Friday, 26 December 2014

laughable loves [milan kundera]

Kundera's early work is a collection of eight short stories. They all deal with the pleasures and pitfalls of sexual relationships. It feels like a young man's book, but a young man who has a sly understanding of the way in which the domain of the sexual encounter in the human sphere is far more complex than the mere mating instinct. Tied up in the act of seduction or desire is the will to power, the will to survival or the will to just get by. At the same time, the stories offer a sideways view of the complications of living within a totalitarian state. A portrait which is all the richer because it reveals that this state still permits the simple pleasures of flirtation and debate, but impinges at the edges, constantly marking out the limits of possibility, with a fall from grace forever on the edge of the subject's view. At times the preoccupations and worries of these cold-war Czechs don't seem that far away from those of Updike's suburban Yankees or today's harassed first-world capitalists. For all their intelligence, sexuality and charm, they are still neutered by the demands of the system they inhabit. Something which infiltrates the mechanisms of desire, which are conditioned as much by power as Eros. But no doubt it was ever thus, and it's a reflection of Kundera's nascent mastery that he succeeds in revealing how human instincts, especially of the more romantic kind, are always compromised and complex, no matter the ideological context within which they are framed.

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