The Intrusive Author in Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being
In an interview he gave after the reprinting of one of his later novels, Milan Kundera said, most eloquently, that "the stupidity of the world comes from having an answer for everything
the wisdom of the novel comes from having a question for everything" (qtd. in O'Brien 4). This statement is one most indicative of the unique authorial style found in all of Kundera's works, particularly his most famous novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Unlike previous traditional, non-autobiographical novels, Kundera chooses to indirectly reveal himself as the narrator, who, while omniscient in the control of his characters, poses questions of deep philosophical interest that even he cannot answer. This method has become problematic, however, as many critics have wrongly proclaimed this technique to represent the author's hatred for the totalitarian regime under which his novel was written; in doing so, not only have they wrongly labeled Kundera "a passionate defender of Western culture" (Angyal 4), but they also have ignored the larger, philosophical issues that Kundera attempts to accomplish in the novel. While many of the themes in the novel undoubtedly reveal the totalitarian regime for what it is, it will be argued that the role of the intrusive author serves to create a sense of play and freedom of movement that digs deeper than history or politics to get to the heart of more important philosophical issues. An analysis of Kundera's structural functions and choices within The Unbearable Lightness of Being will provide a closer view of the openness, or "play" he strives for. One of the primary functions of Kundera as an intrusive narrator in the novel is to establish his characters as creations of his own mind. Whereas in traditional novels, the fictitious characters are assumed to be real in some imaginary world, Kundera almost immediately admits that "it would be senseless for the author to try convince the reader that his characters once actually lived
they were born of a stimulating phrase or two from a basic situation" (39). His characters were created in light of the author's contemplations. However, this does not automatically make the characters flat "types", as some have argued. To the contrary, the author's admittance of the characters as fictional creations whom he has pondered very deeply lend them more depth and credibility than a character designed simply to serve a purpose. In other words, in this particular novel, the story does not create the characters, but the characters create the story. This enables Kundera a greater sense of structural openness and play, or freedom of movement, in the novel. According to Hana Pichova, "a narrator's directing function includes the use of
the repeating prolepsis or advance notice, a narratological technique that fragments the narrative through temporal disorder" (217). Kundera utilizes such a technique first and foremost in the relationship between Tomas and Tereza, for example: "It may well be those few fortuities
which set her love in motion and provided her with a source of energy she had not yet exhausted at the end of her days." Before coming to the end of the book, Kundera has already described Tereza's undying love for Tomas as he sees it. According to Pichova, this technique serves to establish the author as omniscient director of the novel, enabling him to create a textual world over which he has power and control. However, as Pichova notes, "Kundera's narrator is obviously not interested in the power of regulation on the thematic level. He subverts his potential power by revealing himself to the reader." When considered in the context of totalitarian regimes, the act of revelation is one most destructive to its very goals. Through his frequent use of "I" and advanced notice of things to come, Pichova argues, Kundera has "disowned the faceless gaze'" of totalitarianism....
Cited: Angyal, Andrew. "Review: The Unbearable Lightness of Being." MagillOnLiterature.
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Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1984
O 'Brien, John. "Milan Kundera: Meaning, Play, and the Role of the Author." Studies in
Contemporary Fiction. Fall 1992. Vol. 34, Issue 1. 1-20.
Pichova, Hana. "The Narrator in Milan Kundera 's The Unbearable Lightness of Being."
Slavic and East European Journal. 1992. Vol. 36, Issue 32. 217-226.
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