Reading: Slowness 缓慢 – Milan Kundera

by zee

My first encounter with Milan Kundera, a Czech-born writer and one of the world’s best known author, through his best-known book, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I remembered not being able to understand the story, being less like a novel but more of his meditation about Life and Humanity. It was really easy to read but to digest is another thing.

Slowness (Le Lenteur) is written 11 years after the publication of Unbearable. Like the latter, Slowness is a light piece of reading (known as one of his lightest work) but it certainly is not as shallow as that.

The author weaves stories that happened in a midsummer’s night of more than 200 years apart together. For a slim volume (140 pages in the Chinese translation, which I finished in less than 2 hours)

Throughout the novel, Kundera talks about how each and every one of us are performers (here he uses the word “dancers”), performing in front of everybody or think we are performing in front of everybody. Using different circumstances in the book, he explains the concept of “performance” either in politics, social etc., which relates to self-identity (“id”, in Freud’s term?):

When a person sees himself as elect, what can he do to prove his election, to make himself and others believe that he does not belong to the common herd? That is where the era founded on the invention of photography comes to the rescue, with its stars, its dancers, its celebrities, whose images, projected onto an enormous screen, are visible from afar by all, are admired by all, and are all beyond reach.

Kundera also uses the concept of speed to describe memory, sensuality, and modernity. There are particular quotes in the book that I quite like:

There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting. Consider this utterly commonplace situation: a man is walking down the street. At a certain moment, he tries to recall something, but the recollection escapes him.

Automatically, he slows down. Meanwhile, a person who wants to forget a disagreeable incident he has just lived through starts unconsciously to speed up his space, as if he were trying to distance himself from a thing still too close to him in time.

In existential mathematics, that experience takes the form of two basic equations: the degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting.

And this:

Why has the pleasure for slowness disappeared? Ah, where have they gone, the amblers of yesteryear? Where have they gone, those loafing heroes of folk song, those vagabonds who roam from one mill to another and bed down under the stars? Have they vanished along with footpaths, with grasslands and clearings, with nature? There is a Czech proverb that describes their easy indolence by a metaphor: “they are gazing at God’s windows.” A person gazing at God’s windows is not bored; he is happy. In our world, indolence has turned into having nothing to do, which is a completely different thing: a person with nothing to do is frustrated, bored, is constantly searching for the activity he lacks.

At the end the stories fold itself back to the narrator. I found it rather peculiar, but cliche as well, as if I had seen it coming. I personally felt this cliche spoiled the story, but it may just be my personal taste. Honestly I read this book just to clear off my book shelves haha so it did not leave a deep impression to me. (It is also a disrespect to the author!) Alas, this book is not meant to be rushed to be enjoyed in slowness ;)

Also, just in time for Valentine’s day:

The religion of orgasm: utilitarianism projected into sex life; efficiency versus indolence; coition reduced to an obstacle to be got past as quickly as possible in order to reach an ecstatic explosion, the only true goal of love-making and of the universe.


Read this on Two Weeks A Book