Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More Kundera Kontroversy......

We've had an enforced hiatus here at Balkans via Bohemia. Call it "The Unbearable Heaviness of Workload." Plus, an election.

To make it up to loyal readers, a bit of an update on the twists and turns of "L'affaire Kundera" since last we blogged it in mid-October. In a nutshell, archivists at the Czech Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (USTR) who were researching the case of a Western spy stumbled upon a record of Milan Kundera denouncing that agent to police in 1950 -- thus effecting his arrest.

In my previous post (and in an article in The American Prospect), I argued that this wasn't really a scandal, considering the context of the times and Kundera's known pro-Communism beliefs in that era. I concluded that the document is likely accurate, and also speculated that his intensity of his fervid denials of the insident now were rooted in his own deeply-held views about art and the privacy of the author.

Now, however, it's becoming a bit of a scandal/ Not only will Kundera not back down from those denials, but he's enlisted a group of 11 literary heavyweights to write the much-dreaded "public letter" about the case.

The letter is sickening, largely because it offers so little scope for truth-telling and free inquiry. Simply doing archival research and reporting the results is transformed by these authors into "an attempt... to stir up a defamatory campaign with the aim of sullying the reputation of Milan Kundera."

Puh-leese. Kundera's relationship with his native country is complex. And while there are many in the Czech Republic who do not like him or his work, the article reporting the denunciation was sober and backed by very firm evidence. The presentation of the documents was no orchestrated campaign. The defense, however, seems very orchestrated. And Kundera is dicing with his legacy.

At the wonderful Sign and Sight website, Anja Seeliger has more wise words on the literary dust-up.

(Photo of Milan Kundera by Fredrik Rafusson from the HarperCollins website.)

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