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Milan Kundera interviewed by Arthur Holmberg Primarily you are a novelist. Why did you turn to theatre? Jacques and His Master is a piece de circonstance. In 1971, after the fall of Dubcek, the new regime looked on me with wary eyes. My books were banned , and I was stripped of all legal means of earning a living. A friend who directed a theatre suggested I write a play for his troupe using a pseudonym. So Jacques saw the light of day due to dire economic straits. But in addition to external circumstances, I was tempted by the call of adventure. I had never written a play before, so I wanted to try my hand creating a work that would take me, its author, by surprise. Does the drama as a genre offer you strategies of expression not found in fiction? The playfulness inherent in theatrical expression appealed to me. The theatre is a game, and playing games is an important source of pleasure. Real life is linked to a series of deceptions. It disappoints us with its futility. But when we consciously play games, as on stage, we already know that the game isn't serious. Thus, the tragic futility of life becomes the joyous futility of play. In totalitarian regimes one quickly learns the importance of humor. You learn to trust or mistrust people because of the way they laugh. The modern world frightens me because it's rapidly losing its sense of the playfulness of play. Why Diderot? Why dramatize Jacques le fataliste? The friend who commissioned the play wanted a dramatization of a novel. 25 In fact, he tried to shove Dostoyevsky's The Idiot down my throat, but Dostoyevsky nauseated me, not only because Russian tanks had occupied my country, but also because of his streak of sentimental melodrama. I wanted to get as far away as possible from the bombastic Russian soul, I longed to take refuge in the smile of reason of French classicism. Jacques le fataliste is one of my favorite novels-it's one of the few important novels constructed on the principle of play as play. It achieves greatness by refusing to be serious. The novel dramatizes the terminal paradoxes that ushered out the Enlightenment. Diderot was one of the first to explore the tragi-comic split between human intentions and human acts. The results of what we do get out of hand, and the rippling out effects of seemingly insignificant gestures often form a noose around our necks. After Diderot, novelists could no longer look on action and plot in quite the same way. Diderot knew that paradox is the basic law of human life. But my play is not so much an adaptation of Diderot's novel as a dialogue across two centuries with its author-a confrontation between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. Diderot looked on the future as infinite space to be filled with unlimited progress. We look to the future with fear and distrust. If Diderot can see my play from the other side of the tomb, he may not agree with me, but if he takes into account everything our century has seen, I don't think my play would anger him. He would understand why we've lost faith in man. What do you like best about your play? The monologue about bad poets and bad poetry. Diderot gave me the beginning of this speech, but elaborated on it and the end is pure Kundera. Nobody reads novels anymore, but everybody-at least in France-is writing one. Will you write any more plays? No. Never. Jacques was my first and last. I find that as I grow older I want to concentrate more and more intensely on my specialty-the novel. I want to learn as much as I can about its possibilities. I want to explore its secrets. When I was a young man my attention was more dispersed; the cinema, the theatre attracted me much more than today. Now I'm quite content to sit in an easy chair and read a novel. I think I've also lost interest in the theatre because of the productions I see around...


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pp. 25-27
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