Sunday, August 25, 2002

Finished reading Milan Kundera's Slowness. The inventions continued, the two time periods (which meet in one scene towards the end) the planes of reality that suddenly intrude on one another, the multiple points of view and voices---at one point, a penis speaks. If all this seems irredeemably postmodern, consider that Tolstoy does much the same in Anna K. At one point in that novel, we hear directly from a dog. With Tolstoy I got the feeling of sheer exuberance, of the writing itself taking over. Tolstoy's art was so much more powerful----and so much smarter---than the man. With Kundera it seems more controlled, but who knows? I'm curious how he wrote this book: did he improvise and then select to illustrate his ideas, did he have it all worked out before he started, or did he just improvise and let it all dictate itself...?

A few of the philosophical passages in the last 50 pages or so:

"In a sudden flash, his whole past appears to him not as a sublime adventure, rich in dramatic and unique events, but as a minuscule segment in a jumble of events that crossed the planet at a speed that made it impossible to see their features....When things happen too fast, nobody can be certain about anything, not even about himself."

....I recalled the well-known equation from one of the first chapters of the textbook of existential mathematics: the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting. From that equation we can deduce various corollaries, for instance this one: our period is given over to the demon of speed, and that is the reason it so easily forgets its own self. Now I would reverse that statement and say: our period is obsessed by the desire to forget, and it is to fulfill that desire that it gives over to the demon of speed; it picks up the pace to show us that it no longer wishes to be remembered; that it is tired of itself; sick of itself; that it wants to blow out the tiny trembling flame of memory."

"Be happy you've forgotten. Snuggle into the soft shawl of universal amnesia. Stop thinking about the laughter that wounded you-it no longer exists just as your years on the scaffoldings and your glory as a victim of persecution no longer exist. The chateau is quiet, open the window and the fragrance of the trees will fill your room. Breathe. Those are three-hundred-year-old chestnuts...."

And then this intriguing ending:

"I beg you friend, be happy. I have the vague sense that on your capacity to be happy hangs our only hope."

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