Friday, October 21, 2011

Eternal Return

The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Unbearable Lightness of Being 

“Anyone whose goal is 'something higher' must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”  ― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

How often do you find a novel starting with a discussion of Nietzsche's idea of eternal return? This is how Milan Kundera's novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, begins, and it becomes more complex and interesting as the novel continues into a tale of loves and lovers set against the background of Communist Czechoslovakia in the days before the fall of the iron curtain. Particularly important is the contrast of lightness and heaviness of this life as we ponder the nature of fortuity and fate in the lives of the characters.
As always with Kundera there are many levels of meaning present on almost every page. As an example consider the idea of "eternal return" -- The notion that the universe has been repeating itself over and over, infinitely, and that time is cyclical. Since the universe (or the matter contained in it) is finite, but time is infinite, the number of permutations into which matter can be converted over time has to be finite and its forms will eventually repeat themselves. Eternal recurrence was discussed in ancient India and Egypt, and also by the Pythagorean and Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece. Nietzsche, who was a brilliant classical scholar, revived the theory as a method of affirming life in the wake of the “death of God.” Also as in other fiction and essays by Kundera music and literature play an important role in the development of the novel's themes including references to Beethoven's last quartets, the nature of fate as informed by Oedipus, and a pet dog named Karenin. It all comes together in the countryside as we see Tomas, the Doctor, give up his profession for love or for his principles, or for both. Challenging the reader, this author has created an enigmatic book that is a delight for the reader who cherishes the world of ideas and their meaning for man.

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