Jean Tessier's Reviews > Les testaments trahis

Les testaments trahis by Milan Kundera
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Oct 02, 11

bookshelves: leisure
Read in May, 2008

Kundera draws parallels between the evolution of music and the
novel in Western culture and how it shaped Western thought. While
his bias shows in many places, this is still a great exploration
of artistic forces in Western culture for the past 500 years.

Part 1 sets up the European novel as the defining art
form of the modernism and at the source of Western ideology. By
promoting ambiguity and letting characters define their own moral
compass, they enabled the development of an individualistic
thought in the Western philosophy and directly leading to our
putting a value on the person as an individual.

Part 2 shows how Kafka's legacy has been tainted by the opinion
of his biggest fan and how said fan used his position to twist and
manipulate Kafka's art to support his own esthetic views.

Part 3 draws a parallel between the evolution of the European
novel and that of European music in since the XIVth
Century. Both were moving away from the exhalted and highly
stylized forms of the past and reaching for a deeper connection
with the real world by studying what others might consider
mundane.

Part 4 takes a single sentence from Kafka and shows how all of
his French translations are wrong. His point is that the author who
moves his art forward takes it beyond what is considered "good
style" at the time, whereas the translator usually tries to promote
"good style", thereby undoes the author's innovation in order to
bring the work back within accepted boundaries.

Part 5 analyzes a short story by Hemmingway to demonstrate how
the modern novel tries to capture the essence of the present as it
happens, not as a reconstruction of something that has happened or
as an artificial construct that supports the action, but as it
happens in real life, in all its mundanity and irregularity.

Part 6 contrasts the classic period, where form was all
important and pieces include strong parts held together by
bridges and structural elements. Modernity breaks out of
the form and does away with the weaker elements, keeping only the
strong ones. And this happened across Western culture, in music,
novels, and even philosophy with Nietzsche.

Part 7 covers the artistry of Janacek as a one who ushered in
modernity in Western music. He also discusses how Czechoslovakia,
with it's small country mentality, hindered his recognition by the
larger cultural scene. This is a theme he will revisit later in
The Curtain.

Part 8 shows how novelists like Kafka and Tolstoi explored,
thanks to the novel, aspects of the human psyche decades before
science started looking them. They showed how our opinions vary
and evolve throughout our lives, and how at any one point, we try
to make the best decisions based on incomplete information. We
should be careful when judging the past with our 20/20
hindsight.

Part 9 deals with artists and their attempts to control their
legacy. Stravisnky and Janacek fought long and hard against those
who would make changes to their works, often removing the novelty
they had introduced. Kafka's efforts to nail down his legacy were
spoiled by his executor, who published anything and everything he
had ever written, including pieces Kafka thought were not ready,
like "The Trial". Proust talked about how novelists show a
different personality through their novels than that revealed in
their lives, so seeking to interpret the novel as a key to the
author's life is to miss the artistry.
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