I used to believe that choices are our own and it is within our power to make them for which we must be responsible. As time goes by, I realize that there are always difficult choices and some things are just not meant to be. But then I do not think we should stop trying to reach for what we really want to do in our life. It is about knowing who you are and asking ourselves what we really want.
Milan Kundera writes in The Unbearable Lightness of Being as translated from Czech into English by Michael Henry Heim ,
“ We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.” since ‘the first rehearsal for life is life itself’”. Which shall we choose ? Weight or lightness?
The premise of Kundera’s novel is based on its author’s analysis about the dichotomy between lightness and weight in the light of Nietzsche’s philosophy about eternal return ( I must qualify that I have not read Nietzsche) and whether we can combat fate by choosing to live under weight like Tereza and Franz or lightness like the characters, Tomas and Sabina. As the novel progresses, I find that both lightness and weight are manifested in all the main characters in the novel, some more apparent than others.
The story is set in Prague and it is about two men and two women living in the late 1960s.
Tereza yearned for her mother’s love and was willing to do anything to gain her mother’s love and she became the ‘culprit’ for her mother’s unhappiness. One day she decided to escape her old life by finding Tomas with whom she had recently acquainted when he happened to be in her town, a small Czech town some hundred and twenty five miles from Prague. Tomas, a surgeon, went to the hotel restaurant where she was working as a waitress. When Tomas ordered a cognac, the radio happened to be playing the composition by Beethoven and she had known the music from the time a string quartet from Prague visited her town. Whenever she heard Beethoven, she would be touched. However if it was not Tomas, she might not have noticed the music.
‘Chance and chance alone has a message for us. Everything that occurs out of necessity, everything expected, repeated day in and day out, is mute. Only chance can speak to us. We read its message much as gypsies read the images made by coffee grounds at the bottom of a cup.’
To assuage Tereza’s sufferings, Tomas married her and gave her a puppy. Tereza wanted commitment from Tomas who was incapable of giving up his incessant womanizing. When they moved to Zurich, Tereza returned to Prague leaving Tomas behind because she could not live abroad. After two days of her absence ,Tomas felt like he had been hit by a weight and he had to leave his job and he said “ Es muss sein” to the Swiss doctor who had offered him the position. Es muss sein. It must be. Tomas found himself being burdened by his love for Tereza and he returned to Prague to be with Tereza.
Sabina, a painter who had a liaison with Tomas would be ‘charmed more by betrayal than fidelity’ and she had commitment issues when she was with Franz, a professor in Geneva. Franz was drawn to Sabina’s persona who was a revelation to him as she came from a land where there were incidents of ‘persecution, ‘enemy tanks’, prison’ , banned books and he felt that by contrast his life was light. Franz desired weight as opposed to Sabina who represented lightness and to Frank, Sabina represented a different dimension .
‘Sabina protested. She said that conflict, drama ,and tragedy didn’t mean a thing; there was nothing inherently valuable in them, nothing deserving of respect or admiration.’
Sabina had no love for that drama while Franz who, despite having written and published several scholarly books that had received considerable acclaims, felt that words that had been spewed out were not real life as they were ‘a sea of words with no weight and no resemblance to life’.
How often we feel weighed down by our commitments and ties and we struggle to gain an equilibrium between breaking free and a sense of belonging and finding meaning in our lives. Love, freedom and death make up the meaning of our lives. We desire lightness yet we cannot help feeling the weight as we celebrate our ties and commitments. Relationships are what give meanings and value in our lives. Muss es sein?Es muss sein. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a novel which I hope to read again as I have not fully digested all of it and I may have oversimplified the novel. The sentences are beautifully written ( as translated from Czech by Michael Henry Heim) and the way the narrator interjects with the author’s musings makes me want to read the book again.
Note : This post was written in 2014. Most of it was from my first blog
On 20 August 2009, I flew from Paris to Prague with my family via Wizz air ( a budget airline which took off from Beauvais airport in Paris) and spent three days in Prague.
Prague is a beautiful medieval city. Located in a small square from the French Embassy, there lies the wall that was decorated with messages and John Lennon inspired graffiti following his tragic death in 1980. We were allowed to leave mark on the wall in pencil, marker or chalk.
Prague is a picturesque city. The gothic architecture is magnificent and you cannot help snapping photos at every corner. These images were taken with a Canon EOS 400D digital camera.