Not guilty

“She had never been able to get rid of the fourteen-year-old girl within herself who was ashamed of her breasts and had the disagreeable feeling that she was indecent, because they stuck out from her body and were visible. Even though she was proud of being pretty and having a good figure, this feeling of pride was always immediately curtailed by shame. She rightly suspected that feminine beauty functioned above all as sexual provocation and she found this distasteful. She longed for her body to be related only to the man she loved. When men stared at her breasts in the street it seemed to her that they were invading a piece of her most secret privacy which should belong only to herself and her lover.” – Milan Kundera, “The Hitchhiking Game” (trans. Suzanne Rappaport)

Swinging all ways

“All great novels, all true novels are bisexual. This is to say that they express both a feminine and a masculine vision of the world. The sex of the authors as physical people is their private affair.” — Milan Kundera (interview with Lois Oppenheim in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1989, Vol. 9.2)

Look out, it’s right beside you

“It takes so little, so infinitely little, for a person to cross the border beyond which everything loses meaning: love, convictions, faith, history.  Human life–and herein lies its secret–takes place in the immediate proximity of that border, even in direct contact with it; it is not miles away, but a fraction of an inch.” — Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (trans. Heim)

In America, it’s called public education

“The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory.  Destroy its books, its culture, its history.  Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history.  Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was.  The world around it will forget even faster.” — Milan Hubl (quoted in Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, trans. Heim)

A plague upon the nation

“Graphomania (an obsession with writing books) takes on the proportions of a mass epidemic whenever a society develops to the point where it can provide three basic conditions: 1. a high enough degree of general well-being to enable people to devote their energies to useless activities; 2. an advanced state of social atomization and the resultant general feeling of the isolation of the individual; 3. a radical absence of significant social change in the internal development of the nation.” — Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (trans. Heim)

You can get a grant for that

“People are always shouting they want to create a better future.  It’s not true.  The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone.  The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it.  The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past.” — Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (trans. Heim)

Stuff it full of catnip

“If we cannot accept the importance of the world, which considers itself important, if in the midst of that world our laughter finds no echo, we have but one choice: to take the world as a whole and make it into the object of our game; to turn it into a toy.” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)

Can’t say if it’s a good thing or not

“It has been extremely lucky that up to now wars have been fought only by men.  If they had been fought by women, they would have been so consistently cruel that today there wouldn’t be a single human being left on the planet.” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)

Watch your step

“No episode is a priori condemned to remain an episode forever, for every event, no matter how trivial, conceals within itself the possibility of sooner or later becoming the cause of other events and thus changing into a story or an adventure.  Episodes are like land mines.  The majority of them never explode, but the most unremarkable of them may someday turn into a story that will prove fateful to you.” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)

Sleeping on the slats

“Life is as stuffed with episodes as a mattress is with horsehair, but a poet (according to Aristotle) is not an upholsterer and must remove all stuffing from his story, even though real life consists of nothing but precisely such stuffing.” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)

In our next episode, Biff boffs Bambi

“In Aristotle’s Poetics, the episode is an important concept.  Aristotle did not like episodes.  According to him, an episode, from the point of view of poetry, is the worst possible type of event.  It is neither an unavoidable consequence of preceding action nor the cause of what is to follow: it is outside the causal chain of events that is the story.  It is merely a sterile accident that can be left out without making the story lose its intelligible continuity and is incapable of making a permanent mark upon the life of the characters.” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)

The bearable happiness of being

“Living, there is no happiness in that.  Living: carrying one’s painful self through the world.  But being, being is happiness.  Being: becoming a fountain, a fountain on which the universe falls like warm rain.” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)

Taking the slow low road

“Road: a strip of ground over which one walks.  A highway differs from a road not only because it is solely intended for vehicles, but also because it is merely a line that connects one point to another.  A highway has no meaning in itself; its meaning derives entirely from the two points that it connects.  A road is a tribute to space.  Every stretch of road has meaning in itself and invites us to stop.  A highway is the triumphant devaluation of space, which thanks to it has been reduced to a mere obstacle to human movement and a waste of time.  Before roads and paths disappeared from the landscape, they had disappeared from the human soul: man stopped wanting to walk, to walk on his own feet and to enjoy it.  What’s more, he no longer saw his own life as a road, but as a highway: a line that led from one point to another, from the rank of captain to the rank of general, from the role of wife to the role of widow.  Time became a mere obstacle to life, an obstacle that had to be overcome by ever greater speed.” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)

Fight for your right to fight for your right

“The more the fight for human rights gains in popularity, the more it loses any concrete content, becoming a kind of universal stance of everyone toward everything, a kind of energy that turns all human desires into rights.  The world has become man’s right and everything in it has become a right: the desire for love the right to love, the desire for rest the right to rest, the desire for friendship the right to friendship, the desire to exceed the speed limit the right to exceed the speed limit, the desire for happiness the right to happiness, the desire to publish a book the right to publish a book, the desire to shout in the street in the middle of the night the right to shout in the street.” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)

Tap-dancing through the minefield

“War can only exist in a world of tragedy; from the beginning of history man has known only a tragic world and has not been capable of stepping out of it.  The age of tragedy can be ended only by the revolt of frivolity.” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)

A joyful noyse?

“Does love for art really exist and has it ever existed?  Is it not a delusion?  When Lenin proclaimed that he loved Beethoven’s Appassionata above all else, what was it that he really loved?  What did he hear?  Music?  Or a majestic noise that reminded him of the solemn stirrings in his soul, a longing for blood, brotherhood, executions, justice, and the absolute?  Did he derive joy from the tones, or from the musings stimulated by those tones, which had nothing to do with art or with beauty?” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)

The best-dressed person in the graveyard

“Up to a certain moment our death seems too distant for us to occupy ourselves with it.  It is unseen and invisible.  That is the first, happy period of life.  But then we suddenly begin to see our death ahead of us and we can no longer keep ourselves from thinking about it.  It is with us.  And because immortality sticks to death as tightly as Laurel to Hardy, we can say that our immortality is with us, too.  And the moment we know it is with us we feverishly begin to look after it.  We have a formal suit made for it, we buy a new tie for it, worried that others might select the clothes and tie, and select badly.” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)

Suffer the little children

“Nothing is more useful than to adopt the status of a child: a child can do whatever it likes, for it is innocent and inexperienced; it need not observe the rules of social behavior, for it has not yet entered a world ruled by form; it may show its feelings, whether they are appropriate or not.” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)

Good thing they’re not in charge

“The whole art of politics these days lies not in running the polis (which runs itself by the logic of its own dark and uncontrollable mechanism), but in thinking up ‘sound bites’ by which the politician is seen and understood, measured in opinion polls, and elected or rejected in elections.” — Milan Kundera, Immortality (trans. Kussi)