Subtitle: Thoughts on re-read of Milan Kundera’s The Joke (the 1982 English translation)
“Optimism is the opium of the people! A healthy atmosphere stinks of stupidity! Long live Trotsky!” -from The Joke by Milan Kundera
According to Ludvik the quote above is from a postcard he sent to woman of interest as a joke. I suppose when written to a person while in the midst of love-lust confusion and during the striving days of the Soviet Unions’ new-beginnings in early 1960s Czechoslovakia, Milan Kundera considers the twisting of Marx’s Religion is the opium of the people more than just a joke. But what can one do if/when the thing you are really joking about is a system that depends on the control of not just words written but also of words thought?
As I ride it gayly and march ambiguously into the twilight of western democracy’s funny-train (the #Trump-era), I’m often wondering if I’ll see the day when the same type of total control (totalitarianism) that Kundera deals with, I’ll also have to deal with. Considering how things have turned out since 1991 and the fall of the Soviet Union, I also wonder if the whole socialist experiment was just one big joke played on humanity by some dirtbag she-goddess with a grudge–that stems back tens of thousands of years because of how males grabbed females by the HAIR and dragged them into caves. You know, as in, grab ’em by the… But I digress.
“You used to say that socialism sprouted from the soil of European rationalism and skepticism, a soil both nonreligious and anti-religious, and that it is otherwise inconceivable. But can you seriously maintain that it is impossible to build a socialist society without faith in the supremacy of matter? Do you really think that people who believe in God are incapable of nationalising factories?” -from The Joke by Milan Kundera
Then again, of the political and economic systems alive & kicking in the world today, there really is only one that has past the test of (recent) time. If you’re thinking Capitalism is that system, dear worst-reader, you’d better think again. Socialism is kicking butt right now. From both sides of China’s Great Wall to Vladimir Putin’s total ownership of Red Square to the various interpretations of Socialism in the vastness of #Eurowasteland’s epic confusion, Socialism is way ahead of #Americant… Sorry. Way ahead of Capitalism.
“‘As Communists we are responsible for everything that is going on here.’ I nearly laughed in his face. Responsibility was unthinkable without freedom, I told him. He said he felt free enough to act like a Communist and that he had to prove, would prove himself a Communist. His jaw trembled as he spoke. Today, years later, I can still remember it clearly, but now I realise that Alexej was not much more than twenty at the time, a child, an adolescent, and his destiny hung on him like the clothes of a giant on a little boy.” -from The Joke by Milan Kundera
In worst-short, Capitalism in its current iteration is nothing but a reimagining of Feudalism. Feudalism was a system of lords and serfs, including inbred monarchs. What lead to Feudalism was Slavery. Slavery had the longest run of the three. Slavery goes back to Egypt, don’t you know. It was also used in Ancient Greece, Rome and, of course, it was used to build my beloved & missed #Americant. But then $hit started to hit the fan as that whole Enlightenment thing took hold after the 16th century. Btw, I will always admire the French for one-upping the US when it comes to social and political revolutions derived out of human oppression. Indeed. The French nailed it. (Well, they nailed it in the revolution but fcuked it up in the counter-revolution.)
“Rationalist skepticism has been eating away at Christianity for two millennia now. Eating away at it without destroying it. But Communist theory, its own creation, it will destroy within a few decades.” -from The Joke by Milan Kundera
The thing to keep in mind when worst-writer says that Socialism is currently outlasting, winning, kicking the a$$ of capitalism, is the state of things in the strongest Capitalist strongholds, the US and the UK. Is it any concern to anyone how small these remaining Capitalist nation-states are? Or should one consider how large China is? So even if my claim here is kinda out of whack, the fact remains, China is on the verge of over taking #Americant as the largest economy in the world–and it is far from being a Capitalist nation. Will we someday soon consider Capitalist nations and their extreme isolation a joke? Think about that worst-thought.
“Nobody liked people who relied on pull.” -from The Joke by Milan Kundera
It’s all a joke. Seriously. The state of things in the Capitalist West is a fcuking joke and it can only be comparable to the fcuking joke of the former Soviet Union (and its failure) and to the success of China along with a few places in #Eurowasteland. (I’ve always said that Germany is the last Communist State in the West.) And the thing about a joke is sometimes you’re in on it and other times it’s in on you. I mean, come on. Crooked, lock-her-up #Hillary won something like four million more votes than #Trump and she wouldn’t have done much to counter the chilling effects of the post FDR years where Capitalism has pretty much run amok. Is that not a joke? The Capitalist democracy joke? Is the manipulation of #Americant’s electoral college combined with bailing out banks that act like loan sharks the joke teller? Jokes galore, dear worst-reader. An audience of joke lovers.
Milan Kundera’s idear of the perfect joke: Helena, one of Ludvik’s lovers, attempts suicide by stealing pills from a young man. It turns out the pills are laxatives hidden in a prescription jar of pain killers. While in a panic and trying to save her, she is found hysterical sitting on toilet.
The Joke was Kundera’s first book. Although I started reading it years ago, I never got around to finishing it. Having read three others (Laughable Loves, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Immortality), I knew that I would eventually get around to this one again as it waited patiently for me in my Kundera collection. After picking it up the other day and having a first sitting with it, I realised that I had actually read more than I initially remembered. All the markings, underlines, etc., that I had made so many years ago woke my memory of having read through it one night while gloriously penetrating a bimbo I met in Amsterdam. Yeah, Dankyavel was her name. I would fcuk her for a bit and while in my refractory period I’d read from this book. We’d then fcuk some more and with each subsequent fcuk I’d need a longer refractory period where I could read more. Hence I feel safe considering this a re-read. Btw, the only thing I miss from youth is cumming in or on or around a woman smarter than me ten times a day.
“Pray tell, dear friend, Why doth this honest groom desire to take this honest maid to wife? Is’t for the flower or the fruit?” -from The Joke by Milan Kundera
Most of The Joke is a joy to read. But I can understand why some might consider Kundera’s narrative style a bit cumbersome. (At least that’s what my wife says.) To me, Kundera is an author that has unlimited creative prowess, he maintains a thread that permeates all his work (which I really dig), and his word sculpting never ceases to amaze. But the thing that always brings me back to Kundera–let’s say as a reference source, especially in times of trouble where Mother Mary doesn’t come to me–is the fact that I have always been touched by his exasperations regarding Stalinism. Along with Vaclav Havel, Kundera introduced me to a new reality of political thought. The fact that Kundera is able to combine (his) musings about love, passion and desire from the POV of political oppression, makes his work even more interesting. (Btw, that’s the thread that permeates.)
When I first started reading Kundera, back in the early 90s, capitalist and/or economic oppression hadn’t shown its #Trump face yet. In other words, Reaganomics hadn’t made the full turn to ugly (Deplorables) yet. The Soviet Union was in free-fall but the former oppressed were suddenly free to buy jeans, Marlboro reds, travel, etc. Yet the whole time I couldn’t help but feel that the oppression of the Soviet Union wasn’t isolated nor was it bound by politics. Oppression is oppression, eh. As we all now know, the only thing the peoples of the Soviet Union really wanted was jeans, Marlboro reds and…. blah, blah, blah. What was once authoritarian oppression has now become economic oppression–the difference between the two being jeans, Marlboro reds, blah, blah, blah.
My first read of Kundera was The Unbearable Lightness of Being and it was like being struck by lightening. From the get-go, Tomas became my secret hero. His heroism, btw, has nothing to do with his fight against the Soviet-Man. No. Tomas was about love and the conquest of love and then eventually losing yourself in love. Tomas, to me, was the kind of lover I sincerely wanted to be. Was I ever able to find my Tereza or my Sabina? Of course not–although I did enjoy trying (to find her.) But until the power, the anger and the need to fcuk finally subsided (resulting in the true cute ugliness of feminine payback aka marriage), all I ever wanted was to fcuk like Tomas. The real beauty of Kundera’s The Joke is that Ludvik is Tomas’ predecessor, if not Tomas’ character in spirit. It’s almost like reading Tomas in a beta version.
“Yes, suddenly I saw it all clearly: most people willingly deceive themselves with a doubly false faith; they believe in eternal memory (of men, things, deeds, peoples) and in rectification (of deeds, errors, sins, injustice). Both are sham. The truth lies at the opposite end of the scale: everything will be forgotten and nothing will be rectified. All rectification (both vengeance and forgiveness) will be taken over by oblivion. No one will rectify wrongs; all wrongs will be forgotten.” -from The Joke, Milan Kundera
Kundera’s The Joke is really one big joke. It’s brilliant!
Links that motivated this post:
– Opium of the people | Wiki