The Divine Intestine

“When I was small and would leaf though the Old Testament retold for children and illustrated in engravings by Gustave Doré, I saw the Lord God standing on a cloud. He was an old man with eyes, nose, and a long beard, and I would say to myself that if He had a mouth, He had to eat. And if He ate, He had intestines. But that always gave me a fright, because even though I came from a family that was not particularly religious, I felt the idea of a divine intestine to be sacrilegious Spontaneously, without any theological training, I, a child, grasped the incompatibility of God and shit and thus came to question the basic thesis of Christian anthropology, namely, that man was created in God’s image.”
From The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

The above quote brings to mind the highly controversial photograph by American artist Andres Serrano, Immersion (Piss Christ), which depicts a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist’s urine:

Piss Christ. Andres Serrano. 1987.

Immersion (Piss Christ). Andres Serrano. 1987.

 


Karenin

In The Unberable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera describes an encounter between Tereza and one of her neighbours while she walked with her beloved dying dog, Karenin:

“Along the way, they met a neighbour who was hurrying off to a cow shed in her rubber boots. The woman stopped long enough to ask. ‘What’s wrong with the dog? It seems to be limping. ‘He has cancer,’ said Tereza. ‘There’s no hope.’ And the lump in her throat kept her from going on. The woman noticed Tereza’s tears and nearly lost her temper: ‘Good heavens! Don’t tell me you’re going to bawl your head off over a dog!’ She was not being vicious; she was a kind woman and merely wanted to comfort Tereza. Tereza understood, and had spent enough time in the country to realize that if the local inhabitants loved every rabbit as she loved Karenin, they would be unable to kill any of them and they and their animals would soon starve to heath. Still, the woman’s words struck her as less than friendly. ‘I understand,’ she answered without protest, but quickly turned her back and went her way. The love she bore her dog made her feel cut off, isolated. With a sad smile, she told herself that she needed to hide it more than she would an affair. People are indignant at the thought of someone loving a dog. But if the neighbour had discovered that Tereza had been unfaithful to Tomas, she would have given Tereza a playful pat on the back as a sign of secret solidarity.”

Walking the Dog. Keith Arnatt. 1976-9.

Walking the Dog. Keith Arnatt. 1976-9.

God saw I was Dog / Dog saw I was God. Peter A Hutchinson. 1975

God saw I was Dog / Dog saw I was God. Peter A Hutchinson. 1975

Kundera also talks about man’s dominion over animals:

“The very beginning of Genesis tells us that God created man in order to give him dominion over fish and fowl and all creatures. Of course, Genesis was written by a man, not a horse. There is no certainty that God actually did grant man dominion over other creatures. What seems more likely, in fact, is that man invented God to sanctify the dominion he had usurped for himself over the cow and the horse. Yes, the right to kill a deer or a cow is the only thing that mankind can agree upon, even during the bloodiest of wars. The reason we take that right for granted is that we stand at the top of that hierarchy. But let a third party enter the game –a visitor from another planet, for example, someone to whom God says, ‘Thou shalt have dominion over creatures of all other stars’ — and all at once taking Genesis for granted becomes problematical. Perhaps a man hitched to the cart of a Martian or roasted on the spit by inhabitants of the Milky Way will recall the veal cutlet he used to slice on his dinner plate and apologize (belatedly!) to the cow.”


Poetic Memory

An extract from The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera:

“The brain appears to possess a special area which we might call poetic memory and which records everything that charms or touches us, that makes our lives beautiful … Love begins with a metaphor. Which is to say, love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory.”


Vanity

“Your dirty firngernails and torn sweater are not new under the sun […] Long ago one of the cynic philosophers strutted through the streets of Athens in a torn mantle to make himself admired by everyone for displaying his contempt for convention. One day Socrates met him and said: ‘I see your vanity through the hole in your mantle.’ Your dirt too, sir, is vanity, and your vanity is dirt.”

From Farewell Waltz by Milan Kundera.


Blindness

The Lovers. René Magritte. 1928

The Lovers. René Magritte. 1928

What is ecstasy? The boy banging on the keyboard feels an enthusiasm (or a sorrow, or a delight), and the emotion rises to such a pitch of intensity that it becomes unbearable: the boy flees into the state of blindness and deafness where everything is forgotten, even oneself. Through ecstasy, emotion reaches its climax, and thereby at the same time its negation (its oblivion).

Ecstasy means being “outside oneself,” as indicated by the etymology of the Greek word: the act of leaving one’s position (stasis). To be “outside oneself” does not mean outside the present moment, like a dreamer escaping into the past or the future. Just the opposite: ecstasy is the absolute identity with the present instant, total forgetting of past and future. If we obliterate the future and the past, the present moment stands in empty space, outside life and its chronology, outside time and independent of it (this is why it can be likened to eternity, which too is the negation of time).

From Testaments Betrayed (1993) by Milan Kundera


(Com)Passion

An extract from The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera:

Yes, it was unbearable for him to stay in Zurich imagining Tereza living on her own in Prague.
But how long would he have been tortured by compassion? All his life? A year? Or a month? Or only a week?
How could he have known? How could he have gauged it?
Any schoolboy can do experiments in the physics laboratory to test various scientific hypotheses. But man, because he has only one life to live, cannot conduct experiments to test whether to follow his passion (compassion) or not.


Co-incidences

From The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera:

“Our day to day life is bombarded with fortuities or, to be more precise, with the accidental meetings of people and events we call coincidences. ‘Co-incidences’ means that two events unexpectedly happen at the same time, they meet: Tomas appears in the hotel restaurant at the same time the radio is playing Beethoven. We do not even notice the great majority of such coincidences. If the seat Tomas occupied had been occupied instead by the local butcher, Tereza never would have noticed that the radio was playing Beethoven (though the meeting of Beethoven and the butcher would also have been an interesting coincidence). But her nascent love inflamed her sense of beauty and she would never forget that music. Whenever she heard it, she would be touched. Everything going on around her at that moment would be haloed by the music and take on its beauty.

… [Human lives] are composed like music. Guided by his sense of beauty, an individual transforms a fortuitous occurrence (Beethoven’s music, death under a train) into a motif, which then assumes a permanent place in the composition of the individual’s life… Without realising it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress.

It is wrong, then, to chide the novel for being fascinated by mysterious coincidences, but it is right to chide man for being blind to such coincidences in his daily life. For he thereby deprives his life of a dimension of beauty.”

Chance and Order III. Kenneth Martin. 1971-2.

Chance and Order III. Kenneth Martin. 1971-2.