|Title||:||Life Is Elsewhere.|
|Publisher||:||Random House Inc 1 Januar 1974|
|Number of Pages||:||264 Pages|
|File Size||:||676 KB|
|Status||:||Available For Download|
|Last checked||:||21 Minutes ago!|
Life Is Elsewhere. Reviews
I have just finished the novel¡°life is elsewhere¡±. I think it is not the best one of Milan Kundera¡¯ work and the art of writing isn¡¯t different than others¡¯. But ¡°life is elsewhere¡± can still be regarded as an instructive, realistic novel. In my opinion, the hero is a tragic guy. Like most youths, he only focused on the results and had no ¡°ideals¡±. He gave up his moral rules for the so-called development in which he lost himself. The flip side, he's a drawing card - talented, sensitive, and passionate. Maybe he didn¡¯t belong to the society he lived. In a sense, he¡¯s a cat¡¯s paw and his dreams went up in smoke. I believe the only way that he¡¯d find himself is to die.
I feel like a fool admitting it but I must...Life is Elsewhere although deeply interesting was not deeply satisfying. Kundera does not quite pull off his ideas in his usual breathtaking manner, I mean it is almost there but it is the almost that rips my heart out because it lets me feel like all those philistines I know who disdain Kundera for his arrogance and pompousity. So because I respect Milan too much I refrain from rereading this work which is something I cannot say about every other title of his.
(Note that this review refers to an earlier translation of the novel) This is a somewhat schematic work and not at all what it might appear to be to the casual reader. Superficially it is a fictional biography of a young man, an aspiring poet who is a contemporary of the author himself. The character is conceived (yes, we get a picture of his conception, or at least his mother's version of it, since he is the center of her existence, and everything about him is not only fascinating to her but must fall into the right place in the well-ordered design of his life which she creates), he is born, he lives a life of ambition and shame, he dies. His name is Jaromil ("lover of spring"). His mother worships him and attempts to organize his life so that he will fulfill what she believes is his promise to become a great artist, even a "great socialist poet". He is both comforted by her presence and unconditional affection and irritated by her smothering attitudes, which enchain him to a perpetual childhood. He formulates strategies of psychological escape into what he imagines maturity must be. The strategies are not flattering (e.g., a period of furious masturbation to compensate for a bout of psychologically-determined impotence with his first girlfriend; verbal and physical mistreatment of his second girlfriend, ending in a betrayal of her and her family to the security police; reporting to the authorities on the unacceptable attitudes of his teachers; constant "elevated" poeticizing of his own miserable existence; and so on). Through his mother the world bows to Jaromil, but he is uncertain how widespread this homage will be. He is the only character in the book who has a name (excepting his idealized, improved self, a creation of his imagination known, with rather heavy symbolism, as Xavier, a heroic wraith who rescues maidens in distress and then abandons them as he jumps from dream to dream without ever awakening to the soiled reality which surrounds us). The rest of the nameless cast consists of: Maman ("Mommy"); the absent then deceased father; the detested bourgeois aunt and uncle; the janitor's son, later a policeman; the dark-haired Jewish intellectual; the artist, a painter who is Maman's lover and Jaromil's childhood mentor; the admired and envied famous poet; the old poet with gray hair; the middle-aged man (who may be Kundera's fictional alter-ego); and, most important after Maman, the series of girls with whom he has idealized or realized romantic and erotic relations -- the studious girl with spectacles (spiritual kinship, erotic failure), the skinny, unattractive red-headed girl (easy consummation, possessive "love", disappointment, confabulation, betrayal), and the young woman who makes films (erotic, social, and intellectual failure of the most devastating type). The story takes place in Prague, but there are only a few clues to this, and it might as well have taken elsewhere. The settings are generic - a home that is "nationalized" into an apartment, a university, a park, and of course a large "national security" building, whose employees, policemen, have taken over the confiscated suburban villa of a formerly wealthy bourgeois citizen and converted it into a retreat and recreation center, a place to which Jaromil and his fellow poets are invited to present their work and then engage in a very spurious "dialogue" with the guard dogs of the system. There is more information on the shabbiness of underwear (perhaps intended to limn the shabbiness of official ideals and the behavior of men on the make in the new socialist state "under construction") during the critical time depicted -- say, 1945 to 1950 -- than there is on other indicators of time and place. The nameless characters and the accompanying skeletal props are in fact a stage-setting in which Jaromil acts out a narcissistic play, bedeviled by fears he has that the audience - the rest of the world, people he encounters in school and on the streets - will have an unflattering opinion of him, will see him for what he is, a self-centered, immature youth. Poetry is the weapon he will use to rearrange matters to his satisfaction. And lyrical poetry - its basis in false-heroic notions of the self, its deficiencies with respect to portraying the grim realities of most lives, its ability to becloud the mind while it stirs the soul, and its easy co-optation for propaganda purposes by cynical rulers - is the author's target. For the book is a thesis of anti-lyricism, a polemical position which is never explicitly stated. We are led to the anti-lyrical position by the pitiful conceits and the dreadful consequences of lyricism as they are seen in Jaromil's unlovely existence (and, for the historical period, in his typical biography). In fact, in Chapter 6, Verse 2, we are given a precise description of the misleading yet attractive and satisfying nature of lyricism, a mini-thesis presentation of the ideas that Jaromil's life embodies. Chapter 6 also illustrates Kundera's long-term fascination with older eighteenth-century predecessors of the "novel of ideas" (rather than the novel of characters or plot, which are perhaps better utilized, in Kundera's mind, as devices to get at the discussion of ideas - or as a way into the examination of changing human situations; this latter consideration shows the lasting influence of French existentialism on Kundera). In this chapter the author breaks into the third-person narrative of Jaromil's life in order to address the reader directly, to pose questions about relative perspectives, and to jump forward beyond his protagonist's death into the relationship of two other characters whose lives have been affected by Jaromil's impostures, before bringing us back to the "death of the poet" in the last chapter. It suggests the possibility of alternative novels that might have been written about other characters in the story - the janitor's son who became a policeman, the red-headed girl - but are now excluded by virtue of the author's having made his choice. The author's intervention has become, in his words, an "observation tower" which allows him to adjust his focus on the main character (who is, in fact, "the embodiment of lyricism") and also point his telescope into the future and the past. Another set of meditations emerges in this chapter, founded in Jaromil's life but pointing to broader considerations: the poet, especially the Romantic poet, as a "Mama's boy" who reconfigures his life through desperate efforts at escape, both in life and through his art. Kundera uses this characterization to briefly illuminate this aspect of the lives and careers of the 1920s Czech poet Jiri Wolker, and the revered Romantics Shelley, Lermontov, and Rimbaud, would-be bad-boys fleeing the embraces of their mothers and grandmothers, each of whom might be seen as erecting a cult of the defiant self. So Chapter 6 - which, in Kundera's favorite musical terms, is a sort of recapitulation of themes before proceeding to the coda of the last chapter - gives the reader a peculiar gloss on a particular phenomenon in the history of literature. The translation by Peter Kussi seems acceptable and solid to me, a reader who does not speak Czech. Since the novel is schematic and occasionally thesis-like, there is no need for stylistic heroics or adventures, so I assume the translation reflects a down-to-earth expository prose approach of the original Czech text. Kundera is famously attentive to and fussy about the fine points of translation. I do not know if this particular translation meets his standards. Possibly not, since there was another translation by Aron Asher ten years after this one, and it has the Kundera "seal of approval" in a brief postscript. The Asher translation is a little more "flowing", even lyrical, which is surprising when Kundera's animus against lyricism is taken into account. However, in matters of narrative substance and historical allusions the two translations are interchangeable. With regard to the contentious subject of "the lyrical age" of men (and mankind), Kundera devoted several passages of his "The Joke" to its consideration, and he has continued to consider it in his several volumes of literary essays. The briefest way to put it is that "the lyrical age" of young men and women is a period of intense adolescent narcissism and intellectual immaturity born of uncertainty about the self. This leads them into "all or nothing" attitudes which invariably have harmful consequences for themselves and others (in the Czech case for the period depicted, "lyricism" resulted in a cheerful alliance between poets and hangmen, as Kundera often reiterates). The biographical background of this long-lasting preoccupation relates, I believe, to what he perceives as the failings and poetic impostures of his own youth, most especially his long poem "The Last May", which depicts in stilted terms the last days of the Communist martyr and cult icon, Julius Fucik. How much of Jaromil is autobiographical in its details, that is, a fictionalized version of "early Kundera" can only be guessed at. Just as he killed off Jaromil as a character by having him choose to die in response to his disappointments (his fatal pneumonia stemming from a weak attempt at suicide) Kundera deliberately killed off his earlier self by ceasing to write poetry and turning to prose and to the novel as an "instrument of rational discourse" (my term for his approach). In the end I would call the book a successful thesis and only a qualified success as a novel (tastes and judgments about this will, I realize, vary greatly among its readers). Whatever my own hesitations on this point, I recommend the book as well worth reading to those interested in Kundera's career, in Czech literature, and in that part of the recent past in central Europe which is now entering its late phase of "living memory", which means that it might soon be forgotten altogether or significantly misrepresented.
I enjoyed "Life is Elsewhere" despite some tendencies to be tedious in its descriptions of the young poet, Jaromil. It is a rich book with lots of sub-texts, such as the qualities of surreal art and socialist realism art. The weird thing is the thing about the other young male poets. As the narrator openly states, following Jaromil is a good excuse to talk about other young poets such as France's Rimbaud, and the English poet Percy Shelley. Overall, the book has long stretches with sparse dialogue. Instead, it is a long examination of the mind of Jaromil, and his motives. This examination continues into the other characters, most of which have generic names. These include Papa, Grandpa, Grandma, Maman, the University Girl, the Redheaded Girl, the Janitor's Son and so on. This is odd in some cases, because the character Maman, for example, does have some emotional depth. The description of Jaromil's sexual struggles is essential to the book, though not in much detail.It is ironic that the author, Milan Kundera. became somewhat of a dissident, since the political content is not very strong. Of course the book is against the Czech Communist regime, but not in an overt way. An interesting aspect is Jaromil's feeling at the time of the Communist takeover that he is part of a real revolution. This is also compared to the 1968 Paris Commune. The Communist police abuses are shown in a natural way as they hit the people around Jaromil. It is more about the horror of someone being accused of trying to defect or leave the country, and being sent to jail or perhaps shot. In this case, these accusations against the redheaded girl's brother are not even true. The story is made up by the redheaded girl, Jaromil's girlfriend, to avoid his accusations of being late and unfaithful. Jaromil's early death by sickness is also ironic, though connecting this with the deaths of the poets Pushkin and Lermontov is a stretch. After all, Jaromil is merely pushed into the cold. He decides to stay out there long enough to catch pneumonia. An interesting novel, and now in the post-Communist world, a bit of an anachronism.
Heady vibes on this one.
I like his books, so I'm sure I will enjoy this one as well.