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The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Milan Kundera

Part 6: The Grand March

Part 5: Lightness and Weight

Part 6: The Grand March, page 2

page 1 of 2

The narrator tells the story of Stalin's son's death. In a German camp, Yakov Stalin had a dispute with the British prisoners over the fact that he habitually made a mess in the latrine. Ignored by the German officer in charge and humiliated over the idea that he should be judged because of shit, Yakov threw himself against an electrified wire fence. Yakov was unable to accept the lightness of being. Kundera praises Yakov Stalin's as the only metaphysical death of World War II. The religious problem of shit is raised—does God have intestines, did Adam defecate in the garden on Eden? Kundera links the base or shameful associations of defecation with eroticism.

Most European credos, religious or political, state that the world is good and human existence positive: Kundera calls this "categorical agreement with being." Shit, however, has no place in any of these credos. Instead, their aesthetic ideal is kitsch, which can be considered "the absolute denial of shit." Sabina's lifelong enemy is this same kitsch. She sees it in America when a Senator smiles at children. She describes the first tear as saying the children are lovely and move him. The second tear says, how profound and moving of me to be moved by this sight—"It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch." Sabina always argued with the conventional statement that Communist reality was worse than the Communist ideal; in the world of the ideal, the world of kitsch, she would not be able to survive emotionally for more than a few days.

To escape kitsch, Sabina hides the fact she is Czech, for fear people will interpret her as a romantic persecuted artist. Sabina lives with an elderly couple now, which soothes her guilt over abandoning her family. She realizes her life is not devoid of kitsch, and that she too falls prey to sentimentality.

Franz still lives a happy existence in Geneva, with his mistress. A friend invites him to join the Grand March on Cambodia. At first Franz refuses out of consideration and love for his mistress, but then he feels that Sabine would have wanted him to go. The march to Cambodia is a horror. The French and Americans compete for leadership; a movie star and a pop singer use the march for publicity, and feel proud of themselves when a journalist is accidentally killed and consecrates their publicity stunt with blood. Even Franz, who worships kitsch, is shaken, and when the march fails is not sure how to interpret events.

Kundera discusses categories of men who need to be seen. The first three categories are those who need a public of unknown eyes, those who need a public of familiar eyes, and those who want to be in the eyes of the person they love. Kundera characterizes Franz as a member of the fourth category of men: dreamers who live to be seen and appreciated by an imaginary being. For Franz the imaginary person is Sabina; for Tomas's son Simon, also a dreamer, that person is Tomas.

Simon moves to the country, and becomes a practicing Catholic. He starts writing letters to his father, who eventually responds. The father and son have a friendly visit. Soon after, Tomas and Tereza are killed in an automobile accident.

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