The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Study Guide

Milan Kundera

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Part 6, Chapters 1–6 : The Grand March | Summary

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Summary

Part 6 is called "The Grand March," which readers will recall from Part 3, Chapter 5 as Franz's metaphor for Europe: the marching and shouting of a crowd continually seeking change and progress is "the image of Europe and its history." Part 6 returns to the story of Sabina and Franz, but with a strong authorial presence and entire chapters devoted to Kundera's musings.

In Chapters 1-5, Kundera provides an extended definition of the German word kitsch, which refers to artifacts of a cheap, lowbrow culture. He begins by explaining in Chapter 1 that Stalin's son Yakov died in a prisoner of war camp in World War II by throwing himself into an electric fence. He could not tolerate the complaints of British officers with whom he shared a latrine that he "habitually left a foul mess." Kundera makes the argument in Chapter 2 that Yakov had both rejection and privilege as Stalin's son, and if one can equate these, one can also equate "the sublime and the paltry." He says Stalin's death had more "metaphysical" meaning than that of the Germans and Russians who died to expand their countries' territories or power.

Kundera turns inward in Chapter 3 and says he reasoned as a child that if God has a mouth then God must also have intestines. This creates the theological problem of defecation. He goes on to explain in Chapter 4 that there was sex in the Garden of Eden, but not sexual excitement. Also, importantly, man did not view defecation as repellant until he was thrown out of paradise. In Chapter 5 Kundera explains the original meaning of kitsch, which "repeated use" has obliterated. Kitsch is "the absolute denial of" defecation.

Kundera returns to Sabina's point of view in Chapter 6. He points out that Sabina objects to communism because of "the mask of beauty it tried to wear," or communist kitsch. Its model is the celebration of May Day, with its patriotic parade.

Analysis

In addition to recalling Franz's love of parades in Part 3, "The Grand March" is also the title of a 1953 pro-Stalinist poem written by Kundera. In Translating Milan Kundera, translation scholar Michelle Woods considers the reuse of the title to be an act of "deliberate remembering." He is showing his intellectual journey from an embrace of the "Grand March" of communism to a repudiation of it.

Kundera uses polar opposites throughout the novel to explores his themes. In his discussion of the death of Stalin's son, he tries to illustrate how when this polarity fails, "human existence loses its dimensions and becomes unbearably light."

The first five chapters are a set-up to explain Sabina's life-long battle against kitsch. As Kundera explains, kitsch is originally a German word, and it essentially "excludes everything ... unacceptable in human existence." Sabina rejects communism not for ethical reasons, but because she despises kitsch. For her the epitome of kitsch in communism is the May Day parade. Essentially, her hatred of parades stems from the fact that communists appropriated the tautology of "long live life" and its accompanying idyllic imagery for their own use. It offends her sense of aesthetics.

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