Identity by Milan Kundera

Identity

RATING: 5/10…READ: December 15, 2011

The story of a relationship between Chantal and Jean-Marc who both are struggling with how to define themselves. Chantal sees herself as no longer desired by men. Jean Marc noticing this starts sending her secret admirer letters under a pen name, reenergizing the life in her…until she finds out the truth. Some interesting quotes, but a depressing book.

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Notes:

Chantal thinks: men have daddiefied themselves. They aren’t fathers, they’re just daddies, which means: fathers without a father’s authority.

There are three kinds of boredom: passive boredom: the girl dancing and yawning; active boredom; kite-lovers; and rebellious boredom: young people burning cars and smashing shop windows.

Don’t forget I’ve got two different faces. I’ve learned to draw some pleasure from the fact, but still, having two faces isn’t easy. It takes effort, it takes discipline! You have to understand that whatever I do, like it or not, I do with the intention to do well. If only so as not to lose my job. And it’s very hard to be a perfectionist in your work and at the same time despise that work.

From the start, he was the stronger one and she the weaker. This inequality was laid into the foundations of their love. Unjustifiable inequality, iniquitous inequality. She was weaker because she was older.

Friendship is indispensable to man for the proper function of his memory. Remembering our past, carrying it with us always, may be the necessary requirement for maintaining, as they say, the wholeness of the self. To ensure that the self doesn’t shrink, to see that it holds on to its volume, memories have to be watered like potted flowers, and the watering calls for regular contact with the witnesses of the past, that is to say, with friends. They are our mirror; our memory; we ask nothing of them but that they polish the mirror from time to time so we can look at ourselves in it.

I liked to say: between the truth and a friend, I always choose the friend.

“Friendship, to me, was proof of the existence of something stronger than ideology, than religion, than the nation. Dumas’ book, the four friends often find themselves on opposite sides and thus required to fight against one another. But that doesn’t affect their friendship. They still go on helping one another, secretly, cunningly, without giving a damn for the truths of their respective camps. They put their friendship above the truth, or the cause, or orders from superiors, above the king, above the queen, above everything.”

What can a friend do for you when they decide to build an airport outside your windows, or when they fire you? If anyone helps you, again it’s somebody anonymous, invisible, a social-service outfit, a consumer watchdog organization, a law form. Friendship can not longer be proved by some exploit. The occasion no longer lends itself to searching out your wounded friend on the battlefield or unsheathing your saber to defend hum against bandits. We go through our lives without great perils, but also without friendship.

Friendship emptied of its traditional content is transformed these days into a contract of mutual consideration, in short, a contract of politeness.

You can’t measure the mutual affection of two human beings by the number of words they exchange. It’s just that their heads our empty. It might even be out of tact that they’re refusing to talk, if they’ve got nothing to say.

I’d say that the quantity of boredom, if boredom is measurable, is much greater today than it once was. Because the old occupations, at least most of them, were unthinkable without a passionate involvement: the peasants in love with their land; my grandfather, the magician of beautiful tables; the shoemakers who knew every villager’s feet by heart; the woodsmen; the gardeners; probably even the soldiers killed with passion back then. The meaning of life wasn’t an issue, it was there with them, quite naturally, in their workshops, in their fields. Each occupation had created its own mentality, its own way of being. A doctor would think differently from a peasant, a soldier would behave differently from a teacher. Today we’re all alike, all of us bound together by our shared apathy toward our work. That very apathy has become a passion. The one great collective passion of our time.

It’s not a setback to give up your studies, what I gave up at that moment was ambition. I was suddenly a man without ambition. And having lost my ambition, I suddenly found myself at the margin of the world. And, what was worse: I had no desire to be anywhere else. I had all the less desire given that there was no real threat of hardship.

If you have no ambition, if you’re not avid to succeed, to gain recognition, you’re setting yourself up on the verge of ruin.

What is an intimate secret? Is that where we hide what’s most mysterious, most singular, most original about a human being? Are her intimate secrets what make Chantal the unique being he loves? No. What people keep secret is the most common, the most ordinary, the most prevalent thing, the same thing everybody has: the body and its needs, it maladies, its manias—constipation, for instance, or menstruation. We ashamedly conceal these intimate matters not because they are so personal but because, on the contrary, they are so lamentable impersonal.

How can a person hate a thing and at the same time adapt to it so readily?

What judge decreed that conformism is an evil and nonconformism a good? Isn’t conforming a way of drawing close to other people? Isn’t conformism the great meeting place where everyone converges, where life is most dense, most ardent?

Convention can turn into provocation, and provocation into convention, at the drop of a hat. What matters is the determination to go to the extremes with every position.