The Curtain by Milan Kundera (2005)
‘…human life as such is a defeat. All we can do in the face of that ineluctable defeat called life is to try to understand it. That – that is the raison d’etre of the art of the novel.’
Described as An Essay in Seven Parts, this book is Kundera’s personal view of the history and value of the novel in Western civilization. ‘The curtain’ is the ready-made perception of the world which we all inherit – a pre-interpreted world. It is the function of the novelist to tear down this curtain to reveal to us something which we didn’t know. For anyone who reads as many novels as I do this book is salutary.
A novel which glorifies the conventional or the hackneyed ‘excludes itself from the history of the novel.’ Only by tearing through the curtain of pre-interpretation can a novel be worthy of its name – ‘It is the identifying sign of the art of the novel.’
‘For life is short, reading is long, and literature is in the process of killing itself off through an insane proliferation. Every novelist, starting with his own work, should eliminate whatever is secondary, lay out for himself and everyone else the ethic of the essential.’
‘It [the novel] refuses to exist as an illustration of a historical era, as description of society, as defense of an ideology, and instead puts itself exclusively at the service of what only the novel can say.’