Analysis of the Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera

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It's an analysis of the Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera.

Submitted: February 28, 2018

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Submitted: February 28, 2018

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The Depreciated Legacy of Cervantes

In the beginning of the depreciated legacy of Cervantes, the author makes the assumption that the whole History of Europe extending up to America has plunged into a crises with the development of science and technology.

As a novelist Kundera states that the founder of Modern Europe is Cervantes the author of Don Quixote.

The European novelists focus on various themes. With Cervantes it was adventure. With Balzac it was man’s rootedness in History. With Flaubert it was the incognita of the day. With Tolstoy it was intrusions into the irrationality of human behavior.

The theme of the European Novel lay in the passion to know that is the concrete character of life.

The novel began to have an own phases of life which was renegade with Nietzsche’s theme: Death of God.  With Cervantes, truth became baptized as a dead fossil and there emerged a plethora of truths; the character became an imaginary self. The knowledge of good and evil attains a relativistic character, one of ambiguity. Kundera quotes Kafka’s novel, The Trial where an innocent man K becomes the victim of an unjust court.  

Don Quixote is a novel where time exits as a juxtaposition between magic and reality. The perspective of time changes when History enters into the realm of being. With the coming of Balzac, the institutions of the society like money, crime, police and law and order enter as epic proportions in the novel.

The modern novel is a paradox where characters are flavored with disaster, yet there’s the triumph of character.

Even though Modern Europe characterizes the rise of rationality—the identity of the self breaks apart. Europe is entangled in the horror of war. Destiny, purposelessness and angst catches on to the character’s life. Values break down. There is as great deal of intolerance and fanaticism.

The novel becomes a paradoxical enterprise. The author comments on the death of the Novel by the Dadaists and the surrealists. He paints a bleak picture of the novel in communist totalitarian societies. The novel during the Communist regime had to face censorships and bans.

Milan Kundera classifies the novel into four categorical themes—the appeal of play, the appeal of dream, the appeal of thought and the appeal of time.

Now what is the appeal of play? Does it mean to say that the novel is a fanciful enterprise? Let’s look at the appeal of play from the perspective of postmodernism. The postmodern novel is an invasion of character. Texts are a collection of metaphors. There is a tendency to import extreme irony and parody. There is also an inherent tendency to lampoon novels of the past and to write in the style of the pastiche.

Now let’s look at the appeal of thought. The author wants to mention that the novel attains a texture of a philosophical entity. The interiority of time becomes an elevated plane of thought. An example of the appeal of thought lies in the streams of consciousness of Joyce.

What is the appeal of dream? The appeal of dream is a juxtaposition of dream and reality. Bach recites magic realism and mouths electric sandwiches. Dream enables the manifestation of the unconscious.  

What is the appeal of time? Time is paradoxically situated in interiority. Time becomes a vast enigma of irrationality, an oasis of intimacy, narcissism of the soul, an eclectic mutiny of the mind.

Here the author comments on the quest of the novel. The novel points out to the elusiveness of truth.

Dialogue on the Art of the Novel

Here Kundera dialogues that his novel is not a dictum of psychological aesthetics. I would like to dispute with him on this point. Aesthetics is the futurism of the novel—the avant garde novel of writing. The novel should be a resemblance of Picasso’s Cubist work, an explication of Camus philosophical work: The Myth of the Sisyphus, a piece of baroque music.

Looking at the novel from a psychological framework we have to confront the futility of existential destiny. Disaster marks the triumph of individuality. There will be a tendency of the novel to exorcise the demons of disaster and subvert the character’s identity into a pathos of sympathetic irony.

In the passage Kundera questions the ability of the novel to grasp the self. For Sartre the self is an entity of nothingness. Postmodernism desires to subvert the self. Gratify the ID, deify the Ego and subvert the Super Ego.

During the age of Cervantes the self was deconstructed from the piety of chivalry. In Kafka we see the disintegration of the self. The self becomes a victim of tyrannical bureaucratic edifices. In Joyce the self swims in sea of streams of consciousness.

The author constructs dialogues about the self and History. The self in the novel is a manner of revelation. The self is a confessional symptom. The self is an art of lyrical intimacy.

A novelist cannot escape the universal nature of History. History explained in the novel is one of bringing out the voices of dissent and the aroma of depression. History undergoes the subjectivity of castrated characterization.

The writer classifies the novel as one of being a poly-historical luminosity. What does the term poly-historical mean? It includes the merger of several topics into the novel like art, aphorism, tropes, a pathological characterization of the self.

Dialogue on the art of composition

Here he writes the term—Kafkan after Kafka. He uses an example to illustrate the term. An engineer from a Communist Country goes to London and returns and finds the press has slandered him by saying that he has badly spoken of the country. He approaches the editor who says he got the story from the ministry of the interior and when he goes to the ministry of the interior, they apologize by saying that it was a mistake. The conflict between the personal and the public is described by the author as the Kafkan.

The last section of the book is a compilation a dictionary of terms, he has used for his novels.

Aphorism

Aphorism is very clear meaning a concise statement.

Beauty and Knowledge

What is the term beautiful in the novel? For Cervantes it was adventure. For Kafka it was existential angst, protest against totalitarian bureaucracies. For Joyce it was the searching of art in mundane experiences. What is knowledge? Kundera does not provide a satisfactory explanation of it.

Betrayal

He describes betrayal as one of breaking ranks. The notion of betrayal poses a problem in the novel. Let me illustrate by giving an example. Judas betrayed Christ for thirty pieces of silver. Why did the need for pointing out Christ emerge since he was a popular figure? The problem of betrayal in the novel is a problematic one.

Border

Border is signified with emotional terms: like hate, love and angst. Border in a novel has no definable limit.

Comic

Comic for the novelist is not what makes us laugh but a revelation of the unknown.

 Destiny

Destiny is the conflict of the self. Destiny is absurd and we have to creatively authenticate a destiny.

Excitation

Excitation for the author is erotic.

Forgetting

Forgetting is a term used to bringing to memory a situation in ironic terms.

Dream

Dream lies in exploiting the ID to create bizarre enigmatic phantasmagorias.

Irony

Irony for the author is an edification of character. It makes the character distraught. As a novelistic technique irony is sublime in literature.

Kitsch

Kitsch for the author is a sentimental flaw. Kitsch is a term where the sentiment, vulgar and offensive is melodiously gratified in narcissism.  


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