Milan Kundera turns to navel gazing

Milan Kundera’s latest book, 'The Festival of Insignificance'.

Milan Kundera’s latest book, 'The Festival of Insignificance'.

Among the last of Edward Said’s writings was a profound consideration of late style. It’s worth looking at Milan Kundera’s latest, The Festival of Insignificance (Faber), with late style in mind.

In an impish, discursive novellete or longish short story, Kundera makes no concessions to age – either his own or the mores of the times. Not for him any qualms about political correctness as he addresses the sexually charged thesis at the text’s core: the female navel as the object of the (male) gaze and, more significantly, as the symbol and focus of the age.

For some of Kundera’s characters, this realisation is a ­profound shock; it’s akin to the idealism of the Parisian students’ rebellion of May 1968 being diluted into those selfsame student leaders now serving as rotundly comfortable middle-aged deputies in the European Parliament (the leader of 1968, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, being the prime example).

Such is the unbearable lightness of contemporary being that Kundera magics up the shades of Stalin, Khrushchev, Kalinin and others on the Central Committee to remind us of the nuclear gaze that preceded the navel-spotting. 

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Darryl Accone

Darryl Accone

Darryl Accone is books editor of the Mail & Guardian and director of the annual M&G Literary Festival. All Under Heaven, the memoir of his (mainly) Chinese family in South Africa (David Philip, 2004), was shortlisted for the 2005 Alan Paton Award. Accone is a Fellow of the Salzburg Seminar and the International Writers Workshop of Hong Kong Baptist University. Read more from Darryl Accone

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