The Book of Laughter and Forgetting – Milan Kundera – Quotes

In those first weeks it was decided between Karel and Marketa that Karel would be unfaithful and Marketa would submit, but that Marketa would have the privilege of being the better one in the couple and Karel would always feel guilty. No one knew better than Marketa how depressing it was to be better. The only reason she was better was for want of anything better.

Laughable laughter is cataclysmic. And even so, the angels have gained something by it. They have tricked us all with their semantic hoax. Their imitation laughter and its original (the Devil’s) have the same name. People nowadays do not even realize that one and the same external phenomenon embraces two completely contradictory internal attitudes. There are two kind of laughter, and we lack the words to distinguish them.

There she sits on a raft, looking back, looking only back. The sum total of her being is no more than what she sees in the distance, behind her. And as her past begins to shrink, disappear, fall apart, Tamina begins shrinking and blurring.
She longs to see the notebooks so she can fill in the fragile framework of events in the new notebook, give it walls, make it a house she can live in. Because if the shaky structure of her memories collapses like a badly pitched tent, all Tamina will have left is the present, that invisible point, that nothing moving slowly toward death.

Graphomania (an obsession with writing books) takes on the proportions of mass epidemic whenever a society develops to the point where it can provide three basic conditions:

  1. a high enough degree of general well-being to enable people to devote their energies to useless activities;
  2. an advanced state of social atomization and the resultant general feeling of isolation of the individual;
  3. a radical absence of significant social change in the internal development of the nation. (In this connection I find it symptomatic that in France, a country where nothing really happens, the percentage of writers is twenty-one times higher than in Israel. Bibi was absolutely right when she claimed never  to have experiences anything from the outside. It is this absence of content, this void, that powers the motor driving her to write.)

But the effect transmits a kind of flashback to the cause. If general isolation causes graphomania, mass graphomania itself reinforces and aggravates the feeling of general isolation. The invention of printing originally promoted mutual understanding. In the era of graphomania the writing of books has the opposite effect: everyone surrounds himself with his own writings as with a wall of mirrors cutting off all voices from without.

The proliferation of mass graphomania among politicians, cab drivers, women on the delivery table, mistresses, murderers, criminals, prostitutes, police chiefs, doctors, and patients proves to me that every individual without exception bears a potential writer within himself and that all mankind has every right to rush out into the streets with a cry of “We are all writers!”
The reason is that everyone has trouble accepting the fact he will disappear unheard of and unnoticed in an indifferent universe, and everyone wants to make himself into a universe of words before it’s too late.
Once the writer in every individual comes to life (and that time is not far off), we are in for an age of universal deafness and lack of understanding.

Since each of the twelve notes has its own job, title, and function, any piece we hear is more than mere sound: it unfolds certain action before us. Sometimes the events are terribly involved (as in Mahler or – even more – Bartok or Stravinsky): princes from other courts intervene, and before long there is no telling which court a tone belongs to and no assurance it isn’t working undercover as a double agent or triple agent. But even then the most naive of listeners can figure out more or less what is going on. The most complex music is still a language.

People fascinated by the idea of progress never suspect that every step forward is also a step on the way to the end and that behind all the joyous “onward and upward” slogans lurks the lascivious voice of death urging us to make haste.

Schönberg is dead, Ellington is dead, but the guitar is eternal. Stereotyped harmonies, hackneyed melodies, and a beat that gets stronger as it gets duller – that is what’s left of music, the eternity of music. Everyone has come together on the basis of those simple combinations of notes. They are life itself proclaiming its jubilant “Here I am!” No sense of communion is more resonant, more unanimous, than the simple sense of communion with life. It can bring Arab and Jew together, Czech and Russian. Bodies pulsing to a common beat, drunk with the consciousness that they exist. No work of Beethoven’s has ever elicited a greater collective passion that the constant repetitive throb of the guitar.

The history of music is mortal, but the idiocy of the guitar is eternal. Music in our time has returned to its primordial state, the state after the last issue has been raised and the last theme contemplated – a state that follows history.

Think it over. Without batting an eyelid Husak let doctors, scholars, astronomers, athletes, directors, cameramen, workers, engineers, architects, historians, journalists, writers, and painter go into emigration, but he could not stand the thought of Karel Gott leaving the country. Because Karel Gott represents music minus memory, the music in which the bones of Beethoven and Ellington, the dust of Palestrina and Schönberg, lie buried.
The president of forgetting and the idiot of music deserve one another. They are working for the same cause. “We will help you if you help us.” You can’t have one without the other.

My review of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

This is book #6 of my 20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy at 746books.
See my list as it grows here.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska 

20-books 2017

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s