Invito Milan Kundera a uno shisha hour in una coffeehouse in Nowhere Street. L’appuntamento è alle diciotto, ma io mi presento in anticipo di mezz’ora; al mio arrivo, Kundera siede già al tavolo che ho riservato per noi, fuori in un Vasto Giardino, come piace a lui . Sorseggia maroccam mint tea, gioca a scacchi contro Il Turco. Un vecchio grammofono polveroso suona un pezzo di Lady Gogo.
Perchè so Kundera un appassionato di jazz, mi presento all’appuntamento con in mano un vecchio vinile dei Soft Machine. Seven, del 1974. Mi dico sorpresa di essere arrivata in ritardo, pur essendo in anticipo. Kundera sorride, si compiace della mia apprensione, e invita a sedere di fianco al Turco.
Chiedo a Kundera se al momento sta leggendo niente di interessante, e questi mi risponde ‘Smatrex M-788NK, Il manuale delle istruzioni’ (per chi non lo sapesse ancora, lo Smatrex M-788NK è un androide di ultima generazione, CGV di precisione, FVB 77 a raggi UV, KMb1 ad alta risoluzione, NGU2 termoregolabile, connessione YVeta a FGH78 e 678 uscite BX, che oltre a funzionare da apparecchio telefonico, stira, cucina, lava, e si ricarica nel microonde in appena un nano-secondo)
La provocazione è sottile e allude al catastrofismo teoretico mosso da Husserls e posto a dibattito da Kundera nel primo capitolo del saggio ‘The Art Of The Novel’ , del 1988.
In una celebre lettura del 1935, Edmund Husserl parla di una crisi dell’umanità europea che ha influenzato negativamente le arti. Secondo il padre della fenomenologia, questa crisi è iniziata nell’Età Moderna, con Galileo e Descartes, e l’acquisizione, da parte dell’uomo, di un primato sulla natura
“Once elevated by Descartes to ‘master and proprietor of nature’, man has now become a mere thing to the forces (of technology, of politics, of history) that bypass him, surpass him, possess him. To those forces, man’s concrete being, his ‘world of life’ (die Lebenswelt), has neither value nor interest: it is eclipsed, forgotten from the start.”
“The rise of the sciences propelled man into the tunnels of specialized disciplines. The more he advanced in knowledge, the less clearly could he see either the world as a whole or his own self, and he plunged further into what Husserl’s pupil Heidegger called, in a beautiful and almost magical phrase, ‘the forgetting of being’.
“Indeed, all the great existential themes Heidegger analyzes in Being and Time- considering them to have been neglected by all earlier European philosophy– had been unveiled, displayed, illuminated by four centuries of the novel (four centuries of European reincarnation of the novel). In its own way, throught its own logic, the novel discovered the various dimension of existence one by one: with Cervantes and his contemporaries, it inquires into the nature of adventure; with Richardson, it begins to examine “what happens inside”, to unmask the secret life of the feelings; with Balzac, it discovers man’s rootedness in history; with Flaubert, it explores the terra previously incognita of the everyday; with Tolstoy, it focuses on decisions. It probes time: the elusive past with Proust, the elusive present with Joyce. With Thomas Mann, it examines the role of the myths from the remote past that control our present actions. Et cetera, et cetera.’
Secondo Kundera, anticipatore dell’Età Moderna non è solo Descartes, ma anche Cervantes
‘Perhaps it is Cervantes whom the two phenomenologists neglected to take into consideration in their judgment of the Modern Era. By that I mean: if it is true that philosophy and science have forgotten about man’s being, it emerges all the more plainly that with Cervantes a great European art took shape that is nothing other than the investigation of this forgotten being.’
[3.]’As God slowly departed from the seat whence he had directed the universe and its order of value, distinguished good from evil, and endowed each thing with meaning, Don Quixote set forth from his house into a world he could no longer recognize. In the absence of the Supreme Judge, the world suddenly appeared in its fearsome ambiguity; the single divine Truth decomposed into myriad relative truths parceled out by men. Thus was born the world of the Modern Era, and with it the novel, the image and model of that world.
To take, with Descartes, the thinking self as the basis of everything, and thus to face the universe alone, is to adopt an attitude that Hegel was right to call heroic. To take, with Cervantes, the world as ambiguity, to be obliged to face not a single absolute truth but a welter of contradictory truths (truths embodied in imaginary selves called characters), to have as one’s only certainty the wisdom of uncertainty, requires no less courage.
What does Cervantes’ great novel mean? Much has been written on the question. Some see in it a rationalist critique of Don Quixote’ s hazy idealism. Others see it as a celebration of that same idealism. Both interpretations are mistaken because they both seek at the novel’s core not an inquiry but a moral position.
Man desires a world where good and evil can be clearly distinguished, for he has an innate and irrepressible desire to judge before he understands. Religions and ideologies are founded on this desire. They can cope with the novel only by translating its language of relativity and ambiguity into their own apodictic and dogmatic discourse. They require that someone be right: either Anna Karenina is the victim of a narrow- minded tyrant, or Karenin is the victim of an immoral woman; either K. is an innocent man crushed by an unjust Court, or the Court represents divine justice and K. is guilty.
This ‘either- or’ encapsulates an inability to tolerate the essential relativity of things human, an inability to look squarely at the absence of the Supreme Judge. This inability makes the novel’s wisdom ( the wisdom of uncertainty) hard to accept and understand.
[4.]’Don Quixote set off into a world that opened wide before him. He could go out freely and come home as he pleased. The early European novels are journeys through an apparently unlimited world. The opening of Jacques le Fataliste comes upon the two heroes in mid- journey; we don’t know where they’ve come from or where they’re going. They exist in a time without beginning or end, in a space without frontiers, in the midst of a Europe whose future will never end.
Half a century after Diderot, in Balzac, the distant horizon has disappeared like a landscape behind those modern structures, the social institutions: the police, the law, the world of money and crime, the army, the State. In Balzac’s world, time no longer idles happily by as it does for Cervantes and Diderot. It has set forth on the train called History. The train is easy to board, hard to leave. But it isn’t at all fearsome yet, it even has its appeal; it promises adventure to every passenger, and with it fame and fortune.
Later still, for Emma Bovary, the horizon shrinks to the point of seeming a barrier. Adventure lies beyond it, and the longing becomes intolerable. Within the monotony of the quotidian, dreams and daydreams take on importance. The lost infinity of the outside world is replaced by the infinity of the soul. The great illusion of the irreplaceable uniqueness of the individual- one of the Europe’s finest illusion- blossoms forth.
But the dream of the soul’s infinity loses its magic when History (or what remains of it: the suprahuman force of an omnipotent society) takes hold of man. History no longer promises him fame and fortune; it barely promises him a land- surveyor’s job. In the face of the Court or the Castle, what can K.do? Not much. Can’t he at least dream as Emma Bovary used to do? No, the situation’s trap is too terrible, and like a vacuum cleaner it sucks up all his thoughts and feelings: all he can think of is his trial, his surveying job. The infinity of the soul- if it ever existed- has become a nearly useless appendage.’
Non c’è grandezza nelle miserie della vita, nè possibilità di fuga dal mondo. La realtà manca di poesia, gli uomini di coraggio. Don Chisciotte è stato arrestato alla frontiera, K. processato in televisione, Winston Smith ingaggiato alla conduzione di un nuovo reality show. ‘How to make money’ figura ancora al primo posto nella classifica dei libri più letti in formato digitale.
Chiedo a Kundera che ruolo avrebbe la letteratura in tutto questo, quale sarebbe la ragione d’essere di un romanzo
‘The sole raison d’etre of a novel is to discover what only the novel can discover. A novel that does not discover a hitherto unknown segment of existence is immoral. Knowledge is the novel’s only morality.’
Kundera si prende sul serio.
Delle volte mi chiedo come sarà la letteratura del futuro ( non intendo la sci-fiction). Il linguaggio di ciascuno di noi si evolve ogni giorno arricchito di parole nuove, un vocabolario criptato a noi fino a prima di adesso del tutto sconosciuto e in alcuni casi ancora incomprensibile. La realtà muta di forma e sostanza, e noi con essa, in un processo di metamorfosi sociale e culturale, perpetua e incoercibile. Ci si incontra e innamora su internet, si comunica by email, si viene assunti su Skype, licenziati su Facebook, mollati su Twitter. Chiedo a Kundera come immagina la letteratura del futuro, quali i conflitti, le tensioni ideali rispetto al contesto storico, i dialoghi, l’atmosfera, i luoghi. Ma Kundera non mi ascolta neanche più, ha appena scoperto di avere Hungry Bird nel telefonino.
Quanto al Turco, sparito. Con la gynoid seduta al tavolo di fianco al nostro.

Texts entirely taken from ‘The Art of the Novel’, Milan Kundera, 1988
Paris Review – The Art of Fiction No. 81, Milan Kundera.

Block, off Seven, Soft Machine, 1974