Milan Kundera has readers of all levels. He is a writer of both tastes and tastes, and he straddles the Eastern and Western camps at the same time, fusing themes of philosophy, politics and the art of fiction. As a thinker who asks the secret of individual existence in specific social political and historical situations; as an artist who has made unique contributions to the essence and form of the novel; as a best-selling author who is well versed in popular culture, his audience is naturally very wide.
His novels always describe the fate of characters in political movements, their public social and political life and private sexual life. His novels are full of thoughts about individual existence: why a person becomes himself, why he acts like this, and becomes that person in social reality; he has a clear understanding of this and expresses it directly in his novels. The form of his novels is relaxed and free, with comedic color, so his works are full of topics, and readers can enter his novels from many angles and make various interpretations.
The richness of Kundera’s works superimposed the complexity of his personal identity and experience. He was born in an intellectual family in Brno, Czech Republic in 1929, and his father was a musician. During World War II, he experienced the occupation of fascist Germany and ushered in the liberation of the Soviet Red Army. Kundera joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia at the age of 18 in 1947, was expelled at the age of 21, rejoined at the age of 27, and was expelled again in 1970 at the age of 41. He experienced the socialization of Czechoslovakia, the Cold War between the East and the West, and participated in the 1968 Prague Spring reform movement within socialism and the subsequent Soviet repression. He became a poet and a novelist in a socialist society. After the novel “Joke” published in 1967 became a bestseller, he was banned, and then he was deprived of the right to work and publish.
In 1975, at the age of 46, Kundera left his motherland to work in France. Then, at the age of 50, he was revoked by Czechoslovakia because of his political inclination in the novel, and obtained French nationality in 1981. Afterwards, his novels written in Czech were translated into French and published. After finishing his sixth novel “Immortal”, he switched to writing in French and considered himself a French writer. In 1989, after the “Velvet Revolution” in Czechoslovakia, Kundera refused to return to the motherland and also resisted publishing novels in the Czech language. He was criticized by many Czech writers for this reason.
In 2019, Kundera obtained Czech citizenship at the age of 90. There are too many symbols engraved on his body, and he is a perfect symbolic pawn in the politics of the times. A special historical product. But he refuses to be such a tool of politics, history and times, and even more rejects the identity of political victims and exiles. He emphasized his identity as a novelist and refused to regard his novels as expressions of political intentions. Of course he could not resist the political interpretation of his thoughts and personal life. But he emphasized that novels can only be properly evaluated in the history of novels, and he invented a set of personal novel theories and novel history views for this purpose.
He believes that the novel is an art of laughter, which is an invention of Europeans. It was born at the beginning of the modern era in Europe, the Renaissance. The world of the only truth of Christianity in the Middle Ages was deconstructed, and in the relative world, people began to embark on the road of exploring their own existence with the passion of knowledge. It is the roaming road embarked on by Rabelais’ “Giant” and Cervantes’ “Don Quixote”. This is the road full of laughter, because everything is uncertain, ambiguous and free, not the world of dogmatic and sacred truths, but the world of discovering the possibilities of various self-existences. The history of the novel, the history of continuous exploration and discovery of the mystery of self-existence, is passed like a relay race across Europe: Boccaccio’s characters determine who they really are only through their actions; Diderot’s Jacques the Fatalist discovers Acting in the external world is out of touch with the self; Richardson determines the authenticity of man by describing his inner feelings; Balzac discovers that man is subject to the regulation of various factors of objective time and social reality; Proust and Joyce discovered the reality of human inner time which is different from external time and space, and Kafka discovered the absurd irrationality of the world.
Kundera believes that the discovery of new existence is the only reason for the existence of the novel. Once there is no such discovery, only some known and definite conclusions and dogmas are repeated, the history of the novel will end, and the novel itself will die. His theory naturally has its political nature. By using the art of laughing, using the discovery of the unknown as the essence of the novel, the final conclusion can be drawn on the critique of Soviet fiction: it is considered immoral for Soviet novels used for policy propaganda and ready-made theoretical illustrations. It means the end of the history of fiction. Of course, this theory can also be used to criticize some practices of Western European politics.
Kundera’s novels are about the life and destiny of Czechoslovakians under the ideology of Soviet socialism. But a purely political reading of his novel does miss its most original achievement. His focus is not on political criticism, but on human existence, human situation, the relationship between human self and environment, how people establish themselves, how they choose, and how they take actions. What kind of mechanism determines how people become themselves. People are not what they think they are, and they don’t act according to the most real impulse in their hearts. The world runs in an uncontrollable way. Human impulses are also complicated, and self-identification also has various self-protection assumptions in it. This is what he reveals in “Joke” and “Farewell Waltz”. In that political environment and logic, the roles of victim and perpetrator are completely accidental, they act by the same logic. The saddest tragedy came from an accidental joke, which slowly deviated from their respective wishes. In an absurd drama performed collectively, an uncontrollable slide towards some horribly tragic end.
Kundera’s novels also contain a passion for knowledge, and its characters are set according to probing questions. The figures are vague and omitted except where relevant to the subject. The personalities of the characters are all determined and unchanged, and the plot and fate are only advanced logically, as clear as geometric calculations. There is neither opaque, complex and dark reality, nor incomprehensible chance, everything is clearly explained. Those motives, desires, mannerisms and their transformations are all intelligible. But as novels they are still wonderful. This kind of splendor first comes from the structure of the novel, which is full of various contrasts, which are clearly presented, developed, and intertwined like musical themes, forming a dramatic symphonic effect together. Like his most famous “Unbearable Lightness of Being”, the themes represented by different characters are compared and intertwined; at the end of “Joke” and “Farewell Waltz”, all contrasting characters are also intertwined.
The charm of Kundera’s novels also comes from his wonderful language, the indirect and expressive language like poetry, and the effect of various small dramas. Once his novels lose the luster added by this multiple structure and drama, only wonderful language and unique understanding are left, which will appear monotonous and lengthy.
Since the end of the 1980s, exiled writers such as Milan Kundera have ceased to be the center and focus, and he has not written any influential works since then, but his novels have withstood the times The changes in China set off a Kundera craze that lasted for more than ten years. At that time, our intellectuals and literary youths were all reading. This craze must be related to the fact that Kundera’s novels fit the life experience of Chinese . Now that the world has experienced more than 20 years of networking and globalization, the death of Milan Kundera, who used his identity as a novelist to transcend political labels during the Cold War era, has instead achieved an interesting farewell in line with the artistic tone of his novels.