Saturday, January 29, 2011

Encountering Milan Kundera

I was eager to read Milan Kundera's latest collection of essays, Encounter, published last fall by Harper and translated by Linda Asher. It was not a disappointment. Kundera notes in the dedication that the collection is "an encounter with my reflections and my recollections, my old themes (existential and aesthetic) and my old loves ..."

The opening essay is about one of my favorite painters, Francis Bacon. Kundera concludes that Bacon's distorted images and faces depict "the infinitely fragile self shivering in a body; the face I gaze upon to seek in it a reason for living the 'senseless accident' that is life."

In the final essay, on Curzio Malaparte and his novel The Skin, Kundera's thoughts turn to death:

The war's closing moments bring out a truth that is both fundamental and banal, both eternal and disregarded: compared with the living, the dead have an overwhelming numerical superiority, not just the dead of this war's end but all the dead of all times, the dead of the past, the dead of the future; confident in their superiority, they mock us, they mock this little island of time we live in, this tiny time of the new Europe, they force us to grasp all its insignificance, all its transience ...  

Encounter also includes essays on Dostoevsky, Philip Roth, Juan Goytisolo, Anatole France, Gudbergur Bergsson, and many others.

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