Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Deeper" vs. "Urgent" Questions, vis-à-vis Milan Kundera

I heard an interview with one of the founders of London's School Of Life, a place that promises curious fun (home). She described the meals they hold, and among the questions "tabled" is: "When did you realize you were no longer a child?" My initial reaction to that question was, "I hope I am becoming more childlike (as opposed to childish) all the time!" After some consideration of Milan Kundera's past, however, I realized that there is at least one identifiable moment when I understood I was no longer a child: when I comprehended that most, if not all, of my favorite writers were anything but paragons of virtue.

I'm told the Cubans have a saying: "There are only two sorts of citizens: the innocent and the living." Certainly that is a motif that runs through the literature of dissident writers who witnessed Communism firsthand. This is not an uncommon motif in Western fiction either -- and properly so. Even so, revelations like these pose difficulties for readers who love their writers through their work.

Richard Byrne
says, "The deeper question ... is how the reader should assess Kundera's approach to many of his pet themes -- memory, betrayal, and the defense of history against the violence done to it by our political leaders East and West." The Anabaptist Confessional side of me is surprised that Kundera's (and Grass's) "approach" wasn't more direct: begin with the worst of who you are, and proceed from there via concentric circles until you've worked out your salvation with fear and trembling, and the odd unexpected measure of grace. Of course, the fearful drunkard in me understands all too well why this approach is to be avoided at all costs.

Milan, Milan: God be with 'im, the poor sod. And perhaps while we're all pondering the deeper question we can address the more urgent one: how do we put a stop to our nation's policy and practice of torture?

6 comments:

DarkoV said...

A very interesting place, this School of Life.
WP, I think you should give them a ring and see if they offer franchises. There's a guy in a small town in Ontario who would be a perfect manager/move-not-shaker/impaler for just such a franchise.

The book therapy advice was an especially outstanding piece of their services. Someone pays them to tell the payer what books to read? Might shake up a university or two with that proposal.

Whisky Prajer said...

I'd probably qualify as "impalee," too. The bibliotherapy option is brilliant, I think. It seems there are still ways and means of making a buck off the printed (or e-mailed) word.

Whisky Prajer said...

If anyone is interested in the interview, it can be heard as a podcast here (October 21, 2008). It's during the first 30 minutes of the show.

CS said...

I heard the same interview. True confession...listen to that podcast cycling to work each morning. People are so emmersed in TV and the Internet that they find they have to go to a school to experience life. Hey, how about just picking up an instrument? How about getting your hands dirty in the garden? Going to a used book store and taking some risks and buying a few books, read them on the back porch? While there, you may, heaven forbid, interact with your neighbours. Ah...now I'm rambling, of course people aren't going to do that. Forget School of Life, now School of Rock, there is a DVD you can settle down and really enjoy.

Whisky Prajer said...

"Interact with the neighbors"?! Fooey to that! Better just to don the threadbare cloak of anonymity and flame bloggers with opinions counter to my own.

paul bowman said...

Was just looking for the old cloak the other day ...