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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)

Abstract

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.

Keywords

National Character Party Member Small Nation Russian Culture Czech Society 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 3.
    Michelle Woods (2006) Translating Milan Kundera (Clevedon; Buffalo: Multilingual Matters), 110.Google Scholar
  2. 11.
    Eugene Narrett (1992) ‘Surviving History: Milan Kundera’s Quarrel with Modernism,’ Modern Language Studies, vol. 22 (4), 20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Francine du Plessix Gray (1999) ‘Journey into the Maze: An Interview with Milan Kundera,’ in Peter Petro (ed.), Critical Essays on Milan Kundera (New York: G. K. Hall & Co.) 47–8.Google Scholar
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    See Kieran Williams (1997) The Prague Spring and Its Aftermath: Czechoslovak Politics 1968–1970 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Milan Kundera (1969) The Joke, trans. D. Hamblyn, O. Stallybrass (London: Macdonald). Originally published as Žert in 1967.Google Scholar
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    Timothy Garton Ash (1990) ‘Mitteleuropa?’, Daedalus, vol. 119 (1), 1–2. In the same issue, Jacques Rupnik also places Kundera at the forefront of the debate, along with Milosz, Konrád, and pope-to-be Wojtyla.Google Scholar
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  8. 40.
    Kundera (1984) ‘Tragedy of Central Europe’, trans. E. White, New York Review of Books, vol. 31 (7), 26 April, 33–8. The essay was first published as ‘Un occident kidnappé, ou la tragédie de l’Europe centrale’, Le Débat, vol. 27, November 1983, 2–24, and in a further variation as ‘A Kidnapped West or Culture Bows Out’, Granta, vol. 11, 1984.Google Scholar
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    Larry Wolff (1994) Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press), 11.Google Scholar
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    Also Susanna Rabow-Edling (2007) Slavophile Thought and the Politics of Cultural Nationalism (New York: State University of New York Press). On dusha, see Pesmen, Russia and Soul, passim.Google Scholar
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    Daniel Rancour-Laferriere (1995) The Slave Soul of Russia: Moral Masochism and the Cult of Suffering (New York: New York University Press, 1995), 69–77, for a discussion of the concept of fate (sud’ba) in Russian culture.Google Scholar
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    Ibid. See also Anna Gladkova (2005) ‘Sočuvstvie and Sostradanie: A Semantic Study of Two Russian Emotions’, Lidil, vol. 32, 35–47.Google Scholar
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    Andrew Morris (2011) ‘1970s–1980s “Chinese” Little League Baseball and Its Discontents’, in Mark L. Moskowitz (ed.) Popular Culture in Taiwan: Charismatic Modernity (New York: Routledge), 40, referring to S. Yan (1992) ‘A New Formulation for ldentity’, China Tribune, vol. 384, 32–5.Google Scholar
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    This is the opinion of Czech dissident Milan Jungmann, who famously accused Kundera of trivialising the Czech communist experience to market it to his supposedly shallow Western audiences, and thereby engaging in the ‘mass production of martyr virtue’. ( Jungmann (1999) ‘Kunderian Paradoxes,’ [1992] in Peter Petro (ed.) Critical Essays on Milan Kundera (New York: G. K. Hall & Co.), 120.)Google Scholar

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© Kyra Giorgi 2014

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  • Kyra Giorgi

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