This essay reinterprets Kundera’s best-known novel through philosophical considerations of vulnerability and the human/animal relationship. It begins with an understanding of irony—associated with Cora Diamond’s notion of embodiment shared by humans and animals—as a counter to Cartesian mastery of nature. It turns to the denial of embodiment through shame and disgust, as theorized by Martha Nussbaum and illustrated with several characters. One main character, Tereza, stands out against a normotic backdrop of human disembodiment (which Kundera calls kitsch). Her acceptance of vulnerability and encounter with shame gradually envelop her spouse, Tomas, as well. The final section examines the novel’s closing pastoral passages, in which a thorough investigation of human and nonhuman animality takes place, leaving the reader somewhere between an extremely empathetic Tereza and a sympathetic but gently skeptical narrator. It describes the novel as a “fallen idyll” where human vulnerability and shame can be expressed and considered.


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pp. 100-116
Launched on MUSE
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