I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized That Sweet Ironic Smile

That Sweet Ironic Smile

Belinda McKeon
The Curtain, by Milan Kundera, translated from the French by Linda Asher, Faber and Faber, 256 pp, £12.99, ISBN: 978-0571232819 From the accomplished past to the striving present, from the epic to the experimental, from the romantic to the realist, a network of threads runs through the history of literature, connecting disparate creations. In the 1970s, Harold Bloom characterised that nexus as a tangle of anxieties and ambivalences, as the necessary neurosis of the poetic process. The contemporary poet, as Bloom saw it, was obliged to confront the echo of previous voices, the shadow of previous pens, and to wage a wearying war with the influences he could not escape, the influences evident in every word of his own, in the hope of realising an original vision. For Bloom, literary influence was “a destruction of desire”, a humiliation, a trial, a difficult adolescence of trying, trying again, and, very possibly, of failing. In The Curtain, his new study of the art and history of the novel, the Franco-Czech novelist Milan Kundera takes a different view of influence. Where Bloom spoke of poets, Kundera treats the novel as “the privileged sphere of analysis, lucidity, irony”, as an art which, if it is to have any identity of its own – any force, any future – must exhibit a deep and patent connection with that which has gone before. For Kundera, the weight of past names and past words on the back of the novelist is not only a good thing but a crucial aspect of the art; he refers to it not as influence, but as “continuity”. The “consciousness of continuity”, he says, is “one of the distinguishing marks of a person belonging to the civilisation that is (or was) ours”. This statement – in which there unfurls a pessimism about the future of the novel which will return frequently, yet also fleetingly, throughout the book – clearly addresses the historical consciousness not only of the writer but of the reader. Our appreciation of the writers we read, Kundera argues, is grounded and driven by an awareness of the placement within history of those artists and their work; cognisant of a writer’s chronology, we are in the best possible position as readers because we can trace and consider the changing colours and deepening complexities of that writer’s very “essence”. To really understand a literary work, then, the reader should approach the work of a…

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