Introduction to Helen Martin's paper 'Silence is the crime'

I suspect that Helen Martin comes to this paper from a long-standing interest and involvement in reading literature, and how this process parallels a similar process with working clinically in psychoanalysis. Helen puts the view that reflective hypothesis and thoughtfulness is common to both interpretation in analysis and the experience of writing or reading which can then generate new thoughts, new views and new experiences.

It is no secret that in preparing this paper Helen has moved into the artist's position and has been prepared to relinquish her thoughts with considerable willingness and generosity. She has provided an offering of a real multi-layered communication, and made this available to us, her audience, to observe, to resonate with, and to feel our way into, the thoughts she is providing. Her paper focuses on the novel Slowness and the writings of Milan Kundera.

The Czech writer Milan Kundera these days lives in France. He was born in Czechoslovakia in 1929. He is a very famous, internationally acknowledged novelist who writes across national boundaries, and who explores issues in his novels which concern man universally, and twentieth century man in particular.

In the winter of 1968, a few months before the Russian tanks appeared on the streets, three shivering Latin American writers, Julio Cortazar, Garcia Marquez, and Carlos Fuentes, arrived in Prague to meet Kundera. He arranged to meet them in a sauna next to the river, one of the few places without ears in the walls. After half an hour of intense sweating in the sauna, the visitors asked for a bath of cold water. As none was available, Kundera took them to a door that opened over the frozen river. There was a hole in the ice and he softly pushed them towards the inevitable. They sank into these waters, enemies to their tropical essence, and emerged rather quickly a motley purple colour to find Kundera bellowing. Carlos Fuentes, one of the frozen swimmers, described their host as,

_ . . . a Slavic giant with one of those faces you only find east of the Oder river, the cheekbones high and hard, the upturned nose, the close-cropped hair saying good-bye to the blondness of youth and entering the grey territories of the early forties, a mixture of prize fighter and ascetic, a cross between Max Schmeling and the Polish Pope, John Paul II, the physical frame of a lumberjack, of a mountain climber, the hands of what he is, a writer, the hands of what his father was, a pianist. Eyes like all Slavic eyes: grey, fluid, smiling for an instant as he saw us transformed into popsicles, the next instant sombre - that astonishing transition from one sentiment to another which is the sign of the Slavic soul, that crossroads of passions. I saw him laughing, I imagined him as a legendary figure, an ancient huntsman of the Tatra mountains carrying on his shoulders the furs he ripped off the bears in order to look more like them. [Fuentes went on:] With Kundera we ate wild boar and knedliks in dill sauce and we drank slivovicz and we formed a friendship that for me has grown with time.' _

Kundera sees a particular connection between his writing and Czech history and destiny. In an interview in Le Monde he once said, There are historical situations which open up the human soul like a can of sardines... We are accustomed to blame it all on the regime. But this prevents us from seeing... That the regime only sets into action a mechanism which has already existed in ourselves. The task of the novel is not to pillory manifest political reality, but rather to expose scandals of a more anthropological character'. The novel is not menaced by exhaustion', says Kundera, but by the ideological state of the contemporary world. There is nothing more opposed to the spirit of the novel, which is profoundly linked to the discovery of the relativity of the world than the totalitarian mentality dedicated to the implantation of an only truth'. I understand Helen Martin to be totally in sympathy with these views, and now invite her to give her paper, _Silence is the crime: Analytic issues in (the novel) Slowness._'