Milan Kundera
Quotations


Mankindís true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.

The light that radiates from the great novels time can never dim, for human existence is perpetually being forgotten by man and thus the novelistsí discoveries, however old they may be, will never cease to astonish.

The word change, so dear to our Europe, has been given a new meaning: it no longer means a new stage of coherent development (as it was understood by Vico, Hegel or Marx), but a shift from one side to another, from front to back, from the back to the left, from the left to the front (as understood by designers dreaming up the fashion for the next season).

There is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even oneís own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.

Without the meditative background that is criticism, works become isolated gestures, historical accidents, soon forgotten.

Let us consider the critic, therefore, as a discoverer of discoveries.

High culture is nothing but a child of that European perversion called history, the obsession we have with going forward, with considering the sequence of generations a relay race in which everyone surpasses his predecessor, only to be surpassed by his successor. Without this relay race called history there would be no European art and what characterizes it: a longing for originality, a longing for change. Robespierre, Napoleon, Beethoven, Stalin, Picasso, theyíre all runners in the relay race, they all belong to the same stadium.

Those who consider the Devil to be a partisan of Evil and angels to be warriors for Good accept the demagogy of the angels. Things are clearly more complicated.

Eroticism is like a dance: one always leads the other.

War and culture, those are the two poles of Europe, her heaven and hell, her glory and shame, and they cannot be separated from one another. When one comes to an end, the other will end also and one cannot end without the other. The fact that no war has broken out in Europe for fifty years is connected in some mysterious way with the fact that for fifty years no new Picasso has appeared either.

The serial number of a human specimen is the face, that accidental and unrepeatable combination of features. It reflects neither character nor soul, nor what we call the self. The face is only the serial number of a specimen.

Nothing is more repugnant to me than brotherly feelings grounded in the common baseness people see in one another.

A novel that does not uncover a hitherto unknown segment of existence is immoral. Knowledge is the novelís only morality.

All great novels, all true novels, are bisexual.

True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power.

Hate traps us by binding us too tightly to our adversary.

The reign of imagagology begins where history ends.

A gesture cannot be regarded as the expression of an individual, as his creation (because no individual is capable of creating a fully original gesture, belonging to nobody else), nor can it even be regarded as that personís instrument; on the contrary, it is gestures that use us as their instruments, as their bearers and incarnations.

I think, therefore I am is the statement of an intellectual who underrates toothaches.

No matter how much we scorn it, kitsch is an integral part of the human condition.

The sound of laughter is like the vaulted dome of a temple of happiness.

For a novelist, a given historic situation is an anthropologic laboratory in which he explores his basic question: What is human existence?

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

Mysticism and exaggeration go together. A mystic must not fear ridicule if he is to push all the way to the limits of humility or the limits of delight.

We donít know when our name came into being or how some distant ancestor acquired it. We donít understand our name at all, we donít know its history and yet we bear it with exalted fidelity, we merge with it, we like it, we are ridiculously proud of it as if we had thought it up ourselves in a moment of brilliant inspiration.

Listening to a news broadcast is like smoking a cigarette and crushing the butt in the ashtray.

Nothing requires a greater effort of thought than arguments to justify the rule of non-thought.

Nudity is the uniform of the other side . . . nudity is a shroud.

Optimism is the opium of the people.

We can never establish with certainty what part of our relations with others is the result of our emotions -- love, antipathy, charity, or malice -- and what part is predetermined by the constant power play among individuals.

No great movement designed to change the world can bear to be laughed at or belittled. Mockery is a rust that corrodes all it touches.

The basis of shame is not some personal mistake of ours, but the ignominy, the humiliation we feel that we must be what we are without any choice in the matter, and that this humiliation is seen by everyone.

Solitude: a sweet absence of looks.

A worker may be the hammerís master, but the hammer still prevails. A tool knows exactly how it is meant to be handled, while the user of the tool can only have an approximate idea.

A route differs from a road not only because it is solely intended for vehicles, but also because it is merely a line that connects one point with another. A route has no meaning in itself; its meaning derives entirely from the two points that it connects. A road is a tribute to space. Every stretch of road has meaning in itself and invites us to stop. A route is the triumphant devaluation of space, which thanks to it has been reduced to a mere obstacle to human movement and a waste of time.

Woman is the future of man. That means that the world which was once formed in manís image will now be transformed to the image of woman. The more technical and mechanical, cold and metallic it becomes, the more it will need the kind of warmth that only the woman can give it. If we want to save the world, we must adapt to the woman, let ourselves be led by the woman, let ourselves be penetrated by the Ewigweiblich, the eternally feminine!

If we cannot accept the importance of the world, which considers itself important, if in the midst of that world our laughter finds no echo, we have but one choice: to take the world as a whole and make it the object of our game; to turn it into a toy.



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