Kundera: Handbook for PostCommunist Kids

1. concept of time
the idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed other philosophers with it: to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum. This myth of eternal return reduces the weight of life, life that can only be lived once and for all.

The meaning of life lies in its singularity. Because it is only lived once, life has a certain weight – we can’t screw up our only opportunity. Everything we have, we will only have it for a certain period of time, hence the sense of responsibility. This responsibility must come with self-realisation.

Also the sense of forgiveness and nostalgia, which can very much be a false conception. “If French Revolution were to recur eternally, French historians would be less proud of Robespierre… there is an infinite difference between a Robespierre who occurs only once in history and a Robespierre who eternally returns, chopping off French heads” (p.4). Even Hitler can gain reconciliation, for he reveals a profound moral perversity of a world that rests essentially on the nonexistence of return, therefore with such security and assurance of non-return, we can permit everything. “In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia, even the guillotine” (p.4).

2. dictionary of misunderstandings
This is almost a Kundera version of modern-time “dear mariella”, a  relationship column. People have different understandings of common words such as “love”, “fear”, “fidelity”… A relationship, primarily, should be a negotiation of conceptions and understandings.

3. state insecurity and individual
Kundera writes as a Jewish descendent. And a survivor of communism. It makes me think… as a kid of post-communism, I belong to the generation that enjoys the first fresh breath of freedom and individualism, albeit limited and problematic. Limited because we still do not get to see the whole picture, what we can see is carefully selected by the ruling ideology. Problematic, because due to the present and historical condition, what we experience is not based on reflected progress. The paths to truth and liberty remain to be discovered, unguided.

Now to think back, we were never taught how to appreciate life as such. Happiness didn’t seem to be an option. Strangely enough, for school kids the most important thing in life was social responsibility, to “contribute to our society”. How can one make social contribution – which requires the understanding of social identity – without even understanding oneself, as an individual? That was the mass control in communism.

Just like Teresa needs to learn to appreciate her body in the mirror, we were learning to do the same thing. Many people of my generation, the young generation, the “80s” generation, still bear a sense of self-hatred and self-denial. It’s very subtle, but it creeps onto you without warning.

About ting

from SHANGHAI to the WORLD

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