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Immortality by Milan Kundera
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Nov 16, 09

Read in November, 2009

For eight days I had been scraping my shoes on the stones of the paths…
writes Rimbaud.
Path: a strip of ground over which one walks. A highway differs from a path not only because it is solely intended for vehicles, but also because it is merely a line that connects one point with another. A highway has no meaning in itself; its meaning derives entirely from the two points that it connects. A path is a tribute to space. Every stretch of path has meaning in itself and invites us to stop. A highway is the triumphant devaluation of space, which thanks to it has been reduced to a mere obstacle to human movement and a waste of time.
Before paths disappeared from the landscape, they had disappeared from the human soul: man stopped wanting to walk, to walk on his own feet and to enjoy it. What’s more, he no longer saw his own life as a path, but as a highway: a line that led from one point to another, from the rank of captain to the rank of general, from the role of wife to the role of widow. Time became a mere obstacle to life, an obstacle that had to be overcome by ever greater speed.
Path and highway; these are also different conceptions of beauty. When Paul says that at a particular place the landscape is beautiful, that means: if you stopped the car at that place, you might see a beautiful fifteenth-century castle surrounded by a park; or a lake reaching far into the distance, with swans floating on its brilliant surface.
In the world of highways a beautiful landscape means: an island of beauty connected by a long line with other islands of beauty.
In the world of paths, beauty is continuous and constantly changing; it tells us at every step: “Stop!”
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