“The Unberable Lightness of Being”

“What shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”

In the VI century BC, Parmenides saw the world divided into pairs of opposites, a positive and a negative: for instance, being/non-being, light/darkness or warmth/cold. But when we are talking about our own existence, in “The Unbearable lightness of Being”, Milan Kundera invites the reader to reflect, which one is positive: weight or lightness?Image

In the first pages of the novel, Kundera briefly shows that both weight and lightness have their positive and negative aspects in the human existence:

“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.” (Kundera, 1984)

But the more the reader dives into the story of the main five characters (two women, two men and a dog), the more s/he realizes that the author looks at the human existence as temporary lightness. Our humble existence is light because of its transitory, ephemeral nature. We only have the moment, we are simple passersby in this world and we shouldn’t take ourselves too serious, not even when it comes to things holding great significance for humans (like love, death, sex, commitment). Love for instance is portrayed as the result of endless strings of coincidences which leaves no room for the magic of falling in love or being in love. As for sex and intimacy, it can happen anywhere with anyone, without holding great importance for the actors involved and, of course, sometimes having little or nothing to do with love.

The story of the characters reveals that each person has only one life to live and our existence will not repeat itself ad infinitum as we once experienced it. We will never be able to get back again to the crossroad of a choice, to test the untaken road, because living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come. “There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison.” Thus, Kundera challenges Nietzsche’s concept of “eternal recurrence” according to which everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum.” (Kundera, 1984)

As a life philosophy, I prefer the eternal return to the “unbearable lightness of being”. I am one of the people who choose to mop in their drama. And instead of mobilizing myself to get over sadness, I like to touch its muddy sticky deepest bottom and see how I feel there. I prefer to believe in the recurrence of my experiences and of my existence as a whole. However, not only that I enjoyed Kundera’s novel, but I could often see bits of myself in Sabina, find myself in Tereza’s anguish of being cheated, sympathize with Tomas or Franz, pity and envy Karenin’s existence. Each character is alive, well drawn and complex. And it was an intense reflective journey to walk along with them for a while.

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