The Unbearable Lightness of Being
How we cite our quotes:
She went outside and set off in the direction of the embankment. She wanted to see the Vltava. She wanted to stand on its banks and look long and hard into its waters, because the sight of the flow was soothing and healing. The river flowed from century to century, and human affairs play themselves out on its banks. Play themselves out to be forgotten the next day, while the river flows on. (4.29.2)
Think about this in the context of Kundera's opening two chapters, in which he discusses the idea of eternal return.
The characters in my novels are my own unrealized possibilities. That is why I am equally fond of them all and equally horrified by them. Each one has crossed a border that I myself have circumvented. It is that crossed border (the border beyond which my own "I" ends) which attracts me most. For beyond that border begins the secret the novel asks about. The novel is not the author's confession; it is an investigation of human life in the trap the world has become. (5.15.7)
The narrator begins Unbearable Lightness with the claim that, if lives happen only once, they have no weight. We cannot judge our actions nor take responsibility for them because we can never compare them with alternative outcomes. But here, the narrator explores those alternative outcomes by creating characters that are his own "unrealized possibilities." In doing so, he gives his life weight.
Several days later, he was struck by another thought […]: Some-where out in space there was a planet where all people would be born again. They would be fully aware of the life they had spent on earth and of all the experience they had amassed here.
And perhaps there were yet more and more planets, where mankind would be born one degree (one life) more mature.
Only from the perspective of such a utopia is it possible to use the concepts of pessimism and optimism with full justification: an optimist is someone who thinks that on planet number five the history of mankind will be less bloody. A pessimist is one who thinks otherwise. (5.16.1-6)
Kundera explores the idea of eternal return in this novel. Is his view ultimately optimistic or pessimistic?