"But is heaviness truly deplorable and lightness splendid? The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down.... The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously the image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Lightness versus weight is a key theme throughout The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a paradox that cannot be resolved. None of the four characters ultimately seem to find a solution. It is noteworthy that of the four, one woman (Sabina) is the only one living at the end of the book; however, not even she is necessarily happy or fulfilled or sure of her life choices.
Lightness and weight both get linked to a philosopher, a philosophy of life, and several characters. The ancient Greek Paremenides, mentioned in the opening pages of the novel, is a philosopher of lightness to whom weight is negative. Practically, accepting the lightness of being means accepting a certain lack of ultimate meaning in life, and living for momentary beauty.
At the time that my book club selected this book, I was on the brink of making a decision about my career which would ultimately change my life forever. Naturally, I made parallels between my own existence and the lightness vs. weight theme of the story. I tend to just go on abut my life without much of a passing glance towards philosophies or what I truly believe. I make decisions based on whatever is fun or simple or the least stressful--in many ways I am essentially drawn toward that idea of living for momentary beauty, living with an essence of lightness to my existence.
But in my career, at that time, I knew I was long over due for a change. I actually wanted the burden of weight, I want my life to have meaning.
I some ways, my daily life had gotten repetitive. It was easy to go on about my routine and have the same experiences over and over.
By changing jobs and starting graduate school over the course of the last year, I hope that I haven given my life more weight.
Often when I make a decision (after reading this book), I consider whether or not something will give my life more weight. Sometimes it is easier to choose lightness over weight.
Kundera wonders if any meaning or weight can be attributed to life, since there is no eternal return: if man only has the opportunity to try one path, to make one decision, there is no point of comparison and hence no meaning but instead an unbearable weightlessness. No decision can be considered informed or moral if we cannot compare paths.
This idea bothers Tomas throughout his relationship with Tereza; each time he chooses to stay with her, he realizes he will never know what would have happened had he left, and he will never know whether staying was the right decision.
The opposition of lightness and heaviness, the key dichotomy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, offers two different methods of dealing with this unbearable lightness. Some, like Sabina or the ancient Greek Parmenides, embrace lightness and find it liberating. Others, like Tereza, seek heaviness to give them a sense of meaning. Kundera does not attempt to decide between lightness and darkness, or cast one or the other as the "right" way to live.
Each character struggles with the unbearable lightness of being in some imperfect, human way, and no single method proves superior to the others.
This is my 'slice of life' blog.
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