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Kundera and Modernity

by Liisa Steinby

Publication Year: 2013

While a large amount of scholarship about Milan Kundera's work exists, in Liisa Steinby's opinion his work has not been studied within the context of (European) modernity as a sociohistorical and a cultural concept. Of course, he is considered to be a modernist writer (some call him even a postmodernist), but what the broader concept of modernity intellectually, historically, socially, and culturally means for him and how this is expressed in his texts has not been thoroughly examined. Steinby's book fills this vacuum by analyzing Kundera's novels from the viewpoint of his understanding of the existential problems in the culture of modernity. In addition, his relation to those modernist novelists from the first half of the twentieth century who are most important for him is scrutinized in detail. Steinby’s Kundera and Modernity is intended for students of modernism in literary and (comparative) cultural studies, as well as those interested in European and Central European studies. Key Points: • Offers new insights into the work of the popular modern writer Milan Kundera. • Expands the reader’s understanding of the meaning of the concept of “modernity.” • Widens the literature available in English about Central European culture. Quote: “This work is superb. By examining the works and traditions that Kundera claims to have influenced him, Steinby demonstrates how Kundera’s misreading of previous novelists as well as his own desire to be taken out of the Czech or Central European context has informed his own work. This book is the result of many years of painstaking research.” Craig Cravens, Indiana University

Published by: Purdue University Press

Cover

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pp. 1-3

Copyright

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p. 5-5

Dedication

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pp. 6-7

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

Milan Kundera's oeuvre first raised my interest when in the late 1980s I was working on a book about the postmodernist novel, which I interpreted as "postindividualistic." Postindividualistinen romaani (The Postindividualistic Novel) was published in 1992, and in 1994 a German translation followed, entitled Der postindividualistische Roman, both under my then surname Saariluoma. ...

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Chapter One: Kundera, a European Novelist

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pp. 1-22

Milan Kundera (born in 1929) is one of the most prominent and widely read authors in contemporary France and is also acknowledged by an international reading public. This apparently simple statement is not, however, free of paradox: paradoxes are apparently not only a distinctive feature of Kundera's fiction, but also characterize his image as an author and the reception of his works. ...

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Chapter Two: The Legacy of Cervantes

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pp. 23-43

In the essay on Vladislav Vančura (Umění románu), Kundera asks whether the grand epic is still possible in our time. Along with Hegel and Georg [György] Lukács, Kundera believes that the time of the epos is past, since in the era of modernity the unity of the individual and society supported by myth no longer exists. ...

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Chapter Three: Falling Out of History

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pp. 44-64

Kundera acknowledges in retrospect that the theme of lightness, later developed especially in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, appears already in The Joke, and he wonders whether it is the case with novelists in general that the same basic themes recur throughout their work (The Art 136–37). In fact, most of the recurrent principal themes of Kundera's later works are already present in The Joke: ...

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Chapter Four: Unmasking, Thought, and Analysis in the Post-Proustian Novel

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pp. 65-82

Kundera considers himself to belong "under the same roof" with what he calls "the Pleiades of great Central European novelists": Franz Kafka, Jaroslav Hašek, Robert Musil, Hermann Broch, and Witold Gombrowicz (The Art 124; Oppenheim 9). This affinity means not only a shared view of the function of the novel in general and similarities in its construction, ...

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Chapter Five: The Thematic Structure of Kundera's Novels

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pp. 83-113

Kundera has commented extensively on the structure and technique of his novels. Nevertheless, his comments in the novels themselves and in his novelistic essays call not only for text-based examination and systematization but also for supplementation, in order to grasp the essence of the Kunderan art of constructing a novel. In speaking of his own art of the novel, ...

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Chapter Six: The Sentimental and the Authentic Self

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pp. 114-133

Kundera emphasizes the idea that being open to facing the new is a virtue in a novelist, but where he is concerned with the possibilities of human existence, his oeuvre is in fact unified thematically. This recurrence of themes makes it difficult to avoid repetition in the analysis of his novels. ...

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Chapter Seven: The Dangers of Forgetting and Laughter

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pp. 134-151

Kundera wrote that at the beginning of the 1970s he thought he ended his career as a novelist with Farewell Waltz (Testaments 165). After emigrating to France he took up writing again with the intention of creating a continuation to Laughable Loves. Instead of a collection of short stories, with The Book of Laughter and Forgetting something "entirely different" (Testaments 165) was born: ...

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Chapter Eight: Hedonism, Aestheticism, and Love as Modes of Authentic Sense Giving

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pp. 152-181

In his later works, Kundera's exploration of the possibilities of human existence focuses on the search for meaningfulness which can be found immanently in the individual's experiences. The possibility of authentic existence is indicated already in The Joke, where Ludvik ponders his love for Lucie as a chance to establish his life outside History; ...

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Chapter Nine: Lightness and Death

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pp. 182-206

In Immortality, Kundera's alter ego tells his friend Avenarius that he is writing a book that will be given the title The Unbearable Lightness of Being, referring to the book the reader is reading. Self-reference and playing with fictionality, often regarded as postmodern traits in literature, fit well to Kundera's novels in which he refrains from creating an illusion of reality. ...

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Chapter Ten: The End of Modernity, the End of the Novel?

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pp. 207-226

In 1989, communist rule ceased to exist in Poland, the German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. The Berlin Wall was torn down and the following year the two German states were reunited. In 1991, the Soviet Union fell apart and what remained reassumed its old name of Russia. ...

Works Cited

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pp. 227-246

Index

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pp. 247-249


E-ISBN-13: 9781612492476
E-ISBN-10: 1612492479
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557536372
Print-ISBN-10: 1557536376

Page Count: 300
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Comparative Cultural Studies
Series Editor Byline: Steven Totosy

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Subject Headings

  • Kundera, Milan ǂx Criticism and interpretation.
  • Europe -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
  • Modernism (Literature) -- Europe.
  • Existentialism in literature.
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