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A Dirty Book for Philosophy Geeks

Nothing in Jonathan Rosen’s positive review of the new Milan Kundera novel makes me think it is worth reading, but I had to clap for this observation about the Czech emigre’s most famous work, which was my favorite book during my undergraduate years:

Part of the perverse thrill of reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being, published in 1984, was that you imgrescould feel politically enlightened while watching a beautiful woman in a bowler hat and little else open the door for her lover, a neurosurgeon who spends his spare time wandering around Prague telling random women to take off their clothes. This did not happen in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. Reading Kundera in the ’80s was like watching Mad Men with the conviction that smoking, drinking, and grabbing the secretary’s ass were bold assertions of individual autonomy in the face of a cruelly repressive state.

Oh yes. Oh yes. To be fair, there’s some intelligent stuff in that novel — I still think often of the tension between Franz’s conception of the authentic life as the transparent one, and Sabina’s notion that only a veiled life is truly honest — but basically it’s a dirty book for philosophy geeks. I’m still quite fond of it, but I have to laugh at the recognition of my 1980s self in Rosen’s description.

Anybody here read the new Kundera? It’s set mostly in the Luxembourg Gardens, which makes it sound made for me, but Rosen’s review makes it sound like a novel of ideas that’s short on the novel, and long on the ideas … which aren’t very coherent or provocative to begin with. Am I wrong?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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