Saturday, April 30, 2011

Soviet Kitsch, Regina Spektor, & the Unbearable Lightness of Being

Just finished reading Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being and I felt like praising the book by giving a short write-up. Because of the 50-peso book bought at Booksale, I became familiar with some concepts in philosophy and religion. 

Here are the ideas I’ve learned from the book:

·         1.)  Nietzsche’s argument of eternal return that everything recurs once we experienced it and that the recurrence itself recurs and ad infinitum! Das Schweste Gewitch (the great burden), as Nietzche puts it.

·        2.)  the last movement of Beethoven’s last quartet wherein he inscribed “Muss es sein? Es muss sein! Es Muss sein!” (Must it be? It must be! It must be!). I thought that every time I’d be caught making major difficult decisions, I might as well just remember to utter these phrases.

·        3.)  how the character Tomas used the story of Oedipus to criticize Czech communists. Communists claimed they didn't know what they were doing and thought that this absolved them of their guilt over the atrocities they’ve done to the people. But unlike them, Oedipus held himself responsible for his action and punished himself to suffer in the end.

·       4.)   the rather funny idea of shit in religious discourse: does God have intestines? did Adam emptied his bowel on Eden? did they have intercourse in paradise? Lol. Or as Kundera puts it, “Either/or: either man was created in God’s image – and God has intestines – or God lacks intestines and man is not like Him."

The best chapter for me in the book was Part 6: The Grand March. I loved how Kundera defined the word kitsch as “the absolute denial of shit” as quoted in these lines:
Kitsch is the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and the figurative senses of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence.
Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.”
From reading this chapter about kitsch, I now understand why Regina Spektor named her album as Soviet Kitsch. Like Sabina in the story, Regina moved to America wanting to escape kitsch – to hide the fact that she comes from the former Soviet Union. She perhaps feared that people might ‘over sensationalize’ her struggle as an artist persecuted back home. But the more rational explanation would be Regina Spektor’s approval of Kundera’s definition of soviet kitsch as “the vacuous aesthetics of communism".

I had the ‘eureka moment’ when I read that part because it was overwhelming to know that your favorite musician actually read the exact same book you’re reading and you realized that this may be the reason why you understood her way of thinking.

Lastly, I thought that the book Soviet Kitsch had a really beautiful ending. I was moved at how the couple, Tomas & Sabina, (now old) put their dog to "sleep" also because of old age.  This is a beautiful passage from the book:
"She was experiencing the same odd happiness and odd sadness as then. The sadness meant: we are at the last station. The happiness meant: we are together. The sadness was form, the happiness was content."
It was perfect, the book's ending.. as when the couple was about to sleep, "a large nocturnal butterfly began circling around the room". Wow what beautiful read

(For more information about Regina Spektor's take on Soviet Kitsch, visit this link.) 
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