Monday, June 2, 2014

Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, in quotes

Beauty is a world betrayed. The only way we can encounter it is if its persecutors have overlooked it somewhere... If we want to find it, we must demolish the scenery.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera (1984), p107.

It was twilight in the garden, the time between day and evening. There was a pale moon in the sky, a forgotten lamp in the room of the dead.

Their boots were caked with dirt by the time they took the shovel and spade back to the recess where their tools stood all in a row: rakes, watering cans, hoes.

Ibid., p295.

Deep down she said to herself, Franz may be strong, but his strength is directed outwards when it comes to people he lives with, the people he loves, he’s weak. Franz’s weakness is called goodness. Franz would never give Sabina orders. He would never command her, as Tomas had, to lay the mirror on the floor and walk back and forth on it naked. Not that he lacks sensuality; he simply lacks the strength to give orders. There are things that can be accomplished only by violence. Physical love is unthinkable without violence.

Ibid., p108.

Source: The Book Cover Archive.

It was drizzling. As people rushed along, they began opening umbrellas over their heads, and all at once the streets were crowded, too. Arched umbrella roofs collided with one another. The men were courteous, and when passing Tereza they held their umbrellas high over their heads and gave her room to go by. But the women would not yield; each looked straight ahead, waiting for the other woman to acknowledge her inferiority and step aside. The meeting of the umbrellas was a test of strength. At first Tereza gave way, but when she realised her courtesy was not being reciprocated, she started clutching her umbrella like the other women and ramming it forcefully against the oncoming umbrellas. No one ever said ‘Sorry’. For the most part no one said anything, though once or twice she did hear a ‘Fat cow!’ or ‘Fuck you!’.

The women thus armed with umbrellas were both young and old, but the younger among them proved the more steeled warriors. Tereza recalled the days of the invasion and the girls in miniskirts carrying flags on long staffs. Theirs was a sexual vengeance: the Russian soldiers had been kept in enforced celibacy for several long years and must have felt they had landed on a planet invented by a science fiction writer, a planet of stunning women who paraded their scorn on beautiful long legs the likes of which had not been seen in Russia for the past five or six centuries.

She had taken many pictures of those young women against a backdrop of tanks. How she had admired them! And now these same women were bumping into her, meanly and spitefully. Instead of flags, they held umbrellas, but they held them with the same pride. They were ready to fight as obstinately against a foreign army as against an umbrella that refused to move out of their way.

Ibid., pp130-1.

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.

Ibid., p52.

Still from The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1988. Source: IMDb.

She liked the slogans, but to her surprise she found herself unable to shout along with them. She lasted no more than a few minutes in the parade. When she told her French friends about it, they were amazed. ‘You mean you don’t want to fight the occupation of your country?’ She would have liked to tell them that behind Communism, Fascism, behind all occupations and invasions lurks a more basic, pervasive evil and that the image of that evil was a parade of people marching by with raised fists and shouting identical syllables in unison.

Ibid., pp96-7.

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.

Ibid., p289.

Metaphors are dangerous. Metaphors are not to be trifled with. A single metaphor can give birth to love.

Ibid., p10.

Page numbers from the Harper & Row translation, 1984. Boldface and errors in transcription my own.