The unbearable lightness of being

My favourite passage from one of my favourite authors:

We all need someone to look at us. We can be divided into four categories according to the kind of look we wish to live under.

The first category longs for the look of an infinite number of anonymous eyes, in other words, for the look of the public. That is the case with the German Singer, the American actress, and even the tall, stooped editor with the big chin. He was accustomed to his readers, and when one day the Russians banned his newspaper, he had the feeling that the atmosphere was suddenly a hundred times thinner. Nothing could replace the look of unknown eyes. He thought he would suffocate. Then one day he realized that he was being followed, bugged and surreptitiously photographed in the street. Suddenly he had anonymous eyes on him and he could breath again! He began making theatrical speeches to microphones in his wall. In the police, he had found his lost public.

The second category is made up of people who have a vital need to be looked at by many known eyes. They are the tireless hosts of cocktail parties and dinners. They are happier than the people in the first category, who, when they lose their public, have the feeling that the lights have gone out in the room of their lives. Yet his happens to nearly all of them sooner or later. People in the second category, on the other hand, can always come up with the eyes they need. Marie-Claude and her daughter belong in the second category.

Then there is the third category, the category of people who need to be constantly before the eyes of the person they love. Their situation is as dangerous as the situation of people in the first category. One day the eyes of their beloved will close, and the room will go dark. Tereza and Tomas belong in the third category.

And finally there is the fourth category, the rarest, the category of people who live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present. They are the dreamers. Franz, for example. He travelled to the borders of Cambodia only for Sabina. As the bus bumped along the Thai road, he could feel her eyes fixed on him in a long stare. …

Milan Kundera, pp. 262-263

6 thoughts on “The unbearable lightness of being

  1. I’ve never read his(?) books but I will need to check them out. I too love this quote. What of those who do not want to be looked at? There are those people as well.The ones who want to disappear and be invisible…to not be known.

  2. I firmly believe that people who try to dissapear and be invisible actually deep down wants to be looked at too, but they afraid of what others might see/discover…

    I only got halfway through the film, it was such a let down, even Juliette Binoche whom I usually find to be a great actress.

  3. I must re-read this, I did so years ago but it didn’t sink in. I’ve recently been on a Kundera binge, beginning with Life is Elsewhere, then Immortality. I finished Ignorance yesterday, I think it’s my favourite so far. Such a wonderful writer to connect with isn’t he? Would you recommend any others?

    Great choice of passage – thanks for sharing, it’s made me want to pick up the book again.

  4. I would highly recommend both Slowness and Farewell Waltz – they both have that Kundera touch, but at the same time they are a bit different than his other books. I tend to like the English versions of his books better than the Norwegian translations, I think I will have to re-read the ones I have read in Norwegian.

  5. Aaah, 2 of the few that I’ve yet to acquire. Will save my pennies and follow your recommendation – Slowness especially I’m pretty excited for. Thank you 🙂
    Having only read English translations so I can’t compare. Perhaps one day I’ll have the knowledge to try them in another language but I’m pretty poor at all bar English!

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