The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Part I

Parts I-IV:

Part I: Lost Letters

Section 1: What do you make of editing the photograph — of erasing history?

Section 2: What do you make of hiding own’s personal papers? Of a government that listens to informers — even if the informers have no basis for informing?

Section 5 begins with our inability to remember any important news items — that tragedies are immediately erased by other tragedies. Your comments, please.

Section 19 discusses a state that is exiling and silencing its own people. Why? How do you think you would fare under such a system?

Part II: Mama

Section 2: Tanks are perishable, pears are eternal. That is, life is a matter of perspective. Your thoughts, please. Section 5: “She did not allow love. Only friendship and sensuality.” Why?

Section 6: Why is Karel incessantly unfaithful to Marketa? Your thought, please.

Part III: The Angels

Section 1: Your thoughts in literary symbolism, please. Be expansive, if you would.

Section 2: Your thoughts on laughter, please.

Section 4: TWO kinds of laughter? What in the world is he getting at? Angels and Devils?

Section 5-6: Dancing and Marching? Huh?

Part IV: Lost Letters

Section 1: His thesis on fiction. What is it? What do you think?

Section 4-5: The failure of memory, or the triumph of forgetting. What do you think?

Section 6-23: He plays with these themes again and again. Any concluding thoughts?

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Part II Parts V-VII

Part V: Litost

Define this. [It’s in the book.] Why do you think this is so important to Kundera’s world view? Why is/isn’t it important to yours?

Please note: For Kundera, we are always living in history. It is hard for him to see the world, even long-dead authors, without seeing politics and history. Voltaire was a great French writer. He is important to Kundera because of that — and because his works have been taken out of the libraries. How would you feel if any authors, especially your favorites, were taken out of the libraries here?

There is a lot in this chapter about classic writers, which is fine. But what’s important for us is the idea of Litost. Focus on that, please.

How does it reflect on the rest of the book?

Part VI: The Angels

Back to Angels again. Why?

Back to Gottwald. Prague, he writes, is a city without memory. Why not? Why is this important to him? How does it affect the characters in the book? How does it affect your understanding of the book?

Sections 1-3 are highly political and historical. They explain many things in the book. How would you feel living under such a government?

Section 8 talks about the form of the book. Do you think Kundera is accurate? Why would he write this? Most authors don’t.

At the end of Section 19 Kundera talks about the difficulties of love. Why do these characters find love so difficult? Isn’t it a natural state of being?

Sections 20-29 get pretty difficult about childhood, sex, and violation. Why? Does it make you uncomfortable? If so, why?

Part VII: The Border

Kundera again returns to Eros. Why do think he writes so much about it?

In Sections 6-7 he talks about the borders of the erotic. Does this make any sense to you? If so, why? Why is it important to him?

Section 8: rape v. castration, another Kundera dichotomy. Is this a valid distinction?

Section 11: Yes, another border. Why?

Section 14: More nudity, more indictment of — traditional views of morality. Hm. Is THIS, finally, what the book is all about? Is all this talk just about unlimited sex? Or is there something else among all the ruminations about politics and history and literature and angels and demons and laughter and forgetting and love and — yes — sex?