The unbearable lightness of being by milan kundera
The Unbearable Lightness Of Being
Lightness and Weight
The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed other
philosophers with it: to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that
the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum! What does this mad myth signify?
Putting it negatively, the myth of eternal return states that a life which disappears once
and for all, which does not return, is like a shadow, without weight, dead in advance,
and whether it was horrible, beautiful, or sublime, its horror, sublimity, and beauty mean
nothing. We need take no more note of it than of a war between two African kingdoms
in the fourteenth century, a war that altered nothing in the destiny of the world, even if a
hundred thousand blacks perished in excruciating torment.
Will the war between two African kingdoms in the fourteenth century itself be altered if it
recurs again and again, in eternal return?
It will: it will become a solid mass, permanently protuberant, its inanity irreparable.
If the French Revolution were to recur eternally, French historians would be less proud
of Robespierre. But because they deal with something that will not return, the bloody
years of the Revolution have turned into mere words, theories, and discussions, have
become lighter than feathers, frightening no one. There is an infinite difference between
a Robespierre who occurs only once in history and a Robespierre who eternally returns,
chopping off French heads.
Let us therefore agree that the idea of eternal return implies a perspective from which
things appear other than as we know them: they appear without the mitigating
circumstance of their transitory nature. This mitigating circumstance prevents us from
coming to a verdict. For how can we condemn something that is ephemeral, in transit?
In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia, even the
Not long ago, I caught myself experiencing a most incredible sensation. Leafing through
a book on Hitler, I was touched by some of his portraits: they reminded me of my
childhood. I grew up during the war; several members of my family perished in Hitler's
concentration camps; but what were their deaths compared with the memories of a lost
period in my life, a period that would never return?
This reconciliation with Hitler reveals the profound moral perversity of a world that rests
essentially on the nonexistence of return, for in this world everything is pardoned in
advance and therefore everything cynically permitted.
"The Unbearable Lightness Of Being" By Milan Kundera 3
If every second of our lives recurs an infinite number of times, we are nailed to eternity
as Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross. It is a terrifying prospect. In the world of eternal
return the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every move we make. That
is why Nietzsche called the idea of eternal return the heaviest of burdens (das
If eternal return is the heaviest of burdens, then our lives can stand out against it in all
their splendid lightness.
But is heaviness truly deplorable and lightness splendid?
The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in
the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man's body.
The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life's most intense
fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real