- Désaccords parfaits: la réception paradoxale de l’œuvre de Milan Kundera
Following from an international conference held in Lyon in 2007, this collection of articles examines the current role and status of Milan Kundera’s work by focusing on its reception both in what is now the Czech Republic and in France, the writer’s home since 1975. Do we still read Kundera, and, if not, why has our interest in his writing waned? Conversely, has he become a ‘classic’ author popular amongst generations with no first-hand experience of Communism and hence able to read, for example, The Joke outside a political context? These are the questions that Marie-Odile Thirouin asks in her introduction to the volume. Divided thematically into four parts, the collection opens with a discussion of two notions pivotal to the writer’s thinking, Weltliteratur and Central Europe, which are instrumental in lifting Kundera’s work out of the ‘petit contexte national’ (p. 33). The other three parts address, respectively, the responses to the author’s Czech and French writings in his homeland; the tension between Kundera and his publishers, translators, and critics; and, finally, the French (mis)readings of the writer’s work. Unfortunately, in the absence of new material, little of what the contributors say is original: Kundera’s publications have appeared with diminishing regularity during the last few years, whilst the texts he has written since adopting French in 1986 are notably less complex than those in the Czech language. Nevertheless, some aspects of Kundera’s work emerge here with a new freshness, as exemplified by Martine Boyer-Weinmann’s essay linking the author’s vituperations against those allegedly mishandling or misinterpreting his work with his protagonists’ characteristic fits of anger, and Denis Reynaud’s illuminating examination of the writer’s evolving relationship with the heritage of the Enlightenment and especially with Diderot. Readers with no knowledge of Czech should find useful Martin Hybler’s comprehensive introduction to Kundera’s early writings, which, with the exception of the play Majitelé klíčů (Les Propiétaires des clés), the author, embarrassed by his youthful propensity for lyricism and his correlated Communist leanings, has ‘purged’ from his œuvre by refusing to authorize translations or new reprints of his early poems, plays, and essays. Kundera’s efforts to control the reception of his work and to redraw the contours of his output by tirelessly rewriting and retranslating his novels is also the subject of Vladimír Papoušek’s Derridean analysis of the author’s (by definition) futile attempt to ‘fix’ the meaning of his writing, which, for deconstructionists, is always equivocal and in flux. Thus the main achievement of this volume, which, as a collection of conference papers developed into articles, suffers from the usual downsides of [End Page 367] such a publication (the varied quality of the essays, repetitions, and so on), lies in stressing the cruelty of the predicament of exile authors, who are simultaneously reproached by their compatriots for betraying their native language and culture, and potentially misunderstood by their new public, whose cultural background, experience, and sensibility differ unavoidably from the authors’ own.