Tuesday, June 08, 2010

"I cannot use that microphone"

When I was in college, there was a sort of craze for the novels of Milan Kundera. I could never see the point of them myself - it is partly, I am sure, my natural contrarianism, but the philosophizing always seemed to me not distinctive enough to make up for the self-involved sensibility and the to-me-antipathetic argument about life and art: there is a sort of smug preciousness to Kundera's tone that rubs me the wrong way on a level more physiological than intellectual.

I am reminded of the mild antipathy those novels used to generate in me by this week's reading of Kundera's The Art of the Novel. It is a worthwhile book, but Kundera's authorial persona remains odious! Anyway, a few bits I especially liked:
Joyce set a microphone within Bloom's head. Thanks to the fantastic espionage of interior monologue, we have learned an enormous amount about what we are. But, myself, I cannot use that microphone.
And, preciously but pricelessly: "I once left a publisher for the sole reason that he tried to change my semicolons to periods." So dandyish, so self-absorbed: and yet I cannot help but sympathize...


  1. Weren't we in college at basically the same time? I felt like everyone thought of Kundera as something you might have liked in high school, like John Irving. Maybe I was hanging with THE RIGHT SORT.

  2. Kundera is one of those writers who write the same novel over and over, but at least he managed to get his novel right once - and that is with Immortality, which is an excellent book. His work before Immortality is basically rough drafts of the novel (including Unbearable Lightness) and afterwards he began to write long studies instead of real novels. But Immortality is very much worth a read. A novel that actually fits the tag "post-modern" as opposed to most of the trash labelled as such by people who don't know what the name means (see also Auster, Paul).

    And JSE, I don't really see how John Irving (a middle-brow Steven King) fits in any category with Kundera...

  3. Thanks so much for this--that's great about the semicolons & periods!