Silence is the crime: analytic issues in 'Slowness' by Milan Kundera

This book, published in 1995 in _French, _and translated into English in 1996 is Milan Murderer's first novel in 5 years. France became his home in 1975 at the age of 46, after leaving his native Czechoslovakia to escape a political regime which acted to wipe out his writings, teaching and thinking. This book is preceded by others including _The Book of Laughter and Forgetting; Life is Elsewhere; The Unbearable Lightness of Being; Immortality The Joke; The Art of the Novel; _and _Laughable Loves. _The titles offer a sense of the genre of his writing addressed in this paper.

Slowness suggests that experience may be construed m two ways: by a process of ideologising, or secondly by a process of poeticising. The narrative of the psychoanalytic patient, with its history, mythologies (internal and external) and its poetic timbre may be experienced by the analyst adopting these two modes of construction. Analytic thinking may seek to avoid pseudo-scientific reductionism, as it searches out meaning, _much _as Bion intended in his notion of K and -K It is interesting m this context to note that Kundera writes of 'nonthought' a similar vein to Bion's -K.

This cannot be translated by 'absence of thought'. Absence of thought indicates a nonreality. We cannot say that an absence is aggressive or that it is spreading. Nonthought, on the other hand, describes a reality, a force; I can therefore say 'pervasive nonthought', 'the nonthought of received ideas '__( 986, p. 142).

Before I had understood from reading his book The Art of the Novel what Kundera means by the word 'novel', I wondered if this book _Slowness _was a novel, a monograph, or an existential event. It is concerned with the experience of time and memory. It is constructed in a form that is reminiscent of the art of Klee or Miro where elements of experience are created, defined, coloured and textured and then strung in relationship to _each _other by a fine wire of resonance or recognition of events which might oscillate 200 years forwards or backwards. To enter into this novel is like an experience of being within a set of mirrors whose surfaces are Time. It gives a sense of form that centres and stabilises the experience, offering the reader a connection with central experience which I think lies on the unconscious level.

Kundera has called this a novel. This paper explores it as a myth with an analytic subtext. That is to say that 'myth is a type of speech, a system of communication, a message ... a mode of signification (Barthes notions of Mythologies comparable perhaps to understanding analysis as a language, a form which allows systems of communication and signification between patient and analyst. Both writer and analyst embody the notion of being heard, and that to be silent or silenced may be destructive and tyrannical. Sabbadini (1992) explores various ways of engaging with silence m the consulting room. I am thinking of silence here in a somewhat broader context which includes its fragmenting, obliterating intent which blocks communication.

It would be possible though misleading to limit our understanding of Slowness to the form of a myth with an embedded ideological statement. It has many parallels to and analogies with analytic issues and it is that dimension I wish to highlight. I believe that writer and analyst are seeking forms or elements in common which come from the unconscious. To this effect I am not concerned here with applied psychoanalysis but with a fundamental form contained m the analytic dimension where essential elements may be reflected both in the dialogue of analysis, and in literary writings.

There is a fundamental question to be considered as to whether analysis is concerned with structuring human experience in an ideological way (which I, and perhaps Kundera, believe leads to a barren end) or whether our fundamental business lies more in the direction of poeticising experience so that it may have an added generative potential which can be expressed and realized, rather than rendered arid and deformed by those silencing processes ensconced in power, whether institutional, intra- or inter-personal.

Kundera writes: The novelist is neither historian nor prophet - he is an explorer of existence (1986, p.44). While Kundera says this, it is difficult to divorce his personal history of Eastern Bloc politics from his novels and their preoccupation with states of tyranny and dictatorship that depend on addiction to the intoxication of power and knowing. The intoxication of power itself necessitates the capacity to deny and annihilate differences and conflicting questions which therefore cannot be asked or given serious substantial consideration.

_The novel dealt with the unconscious before Freud, the class struggle before Marx and it practises phenomenology (the investigation of the essence of human situations) before the phenomenologists. _(1986, p.32)

In his book, _The Art of The Novel, _Kundera included a chapter called Sixty-three Words'. This is his own personal dictionary, created after his shock at the mistranslation of his writing into English. where his meaning was disordered and destroyed. These sixty-three words are defined by and arise out of his novels and show something of the issues which preoccupy and inform his thinking. These include: the political and private; infantocracy; morality and the aesthetic; innocence and collaboration; ugliness; morality and vulgarity; and 'notions of reality' such as 'the lyrical','the ironic' and 'the comical'. These are similar to those described by Schafer in his paper 'Psychoanalytic Visions of Reality' (1970); the romantic, the comic and the tragic. Kundera's views exclude the dimension of the tragic which Schafer includes. Nor does the biological dimension included in Freuds thinking feature in Kundera's frame.

Perhaps in defence of Kundera I should elaborate on his understanding of litost which he defines as follows: 'A feeling as infinite as an open accordion - a synthesis of many others, grief, sympathy, remorse, and an indefinable longing ... no equivalent in any other language for its sense which can also be as definite, precise and sharp as a well honed cutting edge - yet I do not see how any one can understand the human soul without if (1979, p. 12 1). Perhaps this is close to the sense of the Tragic.

Kundera has a view of the novelist and what it means to write:

_The novelist makes no great issue of his ideas. He is an explorer feeling his way to reveal some unknown aspect of existence. He is fascinated not by his voice but by a form he is seeking and only those forms that meet the demands of his dream become part of his work ... the writer inscribes himself on his spiritual map of his time, of his country, on the map of the history of ideas ... the writer disappears behind the novel ... he aims to avoid which is the need d to write books to impose one's self on others, rather than create a form. _(1986, p. 144)

While I shall_ _elaborate on the novel _Slowness later, _it may help to structure the book in a preliminary way _at this _point The structure of the novel on first reading is complex. It can be looked at on four levels.

1. The author and his wife leave Paris in a nostalgic search for a night in a chateau with the author having a story in the making in his mind. It is rather like searching out a necessary space for an event to come into being. This is perhaps also like the potential space between analyst and patient in the session. As the author and his wife set out the issues of speed and slowness are highlighted, with their very different potentials:

I am driving, and in the rear view mirror I notice a car behind me. The small left light is blinking and the whole car emits waves of impatience. The driver is watching for the chance to pass me, he is watching the way a hawk watches for a sparrow.

Vera, my wife, says to me: "Every fifty minutes somebody dies on the road in France. Look at them, all these madmen, tearing along around us..."__(Kundera, 1996, p.3)

In contrast Kundera asks:

_Why has the pleasure of slowness disappeared? Ah, where have they gone, the amblers of yesteryear? Where have they gone, those loafing heroes of folk song, those vagabonds who roam from one mill to another and bed down under the stars. Have they vanished along with footpaths, with grasslands and clearings, with nature? There is a Czech proverb that describes their easy indolence by a metaphor: 'They are gazing at God's windows. A person gazing at God's windows is not bored, he is happy. In our world, indolence has turned into having nothing to do, which is a completely different thing; a person with nothing to do is frustrated, bored, is constantly searching for the activity he lacks. _(pp. 4-5)

2. This night in the chateau is interwoven with the enacted 18th Century farce novella also set in this chateau. It is a novella given repetitive publication over extended time and has duplicity, and especially sexual duplicity, as its motif. By implication it is linked in its action with a parallel contemporary version in this novel: duplicity shapes the political theme elaborated in the novel.

3. The political thesis is introduced via the window of a TV programme. This is a dense section which contains three sub-tales and introduces political issues in the form of political manipulations. Firstly, by the sub-tale of the Dancer with his moral judo and his politicisation and exploitation of issues such as AIDS and famine. The second is the sub-tale of the Entomologists' Conference, with its central issues of remembering and forgetting floodlit in the story of the reporter Immaculata and the politician Berck, and the mini-story of the Czech scientist. Allied to this is the third sub-tale of Vincent and Julie and the caring observer Camera Man. Each of these characters represents different experiential positions which variously exploit, avoid or address psychic realities as they interact in this subplot.

A particular dimension of this section is its emphasis on the attack on meaningful connections which leads to pseudo-coupling with falsification as its motif, as it undermines remembering and caring. This pseudo-coupling is portrayed around a public pool where nudity and obscenity are vaunted. Yet is it a null and void coupling which allows only a vulgar noisy posturing, with great hullabaloo which covers falsity, disconnection and terrible loss.

Vincent 'knows at the end that only the invented story can make him forget what really happened' and he exits speeding on his motor cycle, 'speeding like a madman' to forget a sense of failure and sadness. As if only speed will allow him to forget. Only speed will silence his remembering. Remembering is a danger because it would render impossible and castrate the fiction he has already invented so as to be sexually puffed up in front of his friends. Instead he speeds away from his sadness, loss and concern, and leaves these feelings with the author and his wife as they travel away from their weekend, more thoughtfully and more slowly.

4. The final level in this novel offers analysts the opportunity to put aside the novel's political/social dimensions and to consider the analytic imperative: shall we absorb this writing as an ideological, political/social statement, or connect with it as a search for transparent essentials of experience comprehensible within the psychoanalytic subtext? To follow this analytic option is, I think, a correlate of the story which the author has in mind as he sets off for the Chateau at the beginning of the novel. It is interesting to note the insistent intrusion of this story into the author's experience and that of his wife, who cannot evade his perceptions.

Kundera explicitly contrasts Speed' and 'Slowness' Speed is a form of so-called ecstasy which the technical revolution has bestowed on man. He links it with the wish to forget, when speed picks up the pace to show us that the tiny flame of memory is to be extinguished and all sadness obliterated. Slowness has to do with being able to remember, rather than obliterate or use revisionism to rewrite events. I think this is very much to do with the capacity to bear pain and tolerate conflict. It is illustrated by Berck and Immaculata here she holds onto her innocent love of long ago, only to have it sadistically and triumphantly denied and savaged to extinction by Berck because it interferes with his self-selected political image and aims. The woman Immaculata is nuffified and disabled by this terrible obliterating assault which is an act of psychic obscenity.

Kundera engages with the pleasure pain motif, seeing pleasure as a fundamental notion of hedonism: 'One is happy to the extent that one can avoid suffering. Forgetting is a tool of such avoidance, so that what is conflictual or painful is airbrushed or put out of existence and therefore cannot be questioned. Such are the realities of primitive defence in political and personal defensive structures and their workings. I want to elaborate on this by referring to Kundera's Book of Laughter and Forgetting.

_In February 1948 Communist leader Klement Gottwald stepped out on the balcony of a baroque palace in Prague to address the hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens packed into the Old Town Square. It was a crucial moment that occurs once or twice in a millennium. Gottwald was flanked by his comrades, with Clementis standing next to him. There were snow flurries, it was cold, and Gottwald was bareheaded. The solicitous Clementis took of fhis fur cap and set it on Gottwald's head. The Party propaganda section put out hundreds of thousands of copies of a photo of that balcony with Gottwald, a fur cap on his head and comrades at his side, speaking to the nation. Four years later Clementis was charged with treason and hanged. The propaganda section immediately airbrushed him out of history and obviously out of all photographs as well. Ever since, Gottwald has stood an that balcony alone. Where Clementis once stood there is only bair palace wall. All that remains of Clementis is the cap on Gottwald's head. _(1979, p.3)

To return now to _Slowness _Kundera uses contemporary issues of famine and AIDS and focuses on the political exploitation of these in the character of the Dancer who seeks glory rather than power, and who uses moral judo to gain his glory - a kind of political dancing morality which lends itself to triumphant self- righteousness and control. That is the pay-off, the perverse gratification. He refers us to the politician and the political structures which are imaged as an art form of the moral, so that the Dancer exults in this his dancing glory. This image and process is familiar at apolitical and institutional level in diverse leaders. Analytically such dancing glory carries a disturbing ambiguity, with its implied narcissism.

It is here that Kundera points to the tyranny of totalitarian power which airbrushes the past to control the future, so that questions and issues that might be raised are mocked out of existence. Denial and political/personal revisionism are sanctified to evade the pain of remembering and knowing experience which brings with it awkward conflicts which are thus eliminated. Kundera here is perhaps drawing on political and institutional structures. There is a curious resonance between the internal structures of defence; the wish to falsify and forget, and the wish to fashion history so as to make the future as one imagined it might be. Perhaps this has some resonance with Herbert Rosenfeld's work on the 'internal mafia and the gang' (1987, p. 109), developed later by John Steiner in the concept of 'pathological organisations' (1982) and Edna O'Shaughnessy in her concept of 'enclaves and excursions' (1992) and again more recently by Franco de Masi in his paper Intimidation at the helm' (1997). It has a close connection with the tyrannical states of mind which forbid and block insight in our consulting rooms - on both sides of the couch. This has been elaborated recently by Schafer in his paper on Vicissitudes of remembering in the countertransference' (1997).

Again, one might wonder if Kundera is referring to institutional and historical forms of this tyranny in his novels. In response to the question as to whether it was important to know the history of Czechoslovakia to understand his novels, he replied, 'No, whatever needs to be known of it the novel itself tells' (1969, p. 39). To that extent I think he is pointing to states of mind rather than to politics as such, though of course such tyrannical states of mind may be given expression in institutional structure and function.

In a way that is reminiscent of the blending of the unconscious into conscious, of the past into the present, Kundera sees the inevitability of an equivalence of time (slowness) and memory, which operates against compartmentalism and contrived structuring, which are the vehicles of 'speed'. One might think of this as illustrating the defences of splitting, projection and rationalization.

_Nothing in this novel stays a secret exclusive to two persons - everyone seems to live inside an enormous resonating sea shell where every whispered word reverberates, swelling into multiple _unending echoes'.__(Kundera, 1996, p.10)

Nothing is finally lost or forgotten. Is this a personal statement or a comment about living in a totalitarian state, or is it an analytic perspective which Freud grasped at? Nothing is forgotten and the knowing cannot be obliterated without fragmentation. The unconscious forgets nothing and ultimately nothing cannot be shredded.

It is not by chance that Kundera features the Czech scientist at the Entomologists' Conference where he means to present his paper about his previous twenty years scientific work, yet finds himself speaking of his traumatic Labour Camp experience where he was sent for his politically incorrect voice. His actual words are an overwhelming anguished commemoration of the trauma suffered under that totalitarian regime. Is this familiar to analysts, being comparable to the ravages of the perversely indulged, power-driven superego with its conviction of correctness, leaving only the stick-like impoverished ego to exercise itself in its eroticised, obsessional and cruelly controlling ways?

This is resonant with the devastating sadistic denigration of Julie into ass-hole' so that what was, a significant possibility of an encounter between her and Vincent becomes a dreadful rupture which the Camera Man as the loving and naive observer cannot comfort or heal. Again one is reminded of the observing analyst who may be gagged or silenced by the mocking distortions uttered by the perverse elements at work in that structure, or the narcissistic part of the patient which is determined that a cruel and constricting reality will triumphantly prevail. (Reading across texts for a moment, this idea has been adumbrated in Kundera's earlier book Laughable Loves (1969)).

Twice in this novel there is a rupture into the present, effected by the intrusion of the writer's thoughts magically breaking into his wife's dream, once as her nightmare and then again as she dreams of hearing Beethoven's Ninth. Again one is made to think about the rupture into a present insightfulness from the nightmare of the patient's past as the analytic work proceeds. Interestingly, the author's wife is by no means pleased to suffer such a disruption to her own sleep. Here one is reminded of Ronald Britton's patient who shouted at him to 'Stop that fucking thinking (Britton, 1989). Insight is not always welcome and there are many clinically observed ways to repudiate it which affect both analyst and patient.

For a moment, a more gentle, thoughtful blending of the past and the present is effected with benign curiosity. In the morning Vincent and the young chevalier meet on the steps of the Chateau: the double but separate adventure is over, each tying to decode the other through different tracts of time. Perhaps that is a less persecuted view of the patient and analyst working together out of shared real interest; we have been in the same place; we look and sound different, yet we recognise and differentiate each other with a continuing interest, an altemative to the unhelpful forgetting and obliteration. Perhaps it also refers to the process of integration within the patient as the elements of the 'past' and the 'present', come together in an informed way as the analysis proceeds through its experiential course.

The book ends with a poignant plea: I beg you friend be happy I have the vague sense that on your capacity to be happy hangs our only hope' (Kundera, 1996, p.132). This is connected with Kundera's differentiation between two kinds of laughter. One is the jouissance of being, a delight in being, the laughter of delight and the delight of laughter. The second is an antilaughter which destroys delight, that makes laughter laughable, a laughter that is cataclysmic and, in Kundera's terms, is of the Devil. One is a laughter of Life and the other is a laughter of Death and/or perversion (cf. 1979, p.61).

Kundera deals ambiguously with deathly oppression in his account of Circle Dancing (1979, p.67) which takes flight from oppression, irrepressible even if existing elsewhere. The barrenness, of repression and repressive laughter, gives way to something more creative, more generative and expressive of the essential elements of conjunction and aliveness epitomised in the Circle Dance, at first glance so different from the Dancer and his moral judo. Yet even the Circle Dance carries its own ambiguity of exclusion and triumph. This is experienced by Kundera as he realizes he cannot join the dancers and is left with a very different and painful reality.

I ran through the streets ... in the hope of keeping up with that wonderful wreath of bodies rising above the city, and I realized with anguish in my heart that they were flying like birds and I was falling like a stone, that they had wings and I would never have any.__(p.68)

To conclude: In his paper, 'Constructions in Analysis' Freud compares the work of the analyst and that of the archeologist

._.. the main difference between them lies in the fact that for the archeologist the reconstruction is the aim and end of his endeavours while for the analyst the construction is only a preliminary labor. (_1987, p.260)

The analyst is left with a second order exploration of 'Now what shall I do with all of that?

The writing leads to the finished novel. The analyst in reading it must put his mind to what it may signify. This is not to diminish the work of the writer since much of what is written comes from within, expressive of the writer's personal metaphor and unconscious conflicts. This is quite distinct from an analytic reading of the text in the same way that the patient's text differs from the analytic commentary on it.

Norman Holland (1986) suggests that psychoanalytic literacy criticism is now an accepted form of literary criticism. He describes two earlier phases of psychoanalytic literary criticism. The earliest phase was that which studied the oedipal conflicts of literary figures, looking for that latent or unconscious content of the text; searching out some oedipal complex and/or phallic phases in the author or in a character. The second phase was embedded in an ego psychology that addressed literary structures. In this the reader is able to satisfy the multiple functions of his own ego, superego and id by transforming the various elements in any given literary work from fantasy through defence toward meaning. Hanna Segal's paper, Salman Rushdie and the Sea of Stories: A not-so-simple fable about creativity, fits into this category, being structured around Life and Death Instincts in the destruction and recovery of creativity.

In the third phase of psychoanalytic literary criticisrn Holland posits that in reading we transact the text in the interaction between the reader and the text, we build the text as we read. In that sense this reading of _Slowness _is my own, just as my listening to my patients is my own construction within the transference and countertransference lens. In being analysts we are compelled to pass through the social and political imperatives to grapple with the psychoanalytic imperative. I think that this links with the point Freud made about the work of the analysis being consequent on the construction of the history and the narrative, illustrated in Ruth Riesenberg Malcolm's paper 'Construction as reliving history (1988).

One remaining issue perhaps needs a little comment to elaborate the contrast between poeticising and ideologising the reading of a text, or the listening to the patient. It is my view that the poetic aims to actualise the potential so as to reach something like the transcendent quality of the thing m its essential sense, of things in themselves. This view is informed by Aristotle's view of poetic truth: 'Poetry most adequately expresses the universal element in human nature and life ... abstracting from human life much that is accidental, transmuting fact into imaginative truth' (Butcher, 1951, p. 150). The concrete impossibility inherent in events in the Odyssey nevertheless is conveyed by Homer, not to give credible facts but to show us fundamental experiences and regions of being that constitute human experience. So it may be with patients' narratives, unless we reduce them to concrete empirical fact and leave it at that as if the historical narrative is all. The poet seizes and reproduces a concrete fact, but transfigures it so that the higher truth, the idea of the universal (element in human life) shines through it' (Butcher, 1951, p. 197).

In contrast, ideologised experience superimposes a preconceived concrete frame, maybe of theory, technique, value judgments which form fight external frames that emanate from and reduce to rules and correctness of belief. This seems much closer to imposing living in, or colluding with, a state of tyranny, which Kundera exposes in his writings. I find that these issues have a great deal to do with a creative analytical mind that refuses to be ossified into an ideological state in which the analytical pulse cannot be heard, so that like Kundera, we fall like a stone out of the creative moment - space and distance is created between analyst and patient.


The author wishes to thank Dr. R. Hook (Canberra) for his support in the writing and presentation of this paper.