July 15, 2008

The ineluctable defeat called life

...and "the immense mysterious power of the pointless."

Milan Kundera, in The Curtain, writes:
"All we can do in the face of the ineluctable defeat called life is to try to understand it. That -- that is the raison d'etre of the art of the novel."

"The novel alone [can] reveal the immense, mysterious power of the pointless."
Here's an excerpt from the book.

Michael Dirda at WaPo writes:
Joseph Conrad once wrote that his purpose as a novelist was simply "to make you see." According to Viktor Shklovsky -- the influential Russian formalist critic of the 1920s and '30s -- our daily, automatic routines leach all the freshness from existence, so that we no longer experience the wonder of the people and life around us. Art's purpose, consequently, is to "defamiliarize" the familiar, to shake up our dulled perceptions, to reinvest the dingy, gray and arthritic universe with richness, color, vitality.

According to Milan Kundera's similar literary theory of "the curtain," we grow up with cultural preconceptions that "pre-interpret" the world and close off various aspects of experience. He writes that "a magic curtain, woven of legends, hung before the world. Cervantes sent Don Quixote journeying and tore through the curtain. The world opened before the knight errant in all the comical nakedness of its prose." Ever since, the true novelist's ambition "is not to do something better than his predecessors but to see what they did not see, say what they did not say."

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