Saturday 18 May 2002

Demanding certainty

A month or so ago, prompted by an article in Salon, I re-read Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I’ve been intending to write about the article and its relationship to certain of Kundera’s ideas but have decided to hold back, now that Loren Webster and Diane McCormick have commenced a typically thorough and engaging explication of Kundera’s novel.

In the meantime, I’m beginning to think I’ve made a grave mistake in renting the video of Philip Kaufman’s film version of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, though I’ll endeavor to sit though the entire 165 minutes before offering an opinion. The only pleasure so far has been watching Juliette Binoche, who plays Tereza.

In his essay of May 17, Loren notes that Tereza, took photographs of her fellow Czech citizens defiantly confronting the Russian invaders. Initially proud that her pictures were used by the Western press to show the courage of the Czechs, Tereza is later dismayed to learn that the Russians have used them to track down those who took part in the demonstrations.

After asking “So, did she make a mistake in taking the pictures? How could one ever judge?” Loren writes:

Perhaps more importantly, we have to realize that we are inevitably going to make mistakes in our own personal lives. To err, lest we happen to forget, is human. The hardest part is to admit those mistakes and then to learn to forgive ourselves for making them. The best we can do is to trust to the best part of ourselves, our compassion, and to make the decisions that have to be made. We have no right to demand a certainty from ourselves that is impossible to attain.

Nor, might I add, do we have the right to demand a certainty from others that is impossible to bestow.

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I've always felt that Tomas's name (usually said "Tomash") should be pronounced as "too much" in Unbearable lightness of being.

I've also always been very put-out by the ending. Can't think of what should happen next in your novel? be sure to arrange a nasty random accident. Phooey!

Posted by Anita Rowland on 21 May 2002 (Comment Permalink)

I liked Tomas a lot. It seemed to me that he stands as rebuke to conventional notions about love and work.

I agree with you about the ending, though, Anita. The meaningless death of the protagonist(s) usually strikes me as evidence of storytelling failure.

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 21 May 2002 (Comment Permalink)

How wonderfully gentle and wise is Loren's reminder about forgiveness and mistakes.

Posted by Abie on 23 May 2002 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour