(Liya Rechtman)– In my senior year of high school, I fell in love with a boy in my philosophy class. This boy, like any boy in any high-school philosophy class, was in love with a book. Therefore, I too, in good form, fell in love with said book.
The book was “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” written by Milan Kundera in 1984. In it, Kundera weighs heavily on Nietzsche for philosophical inspiration. His characters deal with the tension between the insignificance of living a single life, and the concept of “eternal return” (the repetition of all things). They also deal with having a lot of sex… and men having a lot of sex with mistresses… in an arty way, so it was cool.
Naturally, I fell even more in love with Boy after reading Book. It was just deep enough that we could have “deep” conversations while drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes (well, he smoked, I asthma-ed) on stoops in our native Brooklyn stomping grounds. Yet it was not so deep that I actually had to open Nietzsche’s “The Gay Science” to understand what Kundera was saying. Not to mention, you know, all the sex. There was lots and lots of sex that was being had by men who “got it” and women who were, well, so beautiful.
I spent my whole summer with Boy, and I read everything Kundera wrote. Everything. Every word was like a golden law of the universe, a new addition to the bible.
Kundera told me that friendship should be held as a value beyond nationality or ideology. My friendship with Boy was just like that. He told me that man must always move, and that hate binds us to our enemies. He knew everything about being human.
By the time I was ready to leave for Amherst, I only had three books left. I cried a teary good-bye to Boy and promised to call every night and count the days until October break.
I didn’t realize then that the beginning of school would be so hectic. Before I knew it, I was cheating on Kundera with our very own David Foster Wallace’s “Brief Interviews.” Just after October break, Boy stopped calling me.
Recently, I attempted to start one of those last three books. I cracked open “Laughable Loves” and discovered, to my dismay that not only had I outgrown the writing-style and simple philosophy, but that Kundera was totally sexist.
HOW HAD I MISSED THIS???
The entire book was just two married men on a quest for young women to toy with. “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” had centered on a married man and his mistresses, who seemed to have no emotional needs other than wanting to monopolize his time/libido. The man dies happily with his wife, who is sad because he had mistresses, and all his mistresses are sad because he dies with his wife. The main philosophical/sexual argument of many of his other novels is not to take sex too seriously because the women that protagonists are having sex with don’t matter. Not to mention that he spends long, stretches of chapters describing the women’s bodies, but never once mentions how any of the men look. They are simply amorphous men, highly regarded for both their intellectual and sexual prowess, regardless of their ever-increasing age.
I think I was so enamored by the idea of having an author to share with Boy, that I managed to miss these things. Kundera’s novels were of men and women being in love. I was in love. It worked, for a while.
Looking back nostalgically at this clip , I wonder if it was simply the images and feelings of eastern Europe that enthralled me – an artistic representation of a place that was so much my ancestral home, and yet so, so foreign from my personal historiographic memory. Like many jews, my European-American family sometimes references being from Eastern Europe, but never out rightly. The place has many conflicting memories for us.
Or maybe I just really didn’t see the rampant sexism then, and I’ve actually grown in the 16 months since I left high school.
Either way, I had to put down Laughable Loves.
Anyone know any good books?