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In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera discusses the attempt of the Communist Party to erase historical events and people (including himself) from the public memory of Czechoslovakia. He believes that ‘the first step in liquidating a people … is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster.’ But Kundera finds such an attempt the ultimate absurdist endeavor, for the constant street-name changes and air-brushing of official photographs indicate a desire not only to erase history but to change it:

'People are always shouting they want to create a better future. It's not true. The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone. The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past. They are fighting for access to the laboratories where photographs are retouched and biographies and histories rewritten.'

Kundera reflects the standard European horror of pastlessness: to live without a history is to be nothing; to live with an invented history is, even worse, to be a joke. Invented histories, however, have rarely posed existential problems for Americans. The denial of the past has always been part of the ‘package deal’ of the American Dream. If, to the European, the past offers spiritual ballast in the face of the contingent and the unknown, to the American it is discardable dead weight. Cutting one’s losses has been the pragmatic, and even romantic, creed of our greatest fictional heroes (think only of Huckleberry Finn, Gatsby, John Wayne in countless westerns), for whom name and address changes symbolize a proud refusal to acknowledge social and even physical limits to experience. It is hardly novel to point out the decay of this myth; if one theme pervades post-World War II American film and fiction it is the slow, sad death of the ‘unattached’ frontier spirit in an increasingly claustrophobic and standardized nation. But if the spirit has died, its form has survived in the style of constant change, change which embodies no greater organic principle than change itself.

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— Allison Graham in her essay “History, Nostalgia, and the Criminality of Popular Culture”  (1984)

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…but that’s J. M. Coetzee?!

…but that’s J. M. Coetzee?!

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"[D]issatisfaction with her own looks was slowly changing into defiance; the thought that the trumpeter was going to see her in a cheap and unattractive dress, whether he liked it or not, gave her a certain spiteful satisfaction."

— from The Farewell Party

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"Who are the greatest misogynists in the world? Women! No man—not even Mr. Klima, who’s already been twice stuck with a paternity claim—I say, no man feels such resentment against women as women do against their own sex. Why do you think they chase after us men? Only to wound and humiliate their sisters. God put misogyny in the hearts of women because he wanted the human race to multiply."

— from The Farewell Party

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"Light and dark—those are the two poles of human character. Dark hair signifies virility, courage, directness, and initiative, whereas fair hair symbolizes femininity, tenderness, and passivity. A blonde is really a woman twice over. That’s why a princess has to be fair-haired. And that’s why women—to be as feminine as possible—color their hair blond but never black."

— from The Farewell Party

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"It terrified her that she was living out her life in the small town where time was void of events, and although she was still young she was constantly preoccupied with the thought that her life would be over before she had had a chance to start living."

— from The Farewell Party

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"The only thing they bequeathed to him was a fear of women. Tomas desired but feared them. Needing to create a compromise between fear and desire, he devised what he called ‘erotic friendship.’ He would tell his mistresses: the only relationship that can make both partners happy is the one in which sentimentality has no place and neither partner makes any claim on the life and freedom of the other."

— from The Unbearable Lightness of Being

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"Tomas did not realize at the time that metaphors are dangerous. Metaphors are not to be trifled with. A single metaphor can give birth to love."

— from The Unbearable Lightness of Being

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"We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives or perfect it in our lives to come."

— from The Unbearable Lightness of Being

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"But was it love? The feeling of wanting to die beside her was clearly exaggerated: he had seen her only once before in his life! Was it simply the hysteria of a man who, aware deep down of his inaptitude for love, felt the self-deluding need to simulate it?"

— from The Unbearable Lightness of Being

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"He smelled the delicate aroma of her fever and breathed it in, as if trying to glut himself with the intimacy of her body. And all at once he fancied she had been with him for many years and was dying. He had a sudden clear feeling that he would not survive her death. He would lie down beside her and want to die with her."

— from The Unbearable Lightness of Being

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"In the world of eternal return the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every move we make. That is why Nietzsche called the idea of eternal return the heaviest of burdens (das schwerste Gewicht)."

— from The Unbearable Lightness of Being

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"'My dear friend, you're a perfect example of the sinfulness of excessive love.'

‘I thought my love for my wife was just about my only saving grace.’

‘You were wrong. Your immoderate love for your wife is not a vindication of your heartlessness but its source. Since your wife means everything to you, all other women mean nothing, or, to put it another way, they’re mere whores. But this is great blasphemy, great disrespect for God’s creatures. My friend, such love is heresy.’"

— from The Farewell Party

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This isn’t so important but I want to point out that I am publishing quotes lately on misogyny and internalized misogyny in Kundera’s work not because I agree with them as containing some deeper truth, but because I vehemently disagree with them.  Their value is in their ripeness for discussion.

Also note that a lot of these quotes on misogyny are coming from the abortion doctor, Dr. Skreta, who, if you read The Farewell Party, you will realize is quite ignorant and holds some hypocritical opinions on women.  In fact, even Bartleff’s exalted opinions of women and Ruzena’s experientially relevant ones can be naive and ignorant, and this is because Kundera creates a wide array of complex characters who each contain some grain of truth.

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"A blonde, whether real or dyed, unconsciously adapts herself to her hair. She tries to turn herself into a fragile being, a doll, a princess, she demands tenderness and courtesy, gallantry and compliments, she is unable to do anything for herself, all sweetness on the outside and bitchiness on the inside. If dark hair were to become fashionable, the whole world would be a pleasanter place. It would be the most useful social reform ever attempted."

— from The Farewell Party