This book contains a light, an unbearably light…, but profound anatomy of the psychology of totalitarianism in the Age of the Spectacle – and thus is of great interest. It is, moreover, deftly handled. Kundera understands what he is speaking of – he *understands* it. I am quite surprised to find that so many GR reviewers found the book uninteresting or flawed.
Of particular interest is his analysis of ‘kitsch’ – as key to the pathology of modern, spectacular man.
Kitsch (the absolute or “categorical” denial of “shit”), he says in Part Six, “causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.” (251)
In America today… as soon as one leaves the pebbles of the shore (if that!) nearly all one finds is kitsch.
Strange then – and no doubt deliberate – that a book dedicated to the evisceration of kitsch should nonetheless end with an ending that it utterly kitsch (‘Karenin’s Smile’).
Clearly, one is meant to get the irony; “Karenin [the dog], who was after all a female, had his periods, too. They came once every six months and lasted a fortnight” (-- hardly a spoiler…).
And yet, the dog, as the animal or primitive in man, is not wholly ironic – for he represented man in the idyllic paradisal state…, prior to the appearance of history…, prior to the Age of Narcissism -- that is, before man is man.
In Paradise, time is cyclical… nothing happens… all is rhythmical – when Man is cast off into the endless and futile trajectory of time…, where events ‘accumulate’… man then becomes Man. “The longing for Paradise is man’s longing not to be man.”
But perhaps it is not so simple. After all…, he concedes, “No matter how we scorn it, kitsch is an integral part of the human condition”.
A fine writer – and an important book.