07 December 2007

Fate of the individual in modern society

A theme that often connects Czech writer Milan Kundera’s novels, and his short fiction, is the fate of the individual in modern society. It appears in almost all of his major works such as ‘The Joke’, ‘The Book of Laughter and Forgetting’ and ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’. Although these novels deal with the fate of the individual in a modern Communist society, I feel, the theme is equally applicable to any modern society.

However, Kundera’s use of this theme is not new. The fate of the individual in modern society is a common theme among fiction writers. Gustave Flaubert, Leo Tolstoy, Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, D H Lawrence, James Joyce, and not to forget Franz Kafka, among many others, have all traversed this territory much before Kundera. But what I like about Kundera is that he presents his case, and his characters, in a light-hearted manner, interweaving fact with fiction.

Although Kundera’s writing lectures us on modern Czech history, this history is presented as the context in which his characters shuffle around and live their lives. This is the place that his characters occupy – a place created by Kundera’s imagination and the factual recorded history of Czechoslovakia. Added to this is Kundera’s play with philosophy, which he presents to us, almost as a discourse, through his ‘narrator’.

Kundera’s stories, and the characters within them, unfold in a sort of step-by-step manner – in an interweaving of fact and fiction and philosophy, within which his characters struggle to discover themselves and find joy (if only for a short while). All in all, a pretty interesting construction for a novel, don’t you think?


Madhuri said...

Yes, it is certainly an interesting mix. Fiction set against the backdrop of a history often gives a much better perspective of that history than a historical discourse/report.
Have you read 'Life is elsewhere'? It is another interesting mix of fiction and history, and is comical too.

runawaysun said...

No, not read that one. Shall try to do so... one of these days.