Evolution of a Fatalism

  • Kyra Giorgi
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Emotions book series (Palgrave Studies in the History of Emotions)


Recalling Teixeira de Pascoaes’ ‘untranslatable’ saudade, Kundera introduces lítost as ‘a Czech word with no exact translation into any other language.’1 Moreover:

It designates a feeling as infinite as an open accordion, a feeling that is the synthesis of many others: grief, sympathy, remorse, and an indefinable longing. The first syllable, which is long and stressed, sounds like the wail of an abandoned dog.2

It shares more in common with Pascoaes’ saudade, besides. Lítost is a word with everyday applications describing regret or longing that has been ascribed an inflated significance to promote a prescriptive idea of national character or soul. Unlike saudade, however, the word lítost does not have the same long history of being used in such a way, and so the poetic or aesthetical foundations upon which one might build a theory of national destiny are much flimsier. Kundera’s lítost is also far more ignoble than Pascoalian saudade, which never had the slightest trace of misanthropy, rancour and vengefulness about it — much less at the heart of it. But then the motivations behind them are very different as well. It was never Kundera’s aim to construct a whole theory of national character and essence around a single word to the same degree or solemnity of intent as Pascoaes, nor to launch it into the world with the serious intention to convince people of the concept’s importance.


National Character Party Member Small Nation Russian Culture Czech Society 
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© Kyra Giorgi 2014

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  • Kyra Giorgi

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