book review: the curtain

Reading Milan Kundera essays about topics like Art and The Novel and such always makes me want to be a better writer than I am. To be a bit pretentious because that’s a way of faking yourself out into thinking that maybe you’re doing something worth a damn.

To write without having that ambition is cynicism: a mediocre plumber may be useful to people, but a mediocre novelist who consciously produces books that are ephemeral, commonplace, conventional – thus, not useful, thus burdensome, thus noxious – is contemptible.

The Curtain is a short book-length essay about art and history and how history has no taste.

The more attentively, fixedly, one observes a reality, the better one sees that it does not correspond to people’s idea of it; under Kafka’s long gaze it is gradually revealed as empty of reason, thus non-reasonable, thus implausible.

And part of what I love about a book like this, even though it’s so European and also so snobby is seeing bits of me reflected in there, like someday I might not make something that’s a piece of shit.

For if agelasts tend to see sacrilege in every joke, it’s because every joke is a sacrilege. There is an irreconcilable incompatibility between the comical and the sacred, and we can only ask where the sacred begins and ends. Is it confined just to the Temple? Or does its domain reach further, does it also annex what are known as the great secular values: maternity, love, patriotism, human dignity?

An important book for me to read. I feel more at odds with this whole idea of being at school learning to do something that’s almost the opposite of art, but being at odds with something is good. Keeps me from being complacent.

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