The Book

I love to read. It has been an essential part of my existence since high school. I probably read hundreds of books – I read anything that took my fancy, and of course I started with those Sweet Dreams’ pocketbook romances. One could easily tell how much I enjoyed a certain book by scanning through its pages and find a lot of highlighted or underlined parts. On top of my all-time favorite books is Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being; which obviously was a big influence to me in putting up this blog. It is just so rightly so, I believe, to honor it by dedicating a page for the book. This is not a review – a lot have probably been said in this worldwide web about it. Rather these are the part that I underlined and marked.

UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING by MILAN KUNDERA

  • Putting it negatively, the myth of eternal return states that a life which disappears once and for all, which  does not return, is like a shadow, without weight, dead in advance, and whether it was horrible, beautiful, or sublime, its horror, sublimity and beauty mean nothing. We need take no more note of it than of a war between two African kingdoms in the fourteenth century, a war that altered nothing in the destiny of the world, even if a hundred thousand blacks perished in excruciating torment.
  • The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.
  • We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.
  • To love someone out of compassion means not really to love.
  • A person who longs to leave the place where he lives is an unhappy person.
  • For there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.
  • We believe that the greatness of man stems from the fact that he bears his fate as Atlas bore the heavens on his shoulders.
  • Any schoolboy can do experiments in the physics laboratory to test various scientific hypotheses. But man, because he has only one life to live, cannot conduct experiments to test whether to follow his passion (compassion) or not.
  • We all reject out of hand the idea that the love of our life may be something light or weightless; we presume our love is what must be, that without it our life would no longer be the same.
  • Chance and chance alone has a message for us. Everything that occurs out of necessity, everything expected, repeated day in and day out, is mute. Only chance can speak to us. We read it s message much as gypsies read the images made by coffee grounds at the bottom of a cup.
  •  Necessity knows no magic formulae – they are all left to chance. If a love is to be unforgettable, fortuities must immediately start fluttering down to it like birds to Francis of Assisi’s shoulders.
  •  Without realizing it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress.
  • The difference between the university graduate and the autodidact lies not so much in the extent of knowledge as in the extent of vitality and self-confidence.
  • Anyone whose goal is “something higher” must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? Then why do we feel it even when the observation tower comes equipped with a sturdy handrail? No, vertigo is something other the fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.
  • We might also call vertigo the intoxication of the weak. Aware of his weakness, a man decides to give in rather than stand up to it.  He is drunk with weakness, wishes to grow even weaker, wishes to fall down in the middle of the main square in front of everybody, wishes to be down, lower than down.
  • Not every woman is worthy of being called a woman.
  • But the larger the man grows in his own inner darkness, the more his outer form diminishes. A man with closed eyes is a wreck of a man.
  • When we want to give expression to a dramatic situation in our lives, we tend to use metaphors of heaviness. We say that something has become a great burden to us. We either bear the burden or fail and go down with it, we struggle with it win or lose.
  • The goals we pursue are always veiled. A girl who longs for marriage longs for something she knows nothing about. The boy who hankers after fame has no idea what fame is. The thing that gives our every move it’s meaning is always totally unknown to us.
  • And in the mind of a woman for whom no place is home the thought of an end to all flight is unbearable.
  • Indeed, the only truly serious questions are the ones that even a child can formulate. Only the most naïve questions are truly serious. They are the questions with no answers. A question with no answer is a barrier that cannot be breached. In other words, it is questions with no answers that set the limits of human possibilities, describe the boundaries of human existence.
  • People usually escape from their troubles into the future, they draw an imaginary line across the path of time, a line beyond which their current troubles will cease to exist.
  • Insofar as it is possible to divide people into categories, the surest criterion is the deep-seated desires that orient them to one or another lifelong activity. Every Frenchman is different. But all actors the world over are similar – in Paris, Prague, or the back of beyond. An actor is someone who in early childhood consents to exhibit himself for the rest of his life to an anonymous public. Without that basic consent, which has nothing to do with talent, which goes deeper than talent, no one can become an actor. Similarly, a doctor is someone who consents to spend his life involved with human bodies and all that they entail. That basic consent (and not talent or skill) enables him to enter the dissecting room during the first year of medical school and persevere for the requisite number of years.
  •  Men who pursue a multitude of women fit neatly into two categories. Some seek their own subjective and unchanging dream of a woman in all women. Others are prompted by a desire to possess the endless variety of the objective female world.
  • The obsession of the former is lyrical: what they seek in women is themselves, their ideal, and since an ideal is by definition something that can never be found, they are disappointed again and again. The disappointment that propels them from woman to woman gives their inconstancy a kind of romantic excuse, so that many sentimental women are touched by their unbridled philandering.
  • The obsession of the latter is epic, and women see nothing the least bit touching in it: the man projects no subjective ideal on women, and since everything interests him, nothing can disappoint him. This inability to be disappointed has something scandalous about it. The obsession of the epic womanizer strikes people as lacking in redemption (redemption by disappointment.)
  • The brain appears to possess a special area, which we might call a poetic memory and which records everything that charms and touches us that makes our lives beautiful.
  • 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.
  • The novel is not the author’s confession; it is an investigation of human life in the trap the world has become.
  •  Human life occurs only once, and the reason we cannot determine which of our decisions are good and which bad is that in a given situation we can make only one decision; we are not granted a second, third, or fourth life in which to compare various decisions.
  •  History is as light as individual human life, unbearably light, light as a feather, as dust swirling into the air, as whatever will no longer exist tomorrow.
  • Somewhere out in space there was a planet where all people would be born again. They would be fully aware of the life they had spent on earth and of all the experience they had amassed here.
  • And perhaps there was still another planet, where we would all be born a third time with the experience of our first two lives.   And perhaps there were yet more and more planets, where mankind would be born one degree (one life) more mature.
  • Of course we here on earth (planet number one, the planet of inexperience) can only fabricate vague fantasies of what will happen to man on those other planets. Will he be wiser? Is maturity within man’s power? Can he attain it through repetition?
  • Only from the perspective of such utopia is it possible use the concept of pessimism and optimism with full justification: an optimist is someone who thinks that on planet number five the history of mankind will be less bloody. A pessimist in one who thinks otherwise.
  • But the world was too ugly, and no one decided to rise up out of the grave.
  • People were hermaphrodites until God split them in two, and now all the halves wander the world over seeking one another. Love is the longing for the half of ourselves we have lost.
  • If rejection and privilege are one and the same, if there is no difference between the sublime and the paltry, if the Son of God can undergo judgment for shit, the human existence loses its dimensions and become unbearably light. When Stalin’s son ran up to the electrified wire and hurled his body at it, the fence was like the pan of a scales sticking pitifully up in the air, lifted by the infinite lightness of a world that has lost its dimensions.
  • When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object. In the realm of kitsch, the dictatorship of the heart reigns supreme.
  • No matter how we scorn it, kitsch is an integral part of the human condition.
  • The longing for Paradise is man’s longing not to be man.
  • Her feeling was rather that, given the nature of the human couple, the love of man and woman is a priori inferior to that which can exist (at least in the best instances) in the love between man and dog, that oddity of human history probably unplanned by the Creator.
  • Human time does not turn in a circle; it runs ahead in a straight line. That is why man cannot be happy: happiness is the longing for repetition.
  • (And this is my favorite part:)

PART SIX: CHAPTER 23

We all need someone to look at us. We can be divided into four categories according to the kind of look we wish to live under.

The first category longs for the look of an infinite number of anonymous eyes, in other words, for the look of the public. That is the case with the German singer, the American actress, and even the tall stooped editor with the big chin. He was accustomed to his readers, and when one day when the Russians banned his newspaper, he had the feeling that the atmosphere was suddenly a hundred times thinner. Nothing could replace the look of unknown eyes. He thought he would suffocate. Then one day he realized that he was constantly being followed, bugged, and surreptitiously photographed in the street. Suddenly he had anonymous eyes on him and he could breathe again! He began making theatrical speeches to the microphones in his wall. In the police he had found his lost public.

The second category is made up of people who have a vital need to be looked at by many known eyes. They are the tireless hosts of cocktail parties and dinners. They are happier than the people in the first category, who, when they lose their public, have the feeling that the lights have gone out in the room of their lives. This happens to nearly all of them sooner or later. People in the second category, on the other hand, can always come up with the eyes they need. Marie-Claude and her daughter belong in the second category.

Then there is the third category, the category of the people who need to be constantly before the eyes of the person they love. Their situation is as dangerous as the situation of people in the first category. One day the eyes of their beloved will close, and the room will go dark. Tereza and Tomas belong in the third category.

And finally there is the fourth category, the rarest, the category of the people who live in the eyes of those who are not present. They are the dreamers. Franz, for example. He traveled to the borders of Cambodia only for Sabina. As the bus bumped along the Thai road, he could feel her eyes fixed on him in a long stare.
Tomas’s son belongs in the same category. Let me call him Simon. (He will be glad to have a biblical name, like his father’s.) The eyes he longed for were Tomas’s. As a result of his embroilment in the petition campaign, he was expelled from the university. The girl he had been going out with was the niece of a village priest. He married her, became a tractor driver on a collective farm, a practicing Catholic, and a father. When he learned that Tomas, too, was living in the country, he was thrilled: fate has made their lives symmetrical! This encouraged him to write Tomas a letter. He did not ask him to write back. He only wanted him to focus his eyes on his life.

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36 thoughts on “The Book

    • That’s great, you really should. It’s one of the best on my lists, and Murakami too – check out his Sputnik Sweetheart and Kafka on the Shore. Do you have an account at goodreads? Would like to add you. 🙂

  1. I see that I have to reread it–thanks for bringing it back to my attention and congratulations on being Fresh Pressed–your work is truly lovely.

      • you can write more…I am elaborating my identity as writer…you know…I am a physician, but writing is a needness…music too, for the last twenty years I have piano class on jazz dimension and improvisation but writing is a need and is required just a paper and a way to write…I try to write manually, a manuscript is an intersting one…keep writing…I will take some link about literature but one is special ‘Philip Roth Studies (journal)’ among others…literature is in an ongoing transformation with internet, but the act of writing as an art remain the same challenge and opportunity…in this way art is a needness…I recognize Roth’s influence on my writings…I feel you are a writer, just write and publish!…this is the value of blogging (among others) still underestimated…all the best…till soon…I want your reading of my book…

      • i share your thoughts… and now, you are inspiring me more to write. thank you very much. i would really like to read a sample of your work, perhaps you could send me through my email(?): oogachakaph@yahoo.com – it will be highly and genuinely appreciated… very much so. 🙂

  2. I was drawn to your blog because of the book title–one of my favorite too, and I love the fact you listed all your favorite quotations! It was fun dipping in again, like visiting an old friend. I’ve also just started a Nature blog, so looking to see what’s out there. Thanks for the inspirations!

    • a pingback is when you are about to publish a post, wordpress will give you a list of recommendations (posts by others) that is related to what you are about to post – located at the lower right side of the “edit post” page. then you’ll choose and click on what you would like to include in your post and a link of that will fall under the “related articles” right below on your post. it’s really a good thing… both sides promotes each others site. 🙂

  3. Pingback: The Book | SUCCESS TIP: “It’s hard to tell with these int

  4. Thank you. Provoking thought through the written word without conveying the sense of an impending logical entrapment is a gift. And a talent to have a writer’s voice of this nature. This is different than suspending compassion and pity. It is a personal spirit of inquiry and among the appointments of an open mind. The reward of discovering new lands against whose landscape one is not prejudicial, is the collection of new thoughts necessary for witnessing another perspective. – The Healing Garden gardener

  5. It looks like you’ve put so much time into your blog! A friend of mine told me that I should start one of these things — that it’s the “way to go” “these days.” Well, I’m impressed by some of your writing. You seem to be a fellow anti-materialist.

  6. Reading this book awakened something inside of me–definitely a book that moved me, changed me. While I was reading it, I was folding back the corners of pages to return to passages I thought were outstanding. As you can imagine, I ended up folding the corners on most of the pages.

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