Life is Elsewhere- Milan Kundera - Free ebook download as Word Doc .doc), PDF File .pdf), Text File .txt) or read book online for free. European Literature. Life is Elsewhere. Home · Life is Elsewhere Absolutely Elsewhere. Read more Павел Шумов. Life is life. Read more. Život je jinde by Milan Kundera, , Penguin Books edition, in English.

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Life is elsewhere. (extract). Milan Kundera is a leading Czech novelist and short story writer. Born in Brno in , he studied and later was a lecturer at the. Milan Kundera is a leading Czech novelist and short story writer. Born in Brno in , he studied and later was a lecturer at the Film Faculty of the Prague Dr. PDF | Life Is Elsewhere is a reflective introspection into the life of a young poet and of his demanding mother. Kindera depicts the mother as a woman feeling.

Kundera makes the point repeatedly: this poet is a pariah; but he invests Jaromil with enough of Byron's charm to make one pause over his unprincipled flights and forgive him his youth. On the other hand, Jaromil, so blind to his deliberate willfulness, is really an easy target.

The two professions in the world that are easiest to ridicule are the poet's and the politician's--a person only has to say that he's a politician to have everyone within earshot in stitches, and rightly so. But the poet's power is imagined; if he appears to be a joke it is because he must eventually face the fact that his scribblings must be of small eminence in a world where only the politician's howlings are heard.

Kundera nudges him to the limit of irresponsibility, and Jaromil-- believing he is serving his own idealism--betrays his girlfriend's brother.

Life is elsewhere

The brother is planing to leave the country; Jaromil turns him in. It is the height of cruelty because it is a denial of the very liberty Jaromil has been rhapsodizing about.

After the dirty deed, Jaromil is at the police station: "Jaromil gazed with admiration at the policeman's face. It looked beautiful to him, criss-crossed with deep wrinkles testifying to a hard, two-fisted life.

Yes, Jaromil too hoped their meeting would not be the last. He was glad to be of help. He knew where he stood. It seems to me that the novel is only half-successful because it looks too much as if Kundera is shooting a clumsy fish in a very small barrel.

And it is not a very convincing rebuttal of the heroics of Byron and Shelley or the poetic mind in general. It is particularizing of an isolated case of perversity--metrical feet shod with jackboots. It does put one in mind of that tuneless prima buffa Yevtushenko and the whole tradition of Soviet writing which, as Nabokov once remarked, has about it "the smell of the prison library.

At last, not knowing what to say, she was silent.

Life Is Elsewhere Summary & Study Guide

But she was wrong to think that Jaromil was not pleased by his gift. He didn't know what to say, but he wasn't disappointed; he had always been proud of his words, and he didn't want to utter them into the void; now that he saw them carefully copied in color and transformed into pictures, he experienced a feeling of success, a success so great and unexpected that he didn't know how to respond, and it gave him stage fright; he understood that he was a child who uttered striking words, and he knew that this child should at this moment say something striking, yet nothing striking came to mind, and so he lowered his head.

But when he saw out of the corner of his eye his own words on the walls, set, fixed, more durable and bigger than himself, he was carried away; he had the impression of being surrounded by his own self, of being vast, of filling the entire room, of filling the entire house.

Because everyone in school admired him, the classroom seemed to him merely a reflection of the family house. On Mother's Day the pupils performed at the school celebration.

Jaromil was the last to step up on the podium, and he recited a touching little poem that was much applauded by the audience of parents. But he soon realized that behind the audience that applauded him there was another that was slyly and antagonistically on the lookout for him. In the dentist's crowded waiting room one day, he ran into one of his schoolmates.

As the boys stood side by side with their backs to the window, Jaromil saw an old gentleman listening with a kindly smile to what they were saying. Encouraged by this sign of interest, Jaromil asked his fellow pupil raising his voice a bit so that the question would be heard by all what he would do if he were the country's minister of education. Since the boy didn't know what to say, Jaromil began to elaborate his own thoughts, which was not very difficult because all he needed was to repeat the speech with which his grandfather regularly entertained him.

And so if Jaromil were 23 Life Is Elsewhere minister of education, there would be two months of school and ten months of vacation, the teacher would have to obey the children and bring them their snacks from the bakery, and there would be all kinds of other remarkable reforms, all of which Jaromil loudly and clearly put forward.

Then the door to the treatment room opened, and a patient came out, accompanied by the nurse. A woman holding a book with her finger in it to mark the place turned to the nurse and asked, almost pleading: "Please say something to that child! It's dreadful the way he's showing off! Jaromil began to enumerate a construction set, skis, ice skates, books, but he quickly noticed that the children didn't share his fervor, that, on the contrary, some of them were looking indifferent, indeed hostile.

He stopped without breathing a word about the rest of his presents. No, no, don't worry, I don't intend to retell the tired old story of the rich kid his poor schoolmates hate; in Jaromil's class there were in fact children from families better off than his, and yet they got along well with the others, and no one resented their affluence.

What was it about Jaromil that annoyed his schoolmates; what was it that got on their nerves, that made him different? I almost hesitate to say it: it was not wealth, it was his mama's love. That love left its traces on everything; it was recorded on his shirt, on his hair, on the words he 24 The Poet Is Born used, on the schoolbag in which he carried his notebooks, and on the books he read at home for pleasure.

Everything was specially chosen and arranged for him. The shirts made for him by his frugal grandmother resembled, God knows why, girls' blouses more than boys' shirts. He had to keep his long hair off his brow and out of his eyes with one of his mother's barrettes.

When it rained Mama waited for him in front of the school with a large umbrella, while his friends took off their shoes and waded through the puddles. Mother love imprints a mark on boys' brows that rebuffs the friendliness of schoolmates.

Eventually Jaromil gained the skill to hide that stigma, but after his glorious arrival at school he experienced a difficult time lasting a year or two during which his schoolmates, who taunted him with a passion, also beat him up several times just for the fun of it. But even during that worst time he had some friends to whom he would remain grateful throughout his life; a few words need to be said about them: His number one friend was his father: sometimes he would go out into the yard with a soccer ball he had played soccer as a student , and Jaromil would plant himself between two trees; his father kicked the ball toward Jaromil, who pretended that he was the goalkeeper of the Czech national team.

His number two friend was his grandfather. He would take Jaromil to his two businesses a large housewares store that Jaromil's father was now running, and a cosmetics shop, where the salesgirl was a 25 Life Is Elsewhere young woman who greeted the boy with a friendly smile and let him sniff all the perfumes, soon enabling him to recognize the various brands; he would close his eyes and make his grandfather test him by holding the little bottles under his nose.

His number three friend was Alik. Alik was a wild little dog that had been living in the villa for some time; even though it was untrained and unruly, the dog provided Jaromil with fine daydreams of a faithful friend who waited for him in the corridor outside the classroom and, to the envy of his schoolmates, accompanied him home after school. Daydreaming about dogs became the passion of his solitude, even leading him into a peculiar Manicheism: for him dogs represented the goodness of the animal world, the sum total of all natural virtues; he imagined great wars of dogs against cats wars with generals, officers, and all the tactics he had learned while playing with his tin soldiers and was always on the side of the dogs, in the same way as a man should always be on the side of justice.

And since he spent much time with pencil and paper in his father's study, dogs also became the chief subject of his drawings: an endless number of epic scenes in which dogs were generals, soldiers, soccer players, and knights.

And since as quadrupeds they could hardly perform their human roles, Jaromil gave them human bodies. That was a great invention! Whenever he had 26 The Poet Is Born tried to draw a human being, he encountered a serious difficulty: he couldn't draw the human face; on the other hand, he succeeded marvelously with the elongated canine head and the spot of a nose at its tip, and so his daydreams and clumsiness gave rise to a strange world of dog-headed people, a world of characters that could quickly and easily be drawn and situated in soccer matches, wars, and stories of brigands.

The adventure serials Jaromil thus drew filled many a sheet of paper. The only boy among his friends was number four: a classmate whose father was the school janitor, a sallow little man who often informed on pupils to the principal; these boys would take revenge on the janitor's son, who was the class pariah. When the pupils one after another started to turn away from Jaromil, the janitor's son remained his sole faithful admirer and thus was invited one day to the villa; he was given lunch and dinner, he and Jaromil played with the construction set, and they did their homework together.

The following Sunday Jaromil's father took them both to a soccer match; the game was wonderful and, just as wonderful, Jaromil's father knew all the players' names and talked about the game so like an expert that the janitor's son never took his eyes off him, and Jaromil was proud.

It seemed like a comical friendship: Jaromil always carefully dressed, the janitor's son threadbare; Jaromil with his homework carefully prepared, the janitor's son a poor student. All the same Jaromil was contented with this faithful companion at his side, for the janitor's son 27 Life Is Elsewhere was extraordinarily strong; one winter day some classmates attacked them, but the attackers got more than they bargained for; though Jaromil was exhilarated by this triumph over superior numbers, the prestige of successful defense cannot compare with the prestige of attack: One day, as they were taking a walk through the suburb's vacant lots, they encountered a boy so clean and well-dressed that he could have been coming from some children's tea dance.

They asked him mocking questions and were delighted by his fright. Finally the boy grew bold and tried to push them aside. You'll pay for this! Intellect and physical force can sometimes complement each other remarkably. Didn't Byron feel great affection for the boxer Jackson, who trained the discriminating aristocrat in all kinds of sports? Did Mama simply not want another one? On the contrary: she very much hoped to regain the blissful time of her first years as a mother, but her husband always found reasons to put her off.

To be sure, the yearning she had for another child didn't lessen, but she no longer dared to be insistent, fearing the humiliation of further refusal. But the more she refrained from talking about her maternal yearning, the more she thought about it; she thought about it as an illicit, clandestine, and thus forbidden thing; the idea that her husband could make a child for her attracted her not only because of the child itself but because it had taken on a lasciviously ambiguous tone; "Come here and make me a little daughter," she would imagine saying to her husband, and the words seemed arousing to her.

Late one evening, when the couple had come home a bit tipsy from the house of friends, Jaromil's father, having stretched out beside his wife and turned off the light let me note that, ever since their wedding, he had always taken her blindly, letting his desire be guided not by sight but by touch , threw off the blanket, and coupled with her.

The rarity of their erotic relations and the influence of wine made her give herself to him with a voluptuous sensuality she had not felt for a long time. The idea that they were making a child together again 29 Life Is Elsewhere filled her mind, and when she sensed that her husband was approaching his spasm of pleasure she stopped controlling herself and began to shout ecstatically at him to abandon his usual caution, to stay inside her, to make her a child, to make her a pretty little daughter, and she clutched him so firmly and convulsively that he had to struggle to free himself so as to make sure that his wife's wish would not be granted.

Then, as they lay exhausted side by side, Mama moved closer to him and, now whispering in his ear, again said that she wanted to have another child with him; no, she no longer wanted to insist on it, she only wanted to explain why a few moments ago she had shown her desire so abruptly and emphatically and maybe improperly, she was willing to admit ; she added that this time they would surely have a little daughter in whom he would see himself just as she saw herself in Jaromil.

The engineer then told her it was the first time since their wedding that he had reminded her of it that he had never wanted to have a child with her; that he had been forced to give in regarding the one child, and that now it was her turn to give in; that if she wanted him to see himself in a child, he could assure her that he would see the most accurate image of himself in a child that had never been born.

They lay side by side, silent for a moment, and then Mama began to sob and she sobbed all night, her husband not even touching her and saying barely a few soothing words that couldn't even get through the 30 The Poet Is Born outer wave of her tears; she felt that she understood everything at last: the man she lived with had never loved her.

The sadness into which she had sunk was the deepest of all the sorrows she had ever known. Fortunately the consolation her husband had refused her was provided by another creature: History. Three weeks after the night I've just described, her husband was called up for active duty in the military, and he took his gear and left for the country's border.

War was about to break out at any moment, people were downloading gas masks and preparing air-raid shelters in their cellars.

And Mama clutched the misfortune of her country like a saving hand; she experienced it with emotion and spent long hours with her son colorfully describing the events for him. Then the Great Powers reached an agreement in Munich, and Jaromil's father came home from one of the fortifications now occupied by the German army.

After that the whole family would sit downstairs in Grandpapa's room evening after evening to go over the various moves of History, which until recently they had believed to be dozing maybe, since it was watchful, pretending to be asleep but which had now suddenly leaped out of its lair and overshadowed everything with its great bulk. Oh, how good Mama felt to be protected by this shadow! Czechs were fleeing the Sudeten region en masse, Bohemia was left defenseless in the center of Europe like a peeled orange, and six months later, early in the morning, German tanks swept into the streets of 31 Life Is Elsewhere Prague, and during that time Jaromil's mother was always close to the soldier who had been prevented from defending his homeland, completely forgetting that he was a man who had never loved her.

But even during periods when History impetuously rages, everyday life sooner or later emerges from its shadow and the conjugal bed shows all its monumental triviality and astounding permanence.

One evening, when Jaromil's father again put his hand on Mama's breast, she realized that the man who was touching her was the same man who had brought her down. She pushed his hand away, subtly reminding him of the harsh words he had said to her some time before. She didn't want to be spiteful; she only wanted to signify by this refusal that the great matters of nations cannot make us forget the modest matters of the heart; she wanted to give her husband the opportunity to rectify today the words of yesterday and to raise up the person he had brought down.

She believed that the nation's tragedy had made him more sensitive, and she was ready to greet with gratitude even a furtive caress as a sign of repentance and the beginning of a new chapter in their love.

Alas, the husband whose hand had just been pushed away from his wife's breast turned over and quickly fell asleep. After the great student demonstration in Prague, the Germans closed the Czech universities, and Mama waited in vain for her husband again to slip his hand under the blanket and put his hand on her breast.

Grandpapa, having discovered that the pretty salesgirl 32 The Poet Is Born in the cosmetics shop had been stealing from him for ten years, went into a rage and died of a stroke. Czech students were taken away in cattle cars to concentration camps, and Mama consulted a doctor, who deplored the bad state of her nerves and recommended a rest.

He told her about a boardinghouse on the edge of a small spa, surrounded by a river and lakes, which every summer attracted crowds of people who liked swimming, fishing, and boating. It was early spring, and she was enchanted by the thought of tranquil lakeside walks.

But then she was afraid of the delightful dance music that, forgotten, lingers in the air of restaurant terraces like a poignant recollection of summer; she was afraid of her own longing, and she decided that she couldn't go there alone. Ah, of course! She knew right away with whom she would go. Because of the sorrow her husband had caused her and because of her desire for another child she had for some time nearly forgotten him.

How stupid she had been, how badly she had treated herself by forgetting him! Repentant, she bent over him: "Jaromil, you're my first and my second child," she said, pressing his face to her breast, going on senselessly: "You're my first, my second, my third, my fourth, my fifth, my sixth, and my tenth child," and she covered his face with kisses.

In front of one of them the horse stopped, the man got down from his seat and picked up the two suitcases, and Jaromil and Mama followed him through a garden, a foyer, and upstairs to a room with twin beds placed against each other in the marital arrangement and with two windows, one of them opening onto a balcony facing the garden and the river.

Mama went over to the balcony railing and took a deep breath: "Ah, how divinely peaceful! That evening at dinner downstairs in the small din34 The Poet Is Born ing room, she met an old couple who occupied another of the guest rooms, and every evening thereafter the murmur of prolonged conversation ruled the room; everyone liked Jaromil, and Mama listened with pleasure to his small talk, ideas, and discreet boasting. Yes, discreet: Jaromil would never forget the woman in the dentists waiting room and would always seek a shield against her nasty look; to be sure he would still thirst for admiration, but he had learned to gain it with terse phrases naively and modestly uttered.

The villa in the peaceful garden; the dark river with the moored boat awakening thoughts of long voyages; the black carriage that stopped in front of the villa from time to time to pick up the tall lady who looked like a princess from a book filled with castles and palaces; the still, deserted swimming pool to which one could descend upon leaving the carriage as if passing from one century to another, one dream to another, one book to another; the Renaissance square with the narrow colonnade among whose columns men with swords once clashedall this made up a world that Jaromil entered with delight.

The man with the dog was also part of this beautiful world; the first time they saw him he was standing motionless on the riverbank, looking at the water; he was wearing a leather coat, and a black German shepherd sat at his side; their stillness made them look like otherworldly figures.

The next time they met him it was in the same place; the man again in the leather coat was throwing sticks, and the dog was retrieving them. Returning from their walk the next day, they saw the black German shepherd sitting at the entrance to the villa. When they entered the foyer they heard voices in the next room and were in no doubt that the masculine one belonged to the dog's master; their curiosity was great enough to keep them standing in the foyer for a while, looking around and chatting until the tall lady, the boarding-house owner, at last appeared.

Mama pointed at the dog: "Who is that man this dog belongs to? We're always running into him on our walks. The boardinghouse owner introduced the man to Mama, and Jaromil had to run up to the room to get his sketchbook. Then the four of them sat down in the small salon the boardinghouse owner; Jaromil; the dog's master, who was examining the drawings; and Mama, who accompanied his examination with her commentary: she explained that Jaromil always said that what interested him was not drawing landscapes or still lifes but rather action scenes, and, she said, his drawings really did have astonishing vitality and movement, even though she didn't understand why all the people in them had dogs' 36 The Poet Is Born heads; maybe if Jaromil drew people with real human bodies his modest work might have some value, but the way it was she unfortunately couldn't say whether it made any sense at all.

The dog's owner examined the drawings with satisfaction; then he declared that it was in fact the combination of animal head and human body that captivated him.

For that fantastic combination was no chance idea but, as so many of the child's drawings showed, a haunting image, something rooted in the unfathomable depths of his childhood.

Jaromil's mother should be careful of judging her son's talent only by his ability to depict the outer world; anyone could acquire that; what interested him as a painter letting it be understood that teaching for him was a necessary evil to earn a living was precisely the original inner world the child was laying out on paper. Mama listened with pleasure to the painter's praise, the tall lady stroked Jaromil's hair and asserted that he had a great future ahead of him, and Jaromil looked down, registering in his memory everything he was hearing.

The painter said that next year he would be transferred to a Prague high school, and that he would be pleased if Jaromil's mother were to bring him further examples of the boy's work.

Open Library

He never forgot that at the age of five he had already been considered an exceptional child, different from others; the behavior of his classmates, who made fun of his schoolbag and 37 Life Is Elsewhere shirt, also at times harshly confirmed his uniqueness.

Until this moment that uniqueness had only been a vague and empty notion; it had been an incomprehensible hope or an incomprehensible rejection; but now it had received a name: "original inner world"; and that designation was immediately given definite content: drawings of people with dogs' heads. Jaromil of course knew very well that he had made this admired discovery of dogheaded humans by chance, purely because he couldn't draw a human face; this gave him the confused idea that the originality of his inner world was not the result of laborious effort but rather the expression of everything that randomly passed through his head; it was given him like a gift.

From then on he paid great attention to his own thoughts and began to admire them. For example, the idea came to him that when he died the world he was living in would cease to exist.

At first this thought only flickered in his head, but now that he had been made aware of his inner originality, he didn't allow the thought to escape as he had allowed so many other thoughts to escape previously but immediately seized it, observed it, examined it from all sides.

He was walking along the river, closing his eyes from time to time and wondering if the river existed when his eyes were closed. Of course, every time he opened his eyes the river was flowing as before, but what was astonishing was that Jaromil was unable to consider this as proof that the river was really there when he was not seeing it.

That seemed inordi38 The Poet Is Born nately interesting to him, and he devoted the better part of a day to this observation before telling Mama about it. The nearer they came to their vacation's end, the greater the pleasure they took in their conversations. Now they would take their walks after dark, just the two of them, sit down on a worm-eaten bench at the edge of the water, hold hands, and look at the wavelets on which an enormous moon gently rocked.

This frightened her; she couldn't really confide a woman's troubles to a child! But at the same time those understanding eyes attracted her like a vice. When mother and son lay stretched out side by side on the twin beds Mama remembered that she had reclined this way beside Jaromil until he was five years old and that she was happy then; she said to herself: He's the only man I've ever been happy with in bed; at first this thought made her smile, but when she looked again at her son's tender gaze she told herself that this child was not only capable of distracting her from the things that grieved her thus giving her the consolation of forgetting but also of listening to her attentively thus bringing her the consolation of understanding.

When Jaromil once suddenly said to her: "Mama, I'm not so little, I understand you," she was almost frightened. Naturally the boy hadn't surmised anything precise, he only wanted to suggest to Mama that he was able to share her sorrows, whatever they might be, but what he had said was fraught with meaning, and Mama saw his words as an abyss that had suddenly opened: an abyss of illicit intimacy and forbidden understanding.

Not much; the schoolwork that had come so easily to him in the elementary grades became much more difficult in high school, and in that dullness the glory of the inner world disappeared. The teacher spoke of pessimistic books that saw the here and now merely as misery and ruin, which made his maxim that life is like weeds seem shamefully trite. Jaromil was no longer at all convinced that everything he thought and felt was solely his, as if all ideas had always existed in a definitive form and could only be borrowed as from a public library.

But who then was he? What could his own self really consist of? He bent over that self in order to peer into it, but all he could find was the reflection of himself bending over himself to peer into that self. And so he began to yearn for the man who, two years before, had first talked about his inner originality; and since his art grades were barely average in his water-colors the paint always strayed beyond the penciled outline sketches , Mama decided to accede to her son's request, find the painter, and arrange for private lessons to remedy Jaromil's inadequacies, which were spoiling his report cards.

So one fine day Jaromil went to the painter's apartment. It was a converted attic consisting of two rooms; the first contained a big collection of books; in the second, windowless but with a large skylight in the slant41 Life Is Elsewhere ing roof, there were easels holding unfinished canvases, a long table with sheets of paper and small bottles of colored ink scattered on it, and on the wall strange black faces the painter said were copies of African masks; a dog the one Jaromil already knew lay motionless on the corner of the daybed watching the visitor.

The painter seated Jaromil at the long table and began to leaf through his sketchbook. The painter set a blank sheet of paper in front of him, opened a bottle of India ink, and put a brush in his hand. The painter was dissatisfied, and Jaromil, embarrassed, said that he would like to learn how to paint with watercolors, because in class the colors always overflowed his outlines.

The painter wanted the boy to use his imagination and draw something comparable. And remember that it's not the artist's role to copy the outlines of things but to create a world of his own lines on paper. The visit had thus been different from what he had expected, not having led to the rediscovery of his lost inner world but rather the contrary: it had deprived Jaromil of the only thing that belonged to him alone, the soccer players and soldiers with dogs' heads.

And yet, when Mama asked if the lesson had been interesting, he talked about it enthusiastically; he was being sincere: the visit had not validated his inner world, but he had found an unusual outer world that was not accessible to just anyone and had instantly granted him some small privileges: he had seen strange paintings that had bewildered him but offered the advantage he understood immediately that it was an advantage!

And so he gladly went to the painter's, passionately hoping to repeat the success he had gained in the past with his dog-headed people; but in vain: the doodles that were meant to be variations on Miro's paintings were forced and entirely lacking the charm of childlike playfulness; the drawings of African masks remained clumsy imitations of their models and failed to stimulate the boy's own imagination, as the painter had hoped.

And since Jaromil found it unbearable to have been at the painter's so many times without hearing a word of praise, he made a decision: he would bring him his secret sketchbook of female nudes. His models for most of these drawings were photographs of statues he had seen in illustrated books from Grandpapa's library; in the initial pages of the sketchbook they were therefore of sturdy mature women in the lofty poses of the previous century's allegories.She often expressed this opinion to Grandpapa and Grandmama while Jaromil, unobtrusively playing with his tin soldiers or on his rocking horse, listened with great interest.

Life Is Elsewhere is a remarkable portrait of an artist as a young man. She wanted the resemblance to be so strong that she would be able to imagine the child as this young man's rather than her husbands; she implored him to use his magical powers to rectify the fetus's features, to transform and transfigure them as the great Titian once did when he painted a masterpiece over a bungler's spoiled canvas.

It was an Edenic state: Then he returned to the adjoining room, praised Jaromil's work ah, Jaromil was very happy that day! And it is not a very convincing rebuttal of the heroics of Byron and Shelley or the poetic mind in general. I almost hesitate to say it: it was not wealth, it was his mama's love.

He greeted the boy at the front door in the other room and asked him to sit down. She pushed his hand away, subtly reminding him of the harsh words he had said to her some time before.

STEFFANIE from Santa Maria
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