The Curtain – Part I

April 11, 2007

This is likely to burst your collective bubbles, but I have submitted my application to the Olympic commitee for selection as the “official amateur internet-based best book picker of the 2010 winter Olympics.” You are welcome to submit an application, but choosing to read Milan Kindera’s The Curtain is likely to give me a lock on the honor.

The Curtain, billed as “an essay in seven parts,” is the latest of Kundera’s writings on the art of the novel. I’ve only completed part one of the seven, but if the remaining six parts are as interesting as the first, I will likely have material for another six posts. Every page includes as least one quote that would serve as a “quote of the day” for a reading blog. There are also quite a few plot spoilers that I will avoid revealing, but if you haven’t read Don Quixote, The Idiot, or Anna Karenina, you may wish to avoid this book until you do. I suspect there will be other spoilers throughout the book.

Part 1 is titled “The Consciousness of Continuity,” and deals primarily with the history of art, and more specifically with the history of the novel. The history of the novel is very different than other histories. Kundera illustrated his point with the example of Doctor A inventing and ingenious method of treating an illness. Ten years later, Doctor B invents a better method, and Doctor A’s treatment is abandoned and forgotten. Thus the history of science has the nature of progress.-

“Applied to art, the notion of history has nothing to do with progress; it does not imply improvement, amelioration, an ascent; it resembles a journey undertaken to explore unknown lands and chart them. The 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. Flaubert’s poetics do not devalue Balzac’s, any more than the discovery of the North Pole renders obsolete the discovery of America.”

On the other hand, Kundera makes the point that we have a “consciousness of continuity.” I had to think about this one for a while to validate it- A Beethoven piece written today would be “considered ridiculous, false, incongruous, even monstrous.” As a Beethoven fan, this was difficult to swallow, but I think it is true. Do you think War and Peace could get published today? I think it is true that we do read within the context of history.

Kundera’s final point in this section is that art does not accept repitition.

“Art isn’t there to be some great mirror registering all of History’s ups and downs, variations, endless repititions. Art is not a village band marching dutifully along at History’s heels. It is there to create its own history. What will ultimately remain of Europe is not its repetitive history, which in itself represents no value. The one thing that has some chance of enduring is the history of its arts.”


3 Responses to “The Curtain – Part I”

  1. Robin Says:

    My husband would agree that you picked the best book in years. He just finished it and can’t stop talking about it. The passages he read to me were terrific. Enjoy the rest of the book! We’ll look forward to your upcoming posts.

  2. Stefanie Says:

    I so want to read this book. From what you say it sounds even better than I had hoped!

  3. imani Says:

    I’ve never read anything by Kundera before. Maybe I should pick it up?…after I read Don Quixote and The Idiot at least (I don’t see myself getting around to Anna).

    It’s a nice coincidence that you’ve written about human progress and and litlove’s latest post touches that same topic, albeit from a different angle.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: