The Ethics and Aesthetics of Narration in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Dhee Sankar

PhD Junior Research Fellow, Presidency University, Department of English. Email:

   Volume 8, Number 1, 2018 I Full Text PDF


Milan Kundera had defined the novel as a genre as “the great prose form in which the author thoroughly explores, by means of experimental selves (characters), some great themes of existence,” thus taking an apparently solipsistic view of authorship, in which characters are “experimental selves” of the author. The present paper deliberates upon how this can be reconciled with Kundera’s departure from classical realism in his The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and argues that the novel’s insistence on the ineffable phenomenological otherness and contingency inherent in human experience amounts to an ethical as well as aesthetic stance against totalizing discourses, politically the foremost among them being Russia’s Stalinist communism, Kundera’s native country Czechoslovakia had suffered for decades under whose imperialist yolk. By coalescing the heterological and heterodox Bakhtinian function of critique through comic subversion with this diaphanous quality of ineffability, Kundera attains a feat unparalleled in the history of the novel. His achievement perhaps provides a direction towards what Habermas would call a “reflective understanding” of human as well as non-human (animal) experience.

Keywords: Kundera, novel, ethics, aesthetics, heterology, kitsch, Habermas, justice.

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