The Jerusalem Address

As promised a few blogs ago I’m officially in things I read in class territory. The Jerusalem Address was written and given by Milan Kundera in 1985 while accepting the Jerusalem Prize for Literature.  This is the first time I’ve written about a speech, but I do think that should tell you something about how interesting and wonderful this speech is. The ideas he presents in it are ones that will be applicable for as long as we read and write, which, I imagine, will be for a very long time.

kundera

My favorite passage from the speech is right at the beginning. Kundera talks about how in Tolstoy’s early draft of Anna Karenina he inserted his personal beliefs about how one should act and everything that happened to Anna was presented as right and well deserved. There was no sympathy for her character.  Of course, in the final draft we see that Anna has become a tragic figure. Sure, she still did wrong and was punished but the reader finds themselves sympathizing.  Tolstoy didn’t have a change of heart about how one should act between the first and second draft.  As Kundera says, “He was listening to…the wisdom of the novel.”

He goes on to discuss how novels should be smarter than the author. Not a vehicle for the authors ideas and morals, but a vehicle for the individuals and ideas of the time to present themselves in their own light. In a good novel the truth presents itself despite the author, not because of the author. As Kundera says, “It (the novel) is the territory where no one possesses the truth, neither Anna nor Karenin, but where everyone has the right to be  understood, both Anna and Karenin.” This is a more perfect way of saying something I’ve believed for a very long time. Reading and writing promotes empathy in a way that cannot be taught or learned any other way. It is the best and most direct way to step in someone’s shoes for a few years and truly understand another viewpoint.

When ever and where ever hate is spread I assume illiteracy is prevalent, because you can’t read the stories of people and also hate them. The emotional pull of narratives can be life changing and I think Milan Kundera explains why that is in his speech. If you know of anyone that needs convincing send them to this speech and if you need reminding it really is worth the read.

Common Place Book Entries

“Every true novelist listens for that supernatural wisdom, which explains why great novels are always a little more intelligent than their authors.  Novelists who are more intelligent than their books should go into another line of work.”

-Jerusalem Address: The Novel and Europe by Milan Kundera

“It pleases me to think that the art of the novel came into the world as the echo of God’s laughter.”

-Jerusalem Address: The Novel and Europe by Milan Kundera

“Don Quixote thinks, Sancho thinks, and not only the world’s truth but also the truth of their own selves slips away from them.”

-Jerusalem Address: The Novel and Europe by Milan Kundera

“But it is precisely in losing the certainty of truth and the unanimous agreement of others that man becomes and individual.  The novel is the imaginary paradise of individuals.”

-Jerusalem Address: The Novel and Europe by Milan Kundera

“The art inspired by God’s laughter does not by nature serve ideological certitudes, it contradicts them.  Like Penelope, it undoes each night the tapestry that the theologians, philosophers, and learned men have woven the day before.”

-Jerusalem Address: The Novel and Europe by Milan Kundera

“Every novel, like it or not, offers some answer to the question: What is human existence, and wherein does its poetry lie?”

-Jerusalem Address: The Novel and Europe by  Milan Kundera

“The poetry of existence, says Sterne’s novel is in digression.”

-Jerusalem Address: The Novel and Europe by Milan Kundera

“Thus the spirit of an age cannot be judged exclusively by its ideas, its theoretical concepts, without considering its art, and particularly the novel.”

-Jerusalem Address: The Novel and Europe by Milan Kundera

“Hegel was convinced he had grasped the very spirit of universal history.  But Flaubert discovered stupidity.  I daresay that is the greatest discovery of a century so proud of its scientific thought.”

-Jerusalem Address: The Novel and Europe by Milan Kundera

“We can use the title to declare: Modern stupidity means not ignorance but the non thought of received ideas.”

-Jerusalem Address: The Novel and Europe by Milan Kundera

“It is that wisdom of the novel I wanted to honor in this speech of thanks.  But it is time for me to stop.  I was forgetting that God laughs when he sees me thinking.”

-Jerusalem Address: The Novel and Europe by Milan Kundera

 

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