At the recommendation of a buddy, I recently picked up Milan Kundera’s ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’. This is a novel first published in 1984, translated by the author from Czech. I read the book in two sittings and I could really stop describing my take after these three words: simple, beautiful, elegant; but I won’t.

Page 8 really sets things up and struck a chord within me. It’s a bit philosophical, and touches on something I think we all struggle with at times:

There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself? That is why life is always like a sketch. No, “sketch” is not quite the word, because a sketch is an outline of something, the groundwork for a picture, whereas the sketch that is our life is a sketch for nothing, an outline with no picture.

How often do we feel as though we’re trying to make the ‘best’ decision of the moment, or fully believing that what we’re doing is the right thing? Who is to say what is right, wrong, good, or bad in our day to day lives. We can strive to be the best, but at the end, we truly are like an actor going on cold, using the tools at hand to judge a situation and move forward.

This is a novel about life, love, philosophy, and some of the deeper things in life, all told through a simple tale of two lovers and their lives together through a turbulent time in and about Czech. It asks (and answers) many questions, addressing life through metaphor. One such instance is when the author begins to speak about the phenomenon of 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 than the fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.

Read the last line again.

I may be alone in thinking this way, but how often do we yearn for the terrible? Secretly hoping for that one terrible thing to happen… just to see what happens. You imagine yourself ‘falling’ (I use falling here as an allusion to whatever it is you’re being drawn towards, whatever it is that terrifies you), and dealing with whatever the situation is. Whether it’s something terrible in the moment – like dropping your bowl of chili all over the crowded deli floor – terrible for you alone – like that blemish you’re worried about that’s probably nothing, but could turn into your everything – or terrible for the masses – something akin to a 747 blasting into your 10th floor office, or the bridge dropping out from under you as you make your commute. Vertigo.

Much of the novel is devoted to thoughts on love. Love in it’s many forms, and how love can be all encompassing, but different to every individual, even those who are ‘in love’ with one another. Kundera describes how love begins, at one point in the novel, as

the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory.

Think back on the women you’ve loved in your life (family exempt) , and I’ll bet you can pinpoint a moment. A single moment, or a collection of events that can be described by the aforementioned. Simple, Beautiful, Elegant.

(note: being a heterosexual male, I use the term woman here, but I’m sure you concluded all on your own that the same can be applied when the sexes are reversed)

The last excerpt that I’m going to comment on talks about love again, and one of it’s many iterations – unconditional.

It is a completely selfless love: Tereza did not want anything of Karenin; she did not ever ask him to love her back. Nor had she ever asked herself the questions that plague human couples: Does he love me? Does he love anyone more than me? Does he love me more than I love him? Perhaps all the questions we ask of love, to measure, test, probe, and save it, have the additional effect of cutting it short. Perhaps the reason we are unable to love is that we yearn to be loved, that is, we demand something (love) from our partner instead of delivering ourselves up to him demand-free and asking for nothing but his company.

And something else: Tereza accepted Karenin for what he was; she did not try to make him over in her image; she agreed from the outset with his dog’s life, did not wish to deprive him of it, did not envy him his secret intrigues. The reason she trained him was not to transform him (as a husband tries to reform his wife and a wife her husband), but to provide him with the elementary language that enabled them to communicate and live together.

With all of the thoughts, discussions, readings (bloggings), and actions, are we, in fact, demeaning the nature of love? Now I’m not saying that love should be given unconditionally forever, but can you imagine a world where people thought not of ‘does he love me enough‘ but rather ‘do I love her enough’, giving of our love unreservedly. I know that’s a watered down outlook on things, and there are more layers to ‘love’ and ‘relationships’ than there are grains of sand in the Sahara, but it’s certainly worth consideration, at least to this wayward Alaskan.


5 Responses to “Readings”

  1. Sam Says:

    One of my favorite lines in the book, among many, is “flirting is a promise of sexual intercourse without a guarantee.” Damn.

    This book blew my mind when I read it. There aren’t many books I feel moved to read again, but I have a feeling that this book will get multiple readings in the future.

  2. Sheila Says:

    Clayton Morad, you get your butt to grad school right now! You are a very talented writer. Reading The Unbearable Lightness….have you seen teh movie?
    I really enjoy reading your posts. ( And the letter from Pat made me a little homesick, esp in this heat).

    Take care


  3. Sam Says:

    I agree with Sheila. And I hear the University of Wisconsin in Madison is pretty happening. I’m just saying…

  4. Neff Says:

    You are making me feel guilty for spending time playing video games and watching movies.

    I need a moment to recover…

  5. Norwegian Wood « adventures in obscurity Says:

    […] At the recommendation of a buddy (The same who recommended reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being) I picked up Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood which was written back in ’87 and translated from […]

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