The Czech novelist Milan Kundera’s new essayistic book, “Encounter,” his fourth, is alternatingly elegiac and celebratory. An émigré from the Communist horror of what was then Czechoslovakia, he settled in Paris and proceeded to write in French. But he discovered in France “the sense that we have come to the era of post-art, in a world where art is dying because the need for art, the sensitivity and the love for it, is dying.” Still, there remain the particular artists whom Kundera celebrates — novelists, poets, composers, painters — who keep beauty alive. There are 26 essays, some of only a couple of pages, some rather longer. Let us examine a characteristic one, “What Will Be Left of You, Bertolt?” It begins by making reference to a 1999 article in a Paris weekly, “one of the more serious ones.” (Frequently Kundera will refer to a person or a piece of writing without identification, unclear whether for universalizing or diplomatic reasons.) It contained a special section on 18 “geniuses of the century,” featuring, among others, Coco Chanel, Maria Callas, Bill Gates, Le Corbusier, Picasso, Yves Saint Laurent and the little-known astronomy professor Robert Noyes.
more from John Simon at the NYT here.