On the Coddling of Homophobic Assholes by Pretentious Literary Critics
In which The Gay Recluse compares and contrasts.
Recently we stumbled across a review of The Curtain, Milan Kundera’s 2007 collection of essays about the art of the novel. We found the review notable 1) for its pretentious language and 2) for its failure to acknowledge what is really a rather shockingly homophobic passage in the book.
Let’s start with the notably pretentious literary review:
… And the curtain itself? As per the fugue-like structure of his essays, Kundera recurs to the idea of the ‘curtain of pre-interpretation‘ – “A magic curtain, woven of legends, hung before the world. Cervantes sent Don Quixote journeying and tore through the curtain. The world opened before the knight errant in all the comical nakedness of its prose.” Here we have presented the elementary beginnings of the novel, its impulse towards demystification. It abolishes the sickly lyricism of the Romantic forms, the solipsism of lyric poetry, and turns its gaze on the world’s festival: “If I imagine the genesis of a novelist in the form of an exemplary tale, a ‘myth’, that genesis looks to me like a conversion story: Saul becoming Paul; the novelist being born from the ruins of his lyrical world.” Tearing the curtain means, among other things, breaching the valances of self-deception, the political lie, delusions about our place in the scheme of things, false consciousness; it means minting afresh our perceptions, besoming clean the lumber-room of our premade assumptions… The novelist is the arch-individualist, the inheritor of a tradition that will not overwhelm and absorb him; a refuser of the obsolescence of the efforts of his forebears (there is much still to learn from the example of Rabelais), one who makes it his business to ‘seek out the never-said’, to bring to bear on human experience articulate energies wrought to a fine pitch; an ironist and humourist in the old style… Cleanly translated by Linda Asher, The Curtainsorts well with the arguments of Kundera’s earlier essays – reads rather as a coda and reprise of them – and confirms him as still one of the most passionately convinced of the novel’s practitioners.
“fugue-like structure of his essays…recurs to the idea…the sickly lyricism…the world’s festival!?” OMG! Barf. Zzzzzzz.
But whatever, we can appreciate pretentious language… but not when it obfuscates a rather important component of the book, which we addressed in our review of The Curtain last year:
We quickly absorbed this staggering piece of prose, in which Kundera explains how, after he discovered Proust in Czech translation as an adolescent (but without knowing anything about the French master), Albertine was “the most captivating of all female names” for him. Unfortunately, he goes on to tell us with something between an embarrassed cough and a sly wink, this bliss (one we readily admit to sharing) did not last: “I myself lost the privilege of that lovely ignorance, when I heard it said that Albertine was inspired by a man, a man Proust was in love with. But what are they talking about!… [O]nce I’d been told that her model was a man that useless information was lodged in my head… A male had slipped between me and Albertine, he was scrambling her image, undermining her femininity. One minute I would see her with pretty breasts, the next with a flat chest, and every now and then a mustache would appear on the delicate skin of her face.” Kundera thus concludes: “They killed my Albertine,” and Proust is thereafter relegated to less than a footnote in Kundera’s estimation of great novelists.
So yes, Kundera makes a very compelling case in this collection of essays that he’s a homophobic asshole. Which is not a problem per se — every artist has faults, and we even enjoyed some of his novels (although it’s hilarious that he would think to criticize Proust about anything) — but it’s emblematic of the state of literature in general that this kind of homophobic episode is brushed under the rug in pretentious literary reviews such as the above. We’re not saying it has to be front and center, but it’s irresponsible for a critic (whether gay/straight/whatever) not to at least acknowledge the point, e.g, “An accomplished novelist, Kundera has some interesting ideas about the novel, although it’s worth noting that in this collection of essays he embarrasses himself a few times by revealing himself to be a homophobic asshole.” Otherwise we might be inclined to think that the reviewer is also a homophobic asshole, or at least a very oblivious one.
Filed under: Conspiracy, Dissonance, Drivel, Language, Literature, Pessimism, The Gay Recluse, Writers-French | 14 Comments
Tags: Critics, Homophobia, Milan Kundera, The Curtain