Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Milan Kundera

Czech-born French Writer, Playwright and Author who lived in exiled in France

"Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view) consists of its attitudes towards those who are at its mercy."

"When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object."

"You can't measure the mutual affection of two human beings by the number of words they exchange."

"There is no perfection, only life."

"We all need someone to look at us. We can be divided into four categories according to the kind of look we wish to live under. The first category longs for the look of an infinite number of anonymous eyes, in other words, for the look of the public. The second category is made up of people who have a vital need to be looked at by many known eyes. They are the tireless hosts of cocktail parties and dinners. They are happier than the people in the first category, who, when they lose their public, have the feeling that the lights have gone out in the room of their lives. This happens to nearly all of them sooner or later. people in the second category, on the other hand, can always come up with the eyes they need. Then there is the third category, the category of people who need to be constantly before the eyes of the person they love. Their situation is as dangerous as the situation of people in the first category. One day the eyes of their beloved will close, and the room will go dark. and finally there is the fourth category, the rarest, the category of people who live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present. They are the dreamers."

"He suddenly recalled from Plato's Symposium: People were hermaphrodites until God split then in two, and now all the halves wander the world over seeking one another. Love is the longing for the half of ourselves we have lost."

"The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man's body.The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life's most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?"

"Dogs are our link to paradise. They don't know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring--it was peace."

"There is a certain part of all of us that lives outside of time. Perhaps we become aware of our age only at exceptional moments and most of the time we are ageless."

"The brain appears to possess a special area which we might call poetic memory and which records everything that charms or touches us, that makes our lives beautiful... Love begins with a metaphor. Which is to say, love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory."

"The Greek word for "return" is nostos. Algos means "suffering." So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return."

"Chance and chance alone has a message for us. Everything that occurs out of necessity, everything expected, repeated day in and day out, is mute. Only chance can speak to us."

"Humor can only exist when people are still capable of recognizing some border between the important and the unimportant. And nowadays this border has become unrecognizable. "

"And therein lies the whole of man's plight. Human time does not turn in a circle; it runs ahead in a straight line. That is why man cannot be happy: happiness is the longing for repetition."

"The worst thing is not that the world is unfree, but that people have unlearned their liberty. The more indifferent people are to politics, to the interests of others, the more obsessed they become with their own faces. The individualism of our time. "

"The majority of people lead their existence within a small idyllic circle bounded by their family, their home, and their work... They live in a secure realm somewhere between good and evil. They are sincerely horrified by the sight of a killer. And yet all you have to do is remove them from this peaceful circle and they, too, turn into murderers, without quite knowing how it happened. "

"The longing for order is at the same time a longing for death, because life is an incessant disruption of order. Or to put it the other way around: the desire for order is a virtuous pretext, an excuse for virulent misanthropy. "

"Perhaps all the questions we ask of love, to measure, test, probe, and save it, have the additional effect of cutting it short. Perhaps the reason we are unable to love is that we yearn to be loved, that is, we demand something (love) from our partner instead of delivering ourselves up to him demand-free and asking for nothing but his company."

"To laugh is to live profoundly."

"And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself?"

"When we want to give expression to a dramatic situation in our lives, we tend to use metaphors of heaviness. We say that something has become a great burden to us. We either bear the burden or fail and go down with it, we struggle with it, win or lose. And Sabina - what had come over her? Nothing. She had left a man because she felt like leaving him. Had he persecuted her? Had he tried to take revenge on her? No. Her drama was a drama not of heaviness but of lightness. What fell to her lot was not the burden, but the unbearable lightness of being."

"People are always shouting they want to create a better future. It's not true. The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone. The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past."

"We pass through the present with our eyes blindfolded. We are permitted merely to sense and guess at what we are actually experiencing. Only later when the cloth is untied can we glance at the past and find out what we have experienced and what meaning it has."

"We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself? That is why life is always a sketch. No sketch is not quite the right word, because a sketch is an outline of something, the groundwork for a picture, whereas the sketch that is our life is a sketch of nothing, an outline with no picture."

"Once the writer in every individual comes to life (and that time is not far off), we are in for an age of universal deafness and lack of understanding."

"A gesture cannot be regarded as the expression of an individual, as his creation (because no individual is capable of creating a fully original gesture, belonging to nobody else), nor can it even be regarded as that person's instrument; on the contrary, it is gestures that use us as their instruments, as their bearers and incarnations."

"No great movement designed to change the world can bear to be laughed at or belittled. Mockery is a rust that corrodes all it touches."

"Mysticism and exaggeration go together. A mystic must not fear ridicule if he is to push all the way to the limits of humility or the limits of delight."

"Art is the human disposition of sensible or intelligible matter for an esthetic end."

"No love survives muteness."

"How goodness heightens beauty! "

"Without the meditative background that is criticism, works become isolated gestures, historical accidents, soon forgotten."

"There is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one's own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels for someone, for someone, pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echos."

"The source of anxiety lies in the future. If you can keep the future out of mind, you can forget your worries."

"Perhaps the reason we are unable to love is that we yearn to be loved, that is, we demand something (love) from our partner instead of delivering ourselves up to him demand-free and asking for nothing but his company."

"The heaviest of burdens is simultaneously an image of life's most intense fullfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into new heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?"

"Without realizing it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress. It is wrong then, to chide the novel for being fascinated by mysterious coincidences, but it is right to chide man for being blind to such coincidences in his daily life. For he thereby deprives his life of a dimension of beauty."

"The very beginning of Genesis tells us that God created man in order to give him dominion over fish and fowl and all creatures. Of course, Genesis was written by a man, not a horse. There is no certainty that God actually did grant man dominion over other creatures. What seems more likely, in fact, is that man invented God to sanctify the dominion that he had usurped for himself over the cow and the horse. Yes, the right to kill a deer or a cow is the only thing all of mankind can agree upon, even during the bloodiest of wars."

"Young is the one that plunges in the future and never looks back."

"Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it."

"The sound of laughter is like the vaulted dome of a temple of happiness."

"The serial number of a human specimen is the face, that accidental and unrepeatable combination of features. It reflects neither character nor soul, nor what we call the self. The face is only the serial number of a specimen."

"Woman is the future of man. That means that the world which was once formed in man's image will now be transformed to the image of woman. The more technical and mechanical, cold and metallic it becomes, the more it will need the kind of warmth that only the woman can give it. If we want to save the world, we must adapt to the woman, let ourselves be led by the woman, let ourselves be penetrated by the Ewigweiblich, the eternally feminine!"

"Anyone whose goal is 'something higher' must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves."

"We must never allow the future to be weighed down by memory. For children have no past, and that is the whole secret of the magical innocence of their smiles."

"The stupidity of people comes from having an answer to everything. The wisdom of the novel comes from having a question for everything... it seems to me that all over the world people nowadays prefer to judge rather than to understand, to answer rather than to ask, so that the voice of the novel can hardly be heard over the noisy foolishness of human certainties."

"Laughing deeply is living deeply."

"The present era grabs everything that was ever written in order to transform it into films, TV programmes, or cartoons. What is essential in a novel is precisely what can only be expressed in a novel, and so every adaptation contains nothing but the non-essential. If a person is still crazy enough to write novels nowadays and wants to protect them, he has to write them in such a way that they cannot be adapted, in other words, in such a way that they cannot be retold. "

"The basis of shame is not some personal mistake of ours, but the ignominy, the humiliation we feel that we must be what we are without any choice in the matter, and that this humiliation is seen by everyone. "

"A route differs from a road not only because it is solely intended for vehicles, but also because it is merely a line that connects one point with another. A route has no meaning in itself; its meaning derives entirely from the two points that it connects. A road is a tribute to space. Every stretch of road has meaning in itself and invites us to stop. A route is the triumphant devaluation of space, which thanks to it has been reduced to a mere obstacle to human movement and a waste of time."