Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

In the IPS QM thread we mentioned Milan Kundera's book, which began a new thread discussion. Here are the first posts of that new thread.


Theurj, Tom, your words above reminded me of the book The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera - have you read it? It feels like it relates though tangentially to this discussion.

When we want to give expression to a dramatic situation in our lives, we tend to use metaphors of heaviness. We say that something has become a great burden to us. We either bear the burden or fail and go down with it, we struggle with it, win or lose. And Sabina-what had come over her? Nothing. She had left a man because she felt like leaving him. Had he persecuted her? Had he tried to take revenge on her? No. Her drama was a drama not of heaviness but of lightness. What fell to her lot was not the burden but the unbearable lightness of being. (part 3. chapter 10. paragraph 2)


For me that means someone who is always above it all, always aloof to life's drama, never upset, never hysterical, always calm and equanimous. Such a one, like some pure spiritual plane (perhaps even light itself), is unbearable indeed.


That is why we share. Thank you for sharing it!


Of course my meaning is not necessarily Kundera's. Here's another take, which is consistent with this one.


Oh Wikipedia and Sparksnotes, what would we do without them? :)

This is perhaps the fourth time I've read this novel, but the first time that I have understood it more in the fullness of a story set as a dialectical tool to deal with Nietzsche's themes of eternal recurrence and love of fate. I recommend this mode of reading the novel to anyone who's had the chance to read Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The position of Nietzsche which is attacked in this novel seems best expounded there and in the often quoted passage from The Gay Science at section 341:
The Greatest Burden. What if a demon crept after thee into thy loneliest loneliness some day or night, and said to thee: "This life, as thou livest it at present, and hast lived it, thou must live it once more, and also innumerable times; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and every sigh, and all the unspeakably small and great in thy life must come to thee again, and all in the same series and sequence-and similarly this spider and this moonlight among the trees, and similarly this moment, and I myself. The eternal sand-glass of existence will ever be turned once more, and thou with it, thou speck of dust!"- Wouldst thou not throw thyself down and gnash thy teeth, and curse the demon that so spake? Or hast thou once experienced a tremendous moment in which thou wouldst answer him: "Thou art a God, and never did I hear anything so divine! "If that thought acquired power over thee as thou art, it would transform thee, and perhaps crush thee; the question with regard to all and everything: "Dost thou want this once more, and also for innumerable times?" would lie as the heaviest burden upon thy activity! Or, how wouldst thou have to become favorably inclined to thyself and to life, so as to long for nothing more ardently than for this last eternal sanctioning and sealing?

We see some similar themes—like eternal recurrence and existential nihilism—playing out in the radical a/theism thread between Hagglund, Caputo and Meillassoux. Caputo, for example, sees each event as singular in the way that Kundera might. And both question that there is any ultimate meaning or grand metanarrative. And yet for Caputo relative, contextual and “weighty” meaning is indeed of the greatest significance and provides the impetus for commitment and ethics. Whereas for Kundera it seems when one is released from the burden of ultimate meaning then one is also free of relative meaning, free to engage "lightly" without any such commitments at all?

For some inexplicable unreason my cognitive unconscious  associated this with a conversation from Pulp Fiction, where Jules says:

"I'll just walk the earth. You know, walk the earth, meet people... get into adventures. Like Caine from Kung Fu."

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