Podcast: Milan Kundera – The Unbearable Lightness of Being
“When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object.”
How many of you, my dearest listeners, recognize that memorable quote, from somewhere, spoken by someone, and taken too literally by some of you, or all of you for that matter?
Hi, this is Thanh Dinh, and welcome back to the Radio of Resistance. Another boring episode, perhaps, where we continue to defend ourselves and defy against the boredom of death and solitude.
But enough with that, let’s get it on. The show, I mean.
So, Milan Kundera, and his most celebrated work, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. What’s in it for us, and what’s in it for this episode?
As you may, or may not, have figured it out, I will not go too deep into analyzing the Kundera’s beautiful work. That would be too subjective of me, and would strip you off the right to create a personal, unique meaning of the work for yourself.
I will only go into the specific quotes that impressed me while I lie awake in the sleepless night, drunk on Clonazepam and can’t figure out whether I’m dreaming, or I’m living.
“Tereza’s mother never stopped reminding her that being a mother meant sacrificing everything. Her words had the ring of truth, backed as they were by the experience of a woman who had lost everything because of her child. Tereza would listen and believe that being a mother was the highest value in life and that being a mother was a great sacrifice. If a mother was Sacrifice personified, then a daughter was Guilt, with no possibility of redress.”
Yes, who would have thought that I would start this week’s episode with such a heavy quotes. The previous episode on Leonard Cohen was filled with love. Broken love, of course, but love nonetheless.
But don’t let the quote fool you. This week’s episode, too, will also be about love. Not the exact kind of love that one should see so often in popular movie, but then again, it is love, nonetheless.
So indeed, Milan Kundera is right. Being a mother meant sacrificing everything. And the ring of truth will forever make a home in our hearts. And based on what Milan Kundera write, when the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object.
And I, also, am backed up by my experience of watching, from the innocence of age, how my mother had to struggle and lose everything, so that I can be a survivor. A useless survivor, you may find, but a survivor, nonetheless.
I remember listening to Kundera’s work, and the narrator said:
“But when the strong were too weak to hurt the weak, the weak had to be strong enough to leave.”
I thought about my mother, and all the other mothers, who had far too often in their life encounter the strong. Not the strong that will protect them from the storms, the hurricane, the tsunami, and all those disasters, metaphorically or literally. But the strong which had destroyed them, their freedom, their happiness. Their everything.
Should the strong should be regarded as such, when they exert their strength not on saving the weak, but on hurting the weak instead? And why is the strong supposed to hurt the weak? Who sets the rules? And who will be the judges for when such rules are violated.
Yes, the weak had to be strong enough to leave. That is true, of course, forever without a doubt. But the weak has another kind of strength. And it will be opposite to Kundera’s statement.
The weak has the strength to stay.
I remember reading Alice Munro’s short stories collection, Runaway, in which the wife of the famous poet wrote in her letter to the female protagonist, in which she apologized for mistaking her freedom for her happiness.
Did the husband abuse her? Yes. Did she have the chance to run away? Of course. Not only did she have the chance, she was on the bus, ready at any moment to start a new life.
And yet, she chose to stay.
As my friend said, it is simply a matter of choice. And not only the female protagonist, we, too, are surrounded by choices.
The choices where the strong doesn’t have to be strong, the weak doesn’t have to be weak, and nothing will forever be ingrained with some fucked-up absolute value by us, who always think that we know better.
I want to stress again how freedom is not always equal to happiness.
You will find that instead of happiness, freedom will sometimes equal to the worst of us. The evil in us. The darkness in us. The emptiness abyss that begs us to jump down with its alluring siren songs and illusions.
Natsume Soseki once wrote in his famous work, “You see, loneliness is the price we have to pay for being born in this modern age, so full of freedom, independence, and our own egoistical selves.”
And quite agreed on that himself, Milan Kundera said in his work, “Happiness is the longing for repetition.”
But there is no repetition. Life is a show, and as a show, it must go on. On the worst day of a bursting summer, or on the longing nightmare of a winter night, we wish, Oh, him who has not once return to us in our haunting sleeplessness, let the moment repeat.
The moment we met. The moment Tereza weakened Tomas’s soul with love and not jealousy. The moment Ophelia lain her love bare in Hamlet’s hands. The moment lovers are just lovers, and not having to be define as something that goes against us.
My dearest friend once said, If you have read the Bible in its entirety, you will, fervently, want to burn it all.
I didn’t know how to reply to him at that time, seeing him so depressed and stressed out by the hometown that is too far deep into the hole of violence, not of its free will.
I wonder if God wants him to believe in Him or not, but being as I am now, I would tell him. That we are surrounded by the immense solitude of our freedom. That under the privilege and power of freedom, we have the right to choose. That perhaps under that freeing influence, reading the entirety of the Bible does not necessarily equal to burning it.
My words will always have a different meaning to him, no matter what I say. But my dearest friend, without an ocean and a pandemic separating us, I would rather be the wrong one in our conversation.
You know, only one of us is real, it certainly isn’t me.
Moving on from the somewhat personal conversation that, taking advantage of the anonymity of the podcast, I have imposed on my friend and on you, let’s talk about the beauty of Ophelia.
Since the very beginning of laying my eyes on Ophelia, I have always considered her as the symbol of the weak. The core of feminine. The foolish heart that had spoken, and unfortunate for her, the mind refused to interrupt.
Rimbaud, in the work that excellently portrayed the final strength of Ophelia, wrote:
Because a breath carried strange sounds
To your restless soul, twisting your long hair,
Your heart listened to Nature’s song
In grumbling trees and nocturnal sighs,
Because deafening voices of wild seas
Broke your infant breast, too human and too soft;
Because one April morning, a pale, handsome knight,
A poor fool, sat silent at your feet!
I hope the authority will not banned this episode for its lengthy quotes from beautiful works of writers who, once upon a time, shared the suffering of living on this very earth, shone upon by the blazing flame of the sun and the serene beauty of moonlight.
But then, how else can we talk about Ophelia without mentioning Rimbaud’s words of worshipping her?
The weakest of the weak, the strongest of the strong, Ophelia, burdened with the illusions of death and love, is, in Rimbaud’s eyes, the proof of what strength really is.
No, she did not survive. She did not even have enough physical and emotional strength to revenge her father’s death, to which her lover is the cause. And yet, the ever innocent, melancholy, betrayed by illusions Ophelia, “the restless soul” wandering about in the night, is the freeing heart that is cradled by Mother Nature.
Only Ophelia knows the beauty of the soft breeze of the night, the gentle sound of the flower petal cracked open by the first light of dawn, the nocturnal cacophony Mother Nature sings to bless her, Ophelia, the purest of soul.
And thus, all the vengeance that Hamlet, and any of us bear within ourselves, seems so small. In the world of the dramatic vengeance journey, where Hamlet represents the thirst to find what it means to be, or not to be, Ophelia bares her soul in front of him, ever the Goddess of Grace and Forgiveness that, by the crack of the eyelid, Hamlet failed to appreciate.
There is, always, a longing Ophelia in our heart. The crazy Ophelia. The disillusioned Ophelia. The wounded Ophelia and the weeping Ophelia, who cradles our heart with the utmost care.
And thus, as we lay sleepless on our soft mattress made of wounds and battles, we have survived, may we have, in our heart, the strength to listen to our inner Ophelia.
Or better yet, may we have the strength to let our hearts speak and the strength to subdue the voice of our mind.
I remember the time I started writing “Strong,” obviously the title needs some care and attention, but let’s not let that trifling matter disturb us from moving on. I once wrote in the first chapter:
He looks at me; his brows furrow impatiently. His gaze stops at my eyes for a little bit longer than normal – the kind of normal no one wants but has to cope with anyways – then he smiles. You don’t have to smile if you don’t want to. I wanted to tell him that, but I didn’t. And as years go by, I am less afraid of what I have done than what I didn’t do.
Can a kiss heal anything, though?
He reaches out to the window panes and opens them. Outside, the stars are fading away, just like whatever we have in this room, this very moment.
You know, I heard a story.
That the stars that we see right now, they are already dead.
Don’t you think it’s lonely? People only see them when they died shining. What about when they are suffering? What about when they are happy? Or when they have an exciting story to share but the only living being there is just rocks and dirt?
But we appreciate their beauty, though, right? Like right now, we can see that they are very beautiful.
I sit up, push him over, and lie down on his stomach. Somehow, my body is all heavy, and I just want to sleep forever on his warm belly. Amidst the drowsiness and the border of dreams, I hear him talking to me, ever so soft, ever so gentle. My darling, darling, darling –
Honey, it’s not about us. It’s all about them.
Honey, feel it? This is warmth. This is a heartbeat. This is living.
Honey, have you ever realized what a marvelous coincidence it was when we are the only living things in this vast universe of dying stars?
Honey, humans are beautiful.
But honey, oh, honey, humans are extremely lonely.
And honey, if God really does love us as what they say in the bible, how can he make humans such lonesome creatures?
Honey, honey, honey –
Honey, do forgive me. I tried, I failed.
The first chapter, as you may have guessed from the above excerpt, didn’t end on a positive note. Do forgive me, I tried, I failed. But please trust that despite the unwelcoming first chapter, the continuation from that bad note is a journey of magic and happiness.
What I meant to say, borrowing words and phrases from works of famous authors and the beauty of Ophelia, is that, humans are extremely lonely.
I once heard a story. The satellite on Mars sings Happy Birthday to itself. I remember, after hearing that story, my heart was squeezed into dried-up tears, which tasted like sadness mixed with bitterness.
The stars we see are, perhaps, all dying. And the satellite on Mars will forever be there by itself, celebrating a birthday no one will ever know. And perhaps sadness will forever be the ruling queen.
But all of that, all of the sad facts and the depressing stories, does not stop us from living.
That’s why, at the end of the day, do realize that how strong you are just simply by waking up in the morning.
To conclude this week’s episode, here are some favorite verses from the song I’m listening to recently. Of course, it’s Leonard Cohen again, and I doubt that you will hear a lot him on this season of the podcast:
I wish there was a treaty we could sign
I do not care who takes this bloody hill
I’m angry and I’m tired all the time
I wish there was a treaty
I wish there was a treaty
Between your love and mine.
May we all find a love that gives us shelter from the anger and the tiredness. The love that warms us. The love that forgive us and let us off the hook. Be it another human’s love, or the love that we find, one day, blooming in our heart, may we all find that love, and may we always be on the better side of the treaty.
This is Thanh Dinh, and you are listening to the Radio of Resistance.