorities. She recalled hearing that in China and Japan the erotic culture has no open-mouth kiss.
The screening done, Leroy wound up: The elevator was out of order. The hammers finally fell silent, the heat began to subside, and she went in. She felt hunted, unable to hide anywhere.
W ho in his acrobatic position performed a kind of masturbation so perfect that no adult could match it.
Our self doesn't yet exist, but our lust is already there. And, imagine, all my colleagues found this idea touching! They had tears in their eyes over the masturbating fetus! Ah, Jean-Marc, revulsion. Then she went on: They film you. Your poor little fetus-masturbation. You"' ll never escape them while you're living, everybody knows that. But you don't even escape them before you're born.
Just as you won't escape them after you die. I remember something I read in the papers once: After he died, to thwart his claim to nobility, they dug up the long-buried remains of a peasant woman who they said was his mother. They dissected her bones. I'd like to know what lofty cause gave them the right to dig her up, the poor woman! And do you know the story about Haydn's head? And the Einstein story?
They followed his orders, but his disciple, ever loyal and devoted, refused to live without the master's gaze on him. Before the cremation, he took the eyes out of the cadaver and put them in a bottle of alcohol to keep them watching him until the moment he should die himself. It's the only absolute death.
And I don't want any other. Jean-Marc, I want an absolute death. Moved, this time, not by what she had just said but by Jean-Marc's voice, heavy with concern for her. When she is there, she always talks with him, and today, as if she needed to explain or excuse herself, she told him, "Darling, my darling, don't think I don't love you or that I didn't love you, but it's precisely because I loved you that I couldn't have become what I am today if you were still here.
It's impossible to have a child and despise the world as it is, because that's the world we've put the child into. The child makes us care about the world, think about its future, willingly join in its racket and its turmoils, take its incurable stupidity seriously. By your death you deprived me of the pleasure of being with you, but at the same time you set me free.
Free in my confrontation with the world I don't like. And the reason I can allow myself to dislike it is that you're no longer here. My dark thoughts can't bring any curse down on you. I want to tell you now, all these years after you left me, that I've come to understand your death as a gift and that I've finally accepted that dreadful gift.
The letter hadn't the earlier laconic lightness. It read like a lengthy legal deposition. I usually follow you on your trip to the bus stop, but this time you walked the opposite way. You were carrying a valise and you went into a dry cleaner's. The woman there apparently knows you and perhaps likes you. I watched her from outside: Then you left, with your valise full. Full of your sweaters, or of tablecloths, or bed linens? They are beautiful.
Their red becomes you. It lights you up. That intrigues her. The first one had no signature, and she could think that its anonymity was, so to speak, sincere. Some mlimown person saluting her and then immediately vanishing. But a signatme, even abbreviated, indicates an intention to make oneself known, step by step, slowly but inevitably. Charles-David Barberousse. She ponders the text: But she observes the world around her with very little interest, and did even less that day, since Jean-Marc was with her.
And besides, it was he and not she who had made the dry-cleaning woman laugh and who was carrying the valise. She reads those words again: The thing "added on" to her life-isn't that Jean-Marc himself? Was her correspondent trying, in an oblique way, to attack her beloved? Like the first time, she did not know what to do with the letter, and the ballet of hesitation played itself out again in all its phases: Leaning into the lingerie shelves, she heard the door open.
She quickly closed the wardrobe and turned around: He moves slowly toward her and looks at her as never before, his gaze unpleasantly focused, and when he is very close he takes her by the elbows, and holding her a step or so in front of him, he goes on looking at her.
She is flustered by this, unable to say a thing. Like a windshield washed by a wiper. And nowadays you can even set the tempo of the windshield wiper in such a way that the movements are separated by a ten-second pause, which is, roughly, an eyelid's rhythm.
Jean-Marc watches the eyes of people he talks to and tries to observe the action of the eyelid; he finds that it is not easy. We are not accustomed to be aware of the eyelid. He thinks: I delete it from the eyes in front of me.
And he goes on thinking: But what a sorry fate, to be the soul of a body cobbled together so offhandedly, whose eye cannot do its looking without being washed every ten, twenty seconds! How are we to believe that the person we see before us is a free, independent being, his own master? To be able to believe that, we've had to forget about the perpetual blinking of the eyelid.
We've had to forget the putterer's workshop we come from. We've had to submit to a contract to forget. It's God Himself who imposed the contract on us. This moment of sudden adolescent insight must have been a shock.
It was a shock destined to be forgotten. And, indeed, he would have forgotten it for good if F. Deep in thought, he returned to the apartment and opened the door to Chantal's room.
She was putting something away in her wardrobe, and Jean-Marc wanted to see her eyelid wipe her eye, her eye that to him is the window to an ineffable soul. The feeling was sudden as a lightning flash, and he clutched Chantal to him.
He told her: And he told her about the forgotten memory his unloved friend had called up. It all fits. Fully aware that life is too short for the choice to be anything but irreparable, he had been distressed to discover that he felt no spontaneous attraction to any occupation.
When he wondered: When finally he decided on medicine, he was responding not to some secret predilection but rather to an altruistic idealism: The letdown was not long in coming, when in the course of the second year he had to do his stint in the dissection room: When he told F.
When he decided to study medicine, he must have been nineteen; by then, having already signed on to the contract to forget, he no longer remembered what he had said to F. Too bad for him. The memory might have alerted him. It might have helped him see that his choice of medicine was wholly theoretical, made without the slightest self-knowledge. Thus he studied medicine for three years before giving up with a sense of shipwreck. What to choose after those lost years? What to attach to, if his inner self should keep as silent as it had before?
At the corner of their street is a bistro: At the counter she saw a young man who looked away when she entered. He was a regular customer, whom she knew by sight. She even remembered that in the past their eyes had often met and that later on he pretended not to see her. Another day, she pointed him out to the woman from next door. Do you know that? Du Barreau, that would fit. Cyrille du Barreau. Or better: Family comically proud of its particle. Soon after, she is walking in the street with Jean-Marc, and du Barreau comes toward them.
She has the red beads around her neck. They were a gift from Jean-Marc, but considering them too showy, she wore them only rarely. He must think and with good reason, in fact! Briefly he looks at her, she looks at him too, and thinking of the beads, she flushes.
She flushes down to her breasts, and she is sure he must have noticed. How come? But the attention she's granting him is no more than trivial curiosity! As an adult, she forgot about flushing. Then the gusts of heat heralded the end of that journey, and once again her body shamed her.
With her sense of shame reawakened, she relearned to flush. They were intelligent, decent, with nothing ridiculous about them, nothing importunate. Her correspondent wanted nothing, asked nothing, insisted on nothing.
He was wise enough or canny enough to leave undescribed his own personality, his life, his feelings, his desires. He was a spy; he wrote only about her. And if seduction was at all present in them, it was conceived as a long-term project. You were like flames that must dance and leap to exist at all. More long-limbed than ever, you were striding along surrounded by bright, bacchic, drunken, wild flames.
Thinking of you, I fling a mantle stitched of flame over your naked body. I swathe your white body in a cardinal's crimson mantle. She was at home, looking at herself in the mirror. She gazed at herself from every angle, slowly lifted the hem of the gown and felt she had never been so long of limb, never had skin so white. Jean-Marc arrived. Letting himself be seduced by the game, he pursued her throughout the apartment. Now they lie breathing side by side, and the image of her spy arouses her; in Jean-Marc's ear she whispers about slipping the crimson mantle over her naked body and walking like a gorgeous cardinal through a crowded church.
Then all grows calm; before her eyes she sees only her red gown, rumpled by their bodies, at a corner of the bed. Before her half-closed eyes, that red patch turns into a rose garden, and she smells the faint fragrance nearly forgotten, the fragrance of the rose yearning to embrace all the men in the world. She felt happy and gay, and out of nowhere she said to Jean-Marc, who was about to leave: Is he still alive? Just like that.
She went into the bathroom, then over to her wardrobe, with the idea of making herself very beautiful. She looked at the shelves and something caught her attention. On the lingerie shelf, on top of a pile, her shawl lay neatly folded, whereas she recalled having tossed it in there carelessly. Did someone tidy up her things? You are on page 1of 1 Search inside document net History An introduction to knowledge issues Milan Kundera Ignorance Chapter 35 reality no longer is what it was when it was; it cannot be reconstructed.
Memory cannot be understood, either, without a mathematical approach. The fundamental given is the ratio between the amount of time in the lived life and the amount of time from that life that is stored in memory. No one has ever tried to calculate this ratio, and in fact there exists no technique for doing so; yet without much risk of error I could assume that the memory retains no more than a millionth, a hundred-millionth, in short, an utterly infinitesimal bit of the lived life.
That fact too is part of the essence of man. If someone could retain in his memory everything he had experienced, if he could at any time call up any fragment of his past, he would be nothing like human beings: neither his loves nor his friendships nor his angers nor his capacity to forgive or avenge would resemble ours. We will never cease our critique of those persons who distort the past, rewrite it, falsify it, who exaggerate the importance of one event and fail to mention some other; such a critique is proper it cannot fail to be , but it doesn't count for much unless a more basic critique precedes it: a critique of human memory as such.
For after all, what can memory actually do, the poor thing? It is only capable of retaining a paltry little scrap of the past, and no one knows why just this scrap and not some other one, since in each of us the choice occurs mysteriously, outside our will or our interests. We won't understand a thing about human life if we persist in avoiding the most obvious fact: that a reality no longer is what it was when it was; it cannot be reconstructed.
Even the most voluminous archives cannot help. Consider Josef's old diary as an archival document that preserves notes by the authentic witness to a certain past; the notes speak of events that their author has no reason to repudiate but that his memory cannot confirm, either.