Milan Kundera (Czech: [ˈmɪlan ˈkundɛra]; born 1 April 1929) is a Czech-born French writer who went into exile in France in 1975, and became a naturalised French citizen in 1981. He "sees himself as a French writer and insists his work should be studied as French literature and classified as such in book stores".
Kundera's best-known work is The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Prior to the Velvet Revolution of 1989 the Communist régime in Czechoslovakia banned his books. He lives virtually incognito and rarely speaks to the media. A perpetual contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature, he is believed to have been nominated on several occasions.
Milan Kundera in 1980
|Born||1 April 1929|
(present day Czech Republic)
|Alma mater||Charles University, Prague; Academy of Performing Arts in Prague|
|Notable works||The Joke (Žert) (1967) |
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984)
|Notable awards||Jerusalem Prize |
The Austrian State Prize for European Literature
Vilenica International Literary Festival
Czech State Literature Prize
|Relatives||Ludvík Kundera (1891–1971), father |
Ludvík Kundera (cousin)
Kundera was born in 1929 at Purkyňova 6 (6 Purkyně Street) in Královo Pole, a quarter of Brno, Czechoslovakia, to a middle-class family. His father, Ludvík Kundera (1891–1971), was an important Czech musicologist and pianist who served as the head of the Janáček Music Academy in Brno from 1948 to 1961. His mother was Milada Kunderová (born Janošíková). Milan learned to play the piano from his father; he later studied musicology and musical composition. Musicological influences and references can be found throughout his work; he has even included musical notation in the text to make a point. Kundera is a cousin of Czech writer and translator Ludvík Kundera. He belonged to the generation of young Czechs who had had little or no experience of the pre-war democratic Czechoslovak Republic. Their ideology was greatly influenced by the experiences of World War II and the German occupation. Still in his teens, he joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia which seized power in 1948. He completed his secondary school studies in Brno at Gymnázium třída Kapitána Jaroše in 1948. He studied literature and aesthetics at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague. After two terms, he transferred to the Film Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague where he first attended lectures in film direction and script writing.
In 1950, his studies were briefly interrupted by political interferences. He and writer Jan Trefulka were expelled from the party for "anti-party activities." Trefulka described the incident in his novella Pršelo jim štěstí (Happiness Rained On Them, 1962). Kundera also used the incident as an inspiration for the main theme of his novel Žert (The Joke, 1967). After Kundera graduated in 1952, the Film Faculty appointed him a lecturer in world literature. In 1956 Milan Kundera was readmitted into the Party. He was expelled for the second time in 1970. Kundera, along with other reform communist writers such as Pavel Kohout, was partly involved in the 1968 Prague Spring. This brief period of reformist activities was crushed by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. Kundera remained committed to reforming Czechoslovak communism, and argued vehemently in print with fellow Czech writer Václav Havel, saying, essentially, that everyone should remain calm and that "nobody is being locked up for his opinions yet," and "the significance of the Prague Autumn may ultimately be greater than that of the Prague Spring." Finally, however, Kundera relinquished his reformist dreams and moved to France in 1975. He taught for a few years in the University of Rennes. He was stripped of Czechoslovak citizenship in 1979; he has been a French citizen since 1981.
Although his early poetic works are staunchly pro-communist, his novels escape ideological classification. Kundera has repeatedly insisted on being considered a novelist, rather than a political or dissident writer. Political commentary has all but disappeared from his novels (starting specifically after The Unbearable Lightness of Being) except in relation to broader philosophical themes. Kundera's style of fiction, interlaced with philosophical digression, is greatly inspired by the novels of Robert Musil and the philosophy of Nietzsche, and is also used by authors Alain de Botton and Adam Thirlwell. Kundera takes his inspiration, as he notes often enough, not only from the Renaissance authors Giovanni Boccaccio and Rabelais, but also from Laurence Sterne, Henry Fielding, Denis Diderot, Robert Musil, Witold Gombrowicz, Hermann Broch, Franz Kafka, Martin Heidegger, and perhaps most importantly, Miguel de Cervantes, to whose legacy he considers himself most committed.
Originally, he wrote in Czech. From 1993 onwards, he has written his novels in French. Between 1985 and 1987 he undertook the revision of the French translations of his earlier works. As a result, all of his books exist in French with the authority of the original. His books have been translated into many languages.
In his first novel, The Joke (1967), he gave a satirical account of the nature of totalitarianism in the Communist era. Kundera was quick to criticize the Soviet invasion in 1968. This led to his blacklisting in Czechoslovakia and his works being banned there.
Kundera's second novel was first published in French as La vie est ailleurs in 1973 and in Czech as Život je jinde in 1979. Set in Czechoslovakia before, during and after the Second World War, Life Is Elsewhere is a satirical portrait of the fictional poet Jaromil, a young and very naive idealist who becomes involved in political scandals.
In 1975, Kundera moved to France. There he published The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979) which told of Czechoslovak citizens opposing the communist regime in various ways. An unusual mixture of novel, short story collection and author's musings, the book set the tone for his works in exile. Critics have noted the irony that the country that Kundera seemed to be writing about when he talked about Czechoslovakia in the book, "is, thanks to the latest political redefinitions, no longer precisely there" which is the "kind of disappearance and reappearance" Kundera explores in the book. Published in Czech (Kniha smíchu a zapomnění) in April 1981 by 68 Publishers Toronto.
Kundera's most famous work, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, was published in 1984. The book chronicles the fragile nature of an individual's fate, theorizing that a single lifetime is insignificant in the scope of Nietzsche's concept of eternal return. In an infinite universe, everything is guaranteed to recur infinitely. In 1988, American director Philip Kaufman released a film adaptation.
In 1990, Kundera published Immortality. The novel, his last in Czech, was more cosmopolitan than its predecessors, as well as more explicitly philosophical and less political. It would set the tone for his later novels.
The 2014 novel focuses on the musings of four male friends living in Paris. The protagonists discuss, among other topics, their relationships with women and existentialism faced by individuals in the world. The novel received generally negative reviews. Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times describes the book as being a "knowing, pre-emptive joke about its own superficiality". A review in the Economist stated that the book is "sadly let down by a tone of breezy satire that can feel forced."
Kundera often explicitly identifies his characters as figments of his imagination, commenting in the first-person on the characters in entirely third-person stories. Kundera is more concerned with the words that shape or mold his characters than with their physical appearance. In his non-fiction work, The Art of the Novel, he says that the reader's imagination automatically completes the writer's vision. He, as the writer, thus wishes to focus on the essential, arguing that the physical is not critical to understanding a character. Indeed, for him the essential may not even include the interior world (the psychological world) of his characters. Still, at times, a specific feature or trait may become the character's idiosyncratic focus.
François Ricard suggested that Kundera conceives with regard to an overall body of work, rather than limiting his ideas to the scope of just one novel at a time. His themes and meta-themes exist across his entire œuvre. Each new book manifests the latest stage of his personal philosophy. Some of these meta-themes include exile, identity, life beyond the border (beyond love, beyond art, beyond seriousness), history as continual return, and the pleasure of a less "important" life. (François Ricard, 2003) Many of Kundera's characters seem to develop as expositions of one of these themes at the expense of their full humanity. Specifics in regard to the characters tend to be rather vague. Often, more than one main character is used in a novel; Kundera may even completely discontinue a character, resuming the plot with somebody new. As he told Philip Roth in an interview in The Village Voice: "Intimate life [is] understood as one's personal secret, as something valuable, inviolable, the basis of one's originality."
Kundera's early novels explore the dual tragic and comic aspects of totalitarianism. He does not view his works, however, as political commentary. "The condemnation of totalitarianism doesn't deserve a novel," he has said. According to the Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes, "What he finds interesting is the similarity between totalitarianism and "the immemorial and fascinating dream of a harmonious society where private life and public life form but one unity and all are united around one will and one faith." In exploring the dark humor of this topic, Kundera seems deeply influenced by Franz Kafka.
Kundera considers himself a writer without a message. In Sixty-three Words, a chapter in The Art of the Novel, Kundera recounts an episode when a Scandinavian publisher hesitated about going ahead with The Farewell Party because of its apparent anti-abortion message. Not only was the publisher wrong about the existence of such a message, Kundera explains, but, "I was delighted with the misunderstanding. I had succeeded as a novelist. I succeeded in maintaining the moral ambiguity of the situation. I had kept faith with the essence of the novel as an art: irony. And irony doesn't give a damn about messages!"
Kundera also ventures often into musical matters, analyzing Czech folk music, quoting from Leoš Janáček and Bartók. Further in this vein, he interpolates musical excerpts into the text (for example, in The Joke), or discusses Schoenberg and atonality.
On 13 October 2008, the Czech weekly Respekt prominently publicised an investigation carried out by the Czech Institute for Studies of Totalitarian Regimes, which alleged that Kundera had denounced a young Czech pilot, Miroslav Dvořáček, to the police in 1950. The accusation was based on a police station report which named "Milan Kundera, student, born 1.4.1929" as the informant in regard to Dvořáček's presence at a student dormitory; information about his defection from military service and residence in Germany was attributed in the report to Iva Militká. Dvořáček had fled Czechoslovakia after being ordered to join the infantry in the wake of a purge of the flight academy; he returned to Czechoslovakia as an agent of a spy agency organised by Czechoslovak exiles. The police report does not mention his activity as an agent. Dvořáček returned secretly to the student dormitory of a friend's former sweetheart, Iva Militká. Militká was dating (and later married) a fellow student Ivan Dlask, and Dlask knew Kundera. The police report states that Militká told Dlask of Dvořáček's presence, and that Dlask told Kundera, who told the police. Although the Communist prosecutor sought the death penalty, Dvořáček was sentenced to 22 years (as well as being charged 10,000 crowns, forfeiting property, and being stripped of civic rights). He ended up serving 14 years in a labor camp, some of it working in a uranium mine, before he was released.
After Respekt's report (which states that Kundera did not know Dvořáček), Kundera denied turning Dvořáček in to the police, stating he did not know him at all, and could not even recollect "Militská". On 14 October 2008, the Czech Security Forces Archive ruled out the possibility that the document could be a fake, but refused to make any interpretation about it. (Vojtech Ripka, of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, said, "There are two pieces of circumstantial evidence [the police report and its sub-file], but we, of course, cannot be one hundred percent sure. Unless we find all survivors, which is unfortunately impossible, it will not be complete." Ripka added that the signature on the police report matches the name of a man who worked in the corresponding National Security Corps section and that a police protocol is missing.)
Many critics in the Czech Republic condemned Kundera as a "police informer", but many other voices sharply criticised Respekt for publishing a badly researched piece. The short police report does not contain Kundera's signature, nor does it contain any information from his ID card. Kundera was the student representative of the dorm Dvořáček visited, and it cannot be ruled out that anyone could have reported him to the police using Kundera's name. Contradictory statements by Kundera's fellow students were carried by the Czech newspapers in the wake of this "scandal". Historian Adam Hradílek, co-author of the Respekt article, was criticised for an undeclared conflict of interest: one of the protagonists of the incident was his relative. It states on its website that its task is to "impartially study the crimes of the former communist regime." Critics also accused Respekt of using Kundera's name to boost its failing circulation.
On 3 November 2008, eleven internationally recognized writers came to Kundera's defence: these included four Nobel laureates—J. M. Coetzee, Gabriel García Márquez, Nadine Gordimer and Orhan Pamuk—as well as Carlos Fuentes, Juan Goytisolo, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie and Jorge Semprún.
In 1985, Kundera received the Jerusalem Prize. His acceptance address is printed in his essay collection The Art of the Novel. He won The Austrian State Prize for European Literature in 1987. In 2000, he was awarded the international Herder Prize. In 2007, he was awarded the Czech State Literature Prize. In 2009, he was awarded the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca. In 2010, he was made an honorary citizen of his hometown, Brno. In 2011, he received the Ovid Prize. The asteroid 7390 Kundera, discovered at the Kleť Observatory in 1983, is named in his honor.
|The apologizer||2015||Kundera, Milan (May 4, 2015). (trans) Linda Asher. "The apologizer". The New Yorker. 91 (11): 56–64. Retrieved 2015-07-02.|
Until I was thirty I wrote many things: music, above all, but also poetry and even a play. I was working in many different directions—looking for my voice, my style and myself... I became a prose writer, a novelist, and I am nothing else. Since then, my aesthetic has known no transformations; it evolves, to use your word, linearly.
The Czech Republic's best-known author, Milan Kundera, has spoken to the media for the first time in 25 years...
Czech philosophy, has often eschewed "pure" speculative philosophy, emerging rather in the course of intellectual debates in the fields of education (e.g. Jan Amos Komenský), art (e.g. Karel Teige), literature (e.g. Milan Kundera), and especially politics (e.g. Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, Karel Kosík, Ivan Sviták, Václav Havel).
Czech philosophers have also played a central role in the development of phenomenology, whose German-speaking founder Edmund Husserl was born in the Czech lands. Czechs Jan Patočka and Václav Bělohradský would later make important contributions to phenomenological thought.Czechs in France
Czechs in France refers to the phenomenon of Czech people migrating to France from the Czech Republic or from the political entities that preceded it, such as Czechoslovakia. There is a substantial number of people in France with Czech ancestry, including 100,220 Czech-born people recorded as resident in France. One notable Czech-French writer is Milan Kundera.Danièle Thompson
Danièle Thompson (born 3 January 1942) is a Monegasque film director and screenwriter. Thompson is the daughter of film director Gérard Oury, and actress Jacqueline Roman.
She has written screenplays for a number of highly successful films including Cousin, cousine, La Boum, Belphégor - Le fantôme du Louvre, La Reine Margot and Jet Lag, which she also directed. She was nominated for the 1976 Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay for Cousin, cousine. Her 2006 film, Fauteuils d'orchestre was France's entrant for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. She is half Jewish from her father, and was on the 1986 Cannes Film Festival jury.In 2010, she was with Isabelle Adjani, Paul Auster, Isabelle Huppert, Milan Kundera, Salman Rushdie, Mathilde Seigner, Jean-Pierre Thiollet and Henri Tisot among the petition's signatures for Roman Polanski when the film director was temporarily arrested by Swiss police at the request of U.S authorities.Thompson's son is the actor Christopher Thompson. They have written screenplays together, most notably those of Jet Lag and Season's Beatings.Identity (novel)
Identity (French: L'Identité) is a novel by Franco-Czech writer Milan Kundera, published in 1998. It is one of his shortest novels.Ignorance (novel)
Ignorance (French: L'ignorance) is a novel by Milan Kundera. It was written in 1999 in French and published in 2000. It was translated into English in 2002 by Linda Asher, for which she was awarded the Scott Moncrieff Prize the following year.Immortality (novel)
Immortality (Czech: Nesmrtelnost) is a novel in seven parts, written by Milan Kundera in 1988 in Czech. First published 1990 in French. English edition 345 p., translation by Peter Kussi. This novel springs from a casual gesture of a woman, seemingly to her swimming instructor. Immortality is the last of a trilogy that includes The Book Of Laughter And Forgetting, and The Unbearable Lightness Of Being.Jacques and his Master
Jacques and his Master is a play written in 1971 by Milan Kundera, which he subtitles "A Homage to Diderot in Three Acts". It was translated by Simon Callow in 1986 and directed by him in 1987.Kundera
Kundera is a Czech surname. It may refer to:
Ludvík Kundera (1920–2010), Czech writer and translator, cousin of Milan Kundera
Ludvík Kundera (musicologist) (cs) (1891–1971), Czech musicologist and pianist who was head of the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts, father of Milan Kundera
Milan Kundera (b. 1929), a European writer
Rudolf Kundera (fr) (1911-2005), Czech-French painterLaughable Loves
Laughable Loves (Czech: Směšné lásky) is a collection of seven short stories written by Milan Kundera in which he presents his characteristic savage humour by mixing the extremes of tragedy with comic situations in (mostly romantic) relationships.Life Is Elsewhere
Life Is Elsewhere (Czech: Život je jinde) is a Czech-language novel by Milan Kundera finished in 1969. It was published in French translation in 1973 (La vie est ailleurs).
The setting for Life Is Elsewhere is Czechoslovakia before, during, and after the Second World War, and tells the story of Jaromil, a character who dedicates his life to poetry.Shop Talk
Shop Talk: A Writer and His Colleagues and Their Work is a collection of previously published interviews with important 20th-century writers by novelist Philip Roth. Among the writers interviewed are Primo Levi, Aharon Appelfeld, Ivan Klima, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Milan Kundera, and Edna O'Brien. In addition, the book contains a discussion with Mary McCarthy about Roth's novel The Counterlife and a New Yorker essay on Saul Bellow. Roth's trip to Israel to interview Appelfeld inspired his novel Operation Shylock.Slowness (novel)
Slowness (French: La Lenteur), published in 1995 in France, is a novel written in French by Milan Kundera. In the book, Kundera manages to weave together a number of plot lines, characters and themes in just over 150 pages. While the book has a narrative, it mainly serves as a way for Kundera to describe a philosophy about modernity, technology, memory and sensuality.The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (Czech: Kniha smíchu a zapomnění) is a novel by Milan Kundera, published in France in 1979. It is composed of seven separate narratives united by some common themes. The book considers the nature of forgetting as it occurs in history, politics and life in general. The stories also contain elements found in the genre of magic realism.The Curtain (essay)
The Curtain is a seven-part essay by Milan Kundera, along with The Art of the Novel and Testaments Betrayed composing a type of trilogy of book-length essays on the European novel.
The Curtain was originally published as Le Rideau, in French in April 2005 by Gallimard. It was published in English on 30 January 2007 by HarperCollins.The Farewell Waltz
The Farewell Waltz (Czech: Valčík na rozloučenou) is a Czech-language novel by Milan Kundera published in 1972. A French edition was published in 1976 and an English version entitled The Farewell Party.
This novel mostly deals with love, hate and accidents between eight characters who are drawn together in a small spa town in Czechoslovakia in early 1970s.
Like most Kundera's work The Farewell Waltz is a book of many layers. On the surface it is a comedy or a burlesque. Still the comedy is just at the top of this story which involves much darker and ambiguous tones.The Festival of Insignificance
The Festival of Insignificance (French: La fête de l'insignifiance) is a novel by Milan Kundera. This is his eleventh fictional work. It is about a man named Alain, who has not seen his mother since his childhood; Ramon, an intellectual who has retired; D’Ardelo, a man who has a narcissistic personality; Charles and “Caliban” are two people who operate a catering firm; and Quaquelique is an old man who remains attracted to women. Quaquelique manages to seduce women using his skill at non-stop talking. The novel is set in Paris. The themes include "the erotic potential; the link between mother and child; the procreative role of sex; angels...[,] navel gazing...and insignificance. The novels' characters discuss the philosophical ideas of Hegel, Kant and Schopenhauer. The novel is made up of seven parts (an approach he also used in his novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, among others, and representative of a structure he laid out in his book The Art of the Novel). The theme of insignificance was also used in The Unbearable Lightness of Being.The Joke (novel)
The Joke (Czech: Žert) is Milan Kundera's first novel, originally published in 1967.The South (novel)
The South is a 1990 novel by Irish writer Colm Tóibín. It drew comparisons with Milan Kundera.Katherine, a Protestant woman from Ireland, arrives in Barcelona in the 1950s having left her husband and son. Very slowly she starts discovering the city and gets to meet local painters. The Francoist State and the still recent civil war are present in the characters' past. She meets the artist Miguel and they both move to a remote village in the Pyrenees.
The novel was first published by Serpent's Tail in 1990 and a revised edition was published by Picador Press. ISBN 0-330-33985-0The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Czech: Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí) is a 1984 novel by Milan Kundera, about two women, two men, a dog and their lives in the 1968 Prague Spring period of Czechoslovak history. Although written in 1982, the novel was not published until two years later, in a French translation (as L'Insoutenable légèreté de l'être). The original Czech text was published the following year.
Works by Milan Kundera
Awards received by Milan Kundera
Herder Prize Laureates