Friday, January 27, 2012

The Lyrical and the Epic

Men and women fall in love for their own reasons that oftentimes have little to do with the person that is loved. 

In his novel of ideas The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Czech writer Milan Kundera describes different ways that men and women love each other, pointing out that men who pursue a multitude of women "fall neatly into two categories."

On the one hand, he shows us Franz, the married man, who has taken as his mistress Sabina, the unforgettable woman with the hat, whom he cherishes as an ideal.  When Franz and Sabina make love, Franz always shuts his eyes so as to maintain his fantasy of her.  In this way he merges with her more easily.  This type of womanizer (who seeks his personal ideal in each woman) Kundera calls "the lyrical."  These lovers always run after the same type of woman, Kundera argues, for what they seek in women is themselves.  What propels them from woman to woman is their disappointment, since an ideal is by definition something that can never be found.  

On the other hand, we are given Tomas, the divorced man who has balanced his fear of women against his desire for them by devising what he calls the "erotic friendship" -- the relationship in which neither partner can make any claim on the life or freedom of the other, in short, one which does not allow for love.  Following his unwritten rule, Tomas pursues many lovers, relishing the particulars of each.  In fact, it is their particular oddities that he finds most attractive: an awkward gait, a large nose, an uneven set of eyes.  Having quickly tired of conventional beauty, Tomas is something of a collector, in search of that rare find.  This type of womanizer (who seeks in women the infinite variety of the feminine universe) Kundera calls "epic."  These lovers project no subjective ideal on women, he argues, and since everything interests them, nothing can disappoint them.  Their desire is not so much for pleasure as it is for possession of the world.

In an examination of his own work as a writer in The Art of the Novel, Kundera submits that the lyrical and the epic are two possible attitudes that a person might take toward himself, other people and the world, -- the lyrical being "the expression of a self-revealing subjectivity" and the epic arising "from the urge to seize hold of the objective world."

Which type of person are you?

For my picture, I chose an exquisite panel painting portrait from the Classical world to help explain why I endlessly search the dead past.

1 comment:

Jeremy Cole said...

A very enjoyable and thought provoking post. You really do have a talent for distilling complex and abstract ideas Into clear and evocative words. No mean feat!