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The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
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Oct 21, 08

Read in October, 2008

Novels with a philosophical ax to grind can be heavy going, particularly when one blade of the ax is political. Kundera, however, manages to put a keen edge on his philosophical arguments while engaging the reader in a wonderful game of discovery, played by following the relationships that develop among his cast of Platonic characters. If played correctly, the game becomes one of self discovery. To provide perspective and a tongue-in-cheek "insight" into the creative process, the author occasionally breaks the fourth wall to address the reader directly. Kundera argues that "Before we are forgotten, we will all be turned into kitsch. Kitsch is the stopover between being and oblivion." The unbearable lightness of being derives from the dictum "Einmal ist keinmal." Sub specie aeternitatis, Kundera is right: Lives are meaningless, and life itself is meaningless. In our quotidian existence, however, the "Es muss sein!" of our Geworfenheit is tempered by how we play our hands. That there is no eternal return for individual lives makes those lives all the more precious in this place, in this time. By affirming life and love in the face of an existence not of our choosing, by holding on to the hands (and paws) of those we love for as long as life allows, and by letting go with joy when the time comes, grateful for love given and received, we are victorious over death and become creators of the only meaning that matters. It is this intentional approach to life that provides weight and makes being not only bearable but a cause for celebration. Kundera has created in this novel a world of meaning that can be visited again and again with profit. If "metaphors are dangerous," Kundera is a very dangerous author.
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