IMMORTALITY. Having just finished the novel by Kundera, I am certain he is destined for it.
The book spans in the writer’s usual seven sections a Sartrean exploration of self-perception, and this image is created in the eyes of our contemporaries – or not, brining in the terrifying prospect of judgment on an immortal reputation, even further from our control.
The lens of history and legend follows the lives of great men (in this case, Goethe), and the skewering judgements of friends and family continually afflict the characters in the work.
If “hell is other people”, it is because they force us to see ourselves – and for Kundera’s Parisian cast, this simply will no do.
Solutions to the problem of this second-hand perception are attempted in various ways throughout the book, by attempting to escape into the bliss of obscurity beyond scrutiny, or manipulative conquest of the troublesome conceptions of others – principally, as is the hedonistic Czech’s wont, though sex.
This chaos of warring thoughts of course presents problems for that core value which, despite the author’s wit and cynicism, is love. How can love not be shredded into subjectivity when even husband and wife are so pained by each other’s perception?
Whereas in previous works love may be thwarted by infidelity, the throws of history or metaphysical weight, in Immortality it is the eye which interferes. From the looks of lovers, to the cameras which trail celebrities. The value of love is threatened by the narcissisms of the coming age.
And the age is that of Fukuyama. The previous (understandable) fixations with the Soviet Bloc and rampant ideology have given way. Kundera instead notes that the dial of history (in Western society at least) has taken pause, that art and music are fading along with historical movement, and that it is now for trivialities to be our undoing. Kundera saw Kardashian coming two decades early.
This undermining by ego he unpicks with the stunning, paradoxical aphorism, humour, eroticism which make him – even in his darkest philosophical throes – a delight.
The 1990 novel still shudders with relevance, and I’m sure his message will last through the ages.