Friday, August 26, 2011

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Luco

As a kitten I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera, and while I loved the book (especially the sections between Tereza and animals), I never fully grasped the philosophical concepts behind it. Kundera writes: "Einmal ist keinmal, says Tomas to himself. What happens but once, says the German adage, might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well have not lived at all" (8). This struck me as strange at the time. Why would it matter if I only existed once? And even in juxtaposition with the Nietzschean concept of eternal return, I struggled. 

Kundera writes (on the first page, no less): "The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed other philosophers with it [at the very least I was in good company, it seems, with my confusion]: to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum! What does this mad myth signify?" (1).

So the Nietzchean concept is itself a bit difficult. As a kitten, I wondered why he would posit such a theory, and of course, being a kitten (and a rather lazy one at that, I am ashamed to admit), I did not look his ideas up. I did not try to grapple with why he would say such a thing. This likely loosened my grasp on the concepts underpinning the work.

Kundera continues on the concept of eternal return: "Putting it negatively, the myth of eternal return states that a life which disappears is but a shadow, without weight, dead in advance, and whether it was horrible, beautiful, or sublime, its horror, sublimity, and beauty mean nothing" (1). 

As a kitten I was plagued with the question why. Why would something happening ad infinitum or only the once dictate that it holds meaning or not? Why would so much rest upon the simple numerical reality of life? 

As a very, very young kitten I believed each life lived was itself precious simply because it existed. And I thought each creature blessed.

Perhaps you can guess my adult feelings on these subjects. Perhaps you are even now in your living room, bedroom, office, coffee shop, car (although this is dangerous, reader! Please do not read and drive) nodding  your head, sighing to yourself, saying something akin to Yes, Luco, of course, it somehow makes you sad, does it not? It has somehow caused you to spill into this vast depression you chronicle as weathermen and women detail  the progression of storms

Do you think this, reader? Do you come close to the minuscule flicker of a flame that is my mind? Do you feel its small heat as I write to you, desperate, alone?

Although  I suppose whether or not you understand me is not of import. Allow me to return to Kundera, he has just been discussing a Robespierre who occurs again and again (he has a significant mass) in contrast to a Robespierre who only happens once (he becomes light, theoretical, even malleable): "Let us therefore agree that the idea of eternal return implies a perspective from which things appear other than as we know them: they appear without the mitigating circumstance of their transitory nature. This mitigating circumstance prevents us from coming to a verdict. For how can we condemn something that is ephemeral, in transit? In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia, even the guillotine" (4).

Who am I in the genealogy of all cats before me? I am less than a shadow of my mother who is less than a shadow of her mother who is less than a shadow in an evolutionary hall of mirrors where everything reflects back except my own face, because it is my own face that is in the process of disappearing. And the reflections of my biological cohorts are softened, skewed by memory, history, amnesia - in addition to this, I see them through my subjectivity which shouts to me this specific trait is most important and so I see, for example, my mother's calico coat and not her sad, green eyes.

The prison guard left herself logged onto one of her myriad social media accounts (I was not snooping, reader, I assure you), and actually, this was the little vine that grew into my post. She and a friend were discussing this book (briefly! Superficially! Had she even read it?) and the friend asked What becomes of what never was once?

What is the weight of a thing that has never happened? The weight of my own freedom. The weight of a life sans le chien. The weight of a prison guard whose rapt attention is only always focused on me. The weight of a Mingus whose love is for me exclusively. The weight of an entire world who listens closely to my asinine lament and responds with care and concern. The weight of being understood. The weight of meaningfulness.

I believe the weight of that which never has yet occurred is negative. It is an insistent tug on the hem of life. It is constantly beckoning experience. It says do this and you will be happy. It is a siren call. It is more real than that which has happened, is happening, and will happen because it contains the intensity of our longing. It is urgency itself.

Unless, of course, it occurs, and then it means nothing.


  1. Easily the most captivating post yet, Luco. Be emboldened, though, do not make the same mistakes as Tomas:

    "Tomas did not realize at the time metaphors are dangerous. Metaphors are not to be trifled with. A single metaphor can give birth to love."

    What Nietzchean romance
    have each of us endured
    dancing between simile
    and metaphor? 'Is' not 'as':
    lightness and being...
    les chiens andalous,
    absent and otherwise.

  2. Luco is the most adorable cat I've ever seen in my whole life seriously!