Milan Kundera: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

“‘You begin to liquidate a people,’ Hübl said, ‘by taking away its memory. You destroy its books, its culture, its history. And then others write other books for it, give another culture to it, invent another history for it. Then the people slowly begins to forget what it is and what it was.’”

It was this quote from the book making the rounds on social media recently that led me to re-read The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, but then I found more to retrieve from the margins of memory.

“…but the past is filled with life, and its countenance is irritating, repellent, wounding, to the point that we want to destroy or repaint it… we fight for access to the labs where we can retouch photos and rewrite biographies and history.”

“They wanted to efface hundreds of thousands of lives from memory and leave nothing but an unstained age of unstained idyll.”

“…erased from the country’s memory, like mistakes in a schoolchild’s homework.”

“The constitution did indeed guarantee freedom of speech, but the laws punished anything that could be considered an attack on state security. One never knew when the state would start screaming that this word or that was an attempt on its security.”

Fortunately and unfortunately, Kundera reminds us that we are not alone in this plight, and there are still those who remember.

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

It’s funny how this book made more sense when I read it as a younger person — the passages about music and literature I glorified, the obscenities I took as metaphors and almost everything else as literary symbols. Now that I’m older, it all seems absurd.

And it is absurd because of how real it has become.

Along with my old yellowed notes tucked between its pages lie the pretentiousness of a young reader and the confounding of an older one.

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” — Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s