unbearable lightness todAY


The Unbearable Lightness of Being elicited considerable interest after its publication (in French in 1984, in Czech in 1985) and ultimately became Milan Kundera’s best-known novel. A major discussion took place in the exile journal Testimony, in which Milan Jungmann reproached Kundera for pandering to his readers, for dealing too loosely with the details of real life under the normalization regime,[1] and for his “method of beautiful fabulation.” After the critical Jungmann, some voices spoke out defending Kundera (including Kvetoslav Chvatik, Petr Kral, Ivo Bock, and Josef Skvorecky), pointing out that irrational anti-Kundera positions were determined by something “essential to the whole Czech character” (Kral). In 1988, Jaroslav Cejka added salt to the wounds with another criticism of Kundera, calling the novel “third-generation kitsch”. In essence, Cejka repeated Jungmann’s reproaches to the effect that Kundera merely wanted to gratify his readers, as well as (and here he was also in accordance with Jungmann) rebuking him for his erotic scenes and meditations on defecation. How strange: Jungmann, a dissident writing unofficial samizdat, and Cejka, an official critic from the very top of the Communist establishment who wrote for the principal cultural-political weekly, both managed – where Kundera was concerned – to agree.

How does The Unbearable Lightness of Being look more than twenty years after its original publication? Answering this question means hunting through our memory to track down just what Kundera’s novel did to us in the mid-1980s.

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