Friday, October 12, 2007

Milan Kundera lifts The Curtain on Writing the Novel

Kundera's book about the novel is not exactly as billed. These are not seven
essays. What we have is a set of notes, some speculations and assertions about
the past and future of the novel and its place in the world of literature and art.

Since these happen to be the spectulations of one of the most radically unsentimental
writers of our time, they are very valuable indeed. As the thoughts of a writer
whose work inspires other novelists (well, okay, this novelist) to keep writing,
they're especially precious.

Kundera urges us to see the novel in the context of its history. He suggests that its
reason for being is that the novel can tell a particular kind of truth, that it can
get to the heart of things and tear back the curtain of interpretation that veils
our realities.

The specifics of this arguement are as enlightening as the arguement itself:Cervantes'
humor as a reprise of what grownups know about the world, Rabelais' coinage of
a word for the humorless, Musil's irony, Stifter's prescience. Read Kundera to enlarge
your circle of acquaintance and turn literary acquaintances into teachers.

For all the inspiration that Kundera's work affords writers, this is a very pessimistic
book. With the death of historical awareness and appreciation for the moment comes
the death of the novel. Without 'the history of various arts, there's not much left
to works of art'. It's the pessimism of the true conservative-one whose heritage and
nation have vanished and being now incapable of growth can only be shored up
against the inevitable ravages of the new.

This perspective encourages-I think-an appreciation for the everyday, a Gestalt
shrink's awareness of the here and now. It's the kind of appreciation that rubs off on
the reader. If the reader is also a writer, this is the stuff that keeps you going.

Lynn Hoffman, author of bang BANG (a novel) and The New Short Course in Wine

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