Banks on Milan Kundera

From a review in the International Herald Tribune, Russell Banks writes about Milan Kundera’s third book of essays on the novel, “The Curtain.” And though the review is generally positive, Banks’ one criticism seems rather damning, as if he is suggesting the Kundera is out of touch with our times.

Here are excerpts:

“The novel alone,” he says, “could reveal the immense, mysterious power of the pointless,” in opposition to the “pre-interpretation” of reality. The novel, in Kundera’s view, is not a genre; it’s a way of busting through the myriad lies regarding human nature and our collective and individual fates, lies that serve the purposes of bureaucracy and greed and the joyless quest for power. The “pre-interpretation” of reality is the curtain referred to by the book’s title, “a magic curtain, woven of legends … already made-up, masked, reinterpreted. … It is by tearing through the curtain of pre-interpretation that Cervantes set the new art going; his destructive act echoes and extends to every novel worthy of the name; it is the identifying sign of the art of the novel.”

and then this:

If I have any quarrel with Kundera’s description of the history of the novel, it’s that he’s not inclusive enough. He does not discuss a single female novelist, even in passing. It’s as if no Western woman has ever tried writing a serious novel in 400 years. And, in his appreciation of non-European novelists like Fuentes, García Márquez and Chamoiseau, he colonizes them, as if culturally they gazed longingly toward their European mother- and fatherlands instead of their homelands. But then, he’s not writing literary criticism; he’s writing the secret history of the novels of Milan Kundera and teaching us how to read them.


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