Let me start off by saying that as an ex-English Lit major, I really wish that I had read The Curtain three years ago when I bought it because it is one of the most elucidating things I have ever read in regards to furthering my understanding of literature. Move over, Lukács and Watt.
This is the most airtight, coherent and mind-blowing essay I have ever read regarding the legacy of the novel. It is split into seven parts, each part broken down into pithy structured musings about many things relating to the novel: history, art, consciousness, nationalism, narrative, aesthetics, humour… it’s all there. Kundera focalises most of his arguments around Cervantes’ Don Quixote, but also a lot of other fiction whose origins stem mostly from Central Europe, referring to writers such as Franz Kafka, Witold Gombrowicz, Robert Musil, Max Brod, Hermann Broch, as well as other greats such as Fielding, Sterne, Tolstoy, Faulkner, Flaubert… in order to make his points. Throughout the essay, Kundera’s sensitivity to his national identity as a Czech emigre tends to structure and organise his methodical approach to discussing the novel which makes for an interesting perspective that reframes ideas of Western canon.
Because History, with its agitations, its wars, its revolutions and counter-revolutions, its national humiliations, does not interest the novelist for itself – as a subject to paint, to denounce, to interpret. The novelist is not a valet to historians; History may fascinate him, but because it is a kind of searchlight circling around human existence and throwing light onto it, onto its unexpected possibilities, which, in peaceable times, when History stands still, do not come to the fore but remain unseen and unknown.
How’s that for a smart-sounding sentence? It’s one of these kind of books which can be used as a valuable resource alongside essay-writing. Need to say something that supplements your point in a much more concise and intellectual way? Quote pretty much any sentence from The Curtain and you’re all set.
Everyone should read this. Why?
First of all, if you’re an English major, you are shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t.
Secondly, everyone should read this because it talks about the novel in such a clear and informative way. For people who feel intimidated, or indeed, altogether discerning of all the pretentiousness and pomposity involved in academic discourse concerning literature, The Curtain is pragmatic and refreshing to behold.
I read Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being a few years back and I must hold my hands up and admit that it didn’t grab me. I may need to give it another spin now.