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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Ruweyda Ahmed

‘To be a writer means to discover a truth’: Milan Kundera – a life in quotes

Milan Kundera.
Milan Kunderain 1963. Photograph: Nesvadba Frantisek/AP

On being a writer

When I was a little boy in short pants, I dreamed about a miraculous ointment that would make me invisible. Then I became an adult, began to write, and wanted to be successful. Now I’m successful and would like to have the ointment that would make me invisible.

For a writer, the experience of living in a number of countries is an enormous boon. You can only understand the world if you see it from several sides.

With the first story of Laughable Loves (I wrote it in 1959), I was certain of having ‘found 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.

I lived in Czechoslovakia until I was 45. Given that my real career as a writer began when I was 30, I can say that the larger part of my creative life will take place in France. I am much more tied to France than is thought.

To be a writer does not mean to preach a truth, it means to discover a truth.

Milan Kundera with his wife Vera Kunderova in Prague in 1973.
Milan Kundera with his wife Vera Kunderova in Prague in 1973. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

On novels

The stupidity of people comes from having an answer to everything. The wisdom of the novel comes from having a question for everything

A novel does not assert anything; a novel searches and poses questions. I don’t know whether my nation will perish and I don’t know which of my characters is right. I invent stories, confront one with another, and by this means I ask questions.

I think that the importance of the novel in European culture has been enormous; European man is unthinkable without the novel, he was created by it. For centuries it was the first thing one read. The love of adventure, which is so European, adventure understood as a value. If you say, ‘I lived my life without adventure,’ then it’s a failure, right? Well, it’s the novel that impressed upon us this love of adventure.

There are four great novelists: Kafka, Broch, Musil, Gombrowicz. I call them the “pleiad” of central Europe’s great novelists

On the media

An author, once quoted by a journalist, is no longer master of his word … And this, of course, is unacceptable.

On sex

These days, when sexuality is no longer taboo, mere description, mere sexual confession, has become noticeably boring. How dated Lawrence seems, or even Henry Miller, with his lyricism of obscenity!

It is the sex of the novels and not that of their authors that must interest us. All great novels, all true novels are bisexual. This is to say that they express both a feminine and a masculine vision of the world. The sex of the authors as physical people is their private affair.

On central Europe

It would be senseless to try to draw its borders exactly. Central Europe is not a state: it is a culture or a fate.

In fact, what does Europe mean to a Hungarian, a Czech, a Pole? For a thousand of years their nations have belonged to the part of Europe rooted in Roman Christianity. They have participated in every period of its history. For them, the word ‘Europe’ does not represent a phenomenon of geography but a spiritual notion.

It’s not Russia but communism that deprives nations of their essence.

I learned the value of humour during the time of Stalinist terror … A sense of humour was a trustworthy sign of recognition. Ever since, I have been terrified by a world that is losing its sense of humour.

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