Milan Kundera writes a novel that has multifaceted traits, revealing its nature in the subjectivity that it implies. The setting is the Prague Spring, when in 1968 the implementation of a humane socialism was attempted, yet brutally interrupted by the soviet tanks.
The Weight of dreams
The contrast between the ideal communism, the real socialism and the one that was thought to be possible seems to reflect human mind dynamics so thoroughly to allow Kundera’s great talent to transfer the complexity of international relations to an interpersonal dimension. The idea of the great march, symbol of the values of the left that, though showing its dark side, never stops to be pursued, mirrors a game between lovers. Those who are not destined to be together, yet keeping believing in the inevitability of their relationship as pictured by their dreams.
“Dreaming is not merely an act of communication (or coded communication, if you like); it is also an aesthetic activity, a game of the imagination, a game that is a value in itself. Our dreams prove that to imagine – to dream about things that have not happened – is among mankind’s deepest needs.”
Emotions in prose
This novel is a dream of love, sex, political belief, nostalgia, attachment, disillusionment, happiness, anxiety. And again regret, tenderness, joy, disdain, hope, forgiveness and the whole range of human emotions chasing the two couple of lovers and main characters of the story: Thomas and Teresa, Franz and Sabina. The narrative voice follows them, becoming a friend, a philosopher, a poet and an observer of their lives, mediating their thoughts, words, gestures, unions and conflicts.
This narrative style reminds, granted the differences, Thomas Mann’s prose which is full of those reflective moments we tend to avoid in real life being scared by the horror vacui, the fear of voids. However, there is no fear in that prose. Among those words we may be like standing next to David Friedrich Wanderer above the Sea of Fog to contemplate the stormy waters that may drag us to the bottom, but we may feel safe, near a wise narrative voice who can talk quietly about the essence of things and of what we are.
The vocabulary of misunderstood expressions
In that sense, it is wonderful the “Vocabulary of misunderstood expressions”, a section of the text Kundera uses to talk about emotional misunderstanding. All the words have their own literal meanings and their own emotional ones coming from the experiences of those who pronounce or listen to them. Loyalty, betrayal, music, demonstrations, the beauty of New York, cemeteries are just words, yet cores of emotions, not always explicit but able to change the meaning they hold.
This kind of obvious truth is relegated to the world of the unconscious while commonly shared signs granting communication are always given more credit. Yet, the individuality of souls is connected to the secret weight everyone confers to the words. Light, for instance, for Sabina means to see and to live; darkness for Franz means to fluctuate and soar through the air. Then, when they make love, Franz closes his eyes and Sabina keeps them opened. Their personalities have different weights that interpret the ones of light and darkness in a private way that will be hardly revealed or understood. So intimacy discloses her traits in the capacity of two individuals to establish a shared relation with the language, picturing the route leading their singular experience to give particular weight to words.
Nietzsche as Virgilio
It is that the kind of journey that Kundera entitles us to undertake by reading his book. An outward journey toward the abyss of the soul searching for what it is perceived as heavy and a return journey towards the surface of everyday life to try unburdening what we found. As we said before, this novel has multifaceted traits revealing its nature in the subjectivity that it implies; however, there are two references that more than others seem like reshaping its versatility into an image of balance.
These two references are at the beginning and at the end of the novel and they refer to the person and philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. They are a omen of life and one of death that maybe contains a promise of hope. The first concerns the Eternal Return concept, namely that daring philosophical theory through which the German philosopher interprets and gives value to life in relation to its ability to present again and again the same constant flux of dynamics, events and relations.
The second reference is related to the last part of Nietzsche’s life, when very close to lost his reason into the depth of his soul, after seeing a horse be whipped he started to cry hugging the horse. He knew that the real goodness humanity may show it could only be about the respect for those who have no strength. The love of Teresa for Karenin, her little dog, whose description covers the final part of the book, seems to let converge all the tenderness of the world towards the last pages of the book, moving the reader in an almost unbearable way.
The pages then seem to become very heavy and to sink dragging us down. But then we realize that the movement it is not toward the bottom because everything is upside-down. In reality, after crossing what was the heaviest, we are no more falling but fluctuating: the unbearable lightness of being is now balanced and we may feel we are now able to love it or at least accept it.