[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: [xmca] Litost

Nice story. Recognisably by the same author as that of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being."

Litost interests me that what makes it unique is that it is named. He describes it as that "state of torment caused by a sudden insight into one's own miserable self." I don't know about you, Nektarios and Mike, but I still get that feeling quite often. But I suppose that life experience buffets one against it's being a real *torment*. So in that sense, it can be charactistic of youth. And I am sure that we all can remember feeling that particular torment, especially around those efforts which stir the strongest emotions in our youth. But once it is named and enters the language and circulates, it begins to accumulate instances and a body of literature around it.

In the later historical reflections on litost, Kundera ascribes litost to whole nations, and even the Spartans, so it seems he doesn't regard it as exclusively Bohemian or Czech. But undoubtedly, having a word for it, allows the emotion to floiurish in a culture. It reminds me of something that I read once about the Arabic language, its classical form, which has been in use for over a thousand years, and every battle, every act of heroism, every lover's tragedy has been rendered in that language and passed on in that language so that the Mullah who addresses his flock in the mosque has a very powerful instrument for eliciting feelings in his hands.

Remember the description (http://www.ethicalpolitics.org/seminars/perezhivanie.htm) Dot Robbins gave of how perezhivanie sounds to the Russian ear. That is quite distinct from Dewey's "an experience," to which it is formally identical. To communicate anything similar to "perezhivanie" with "an experience", I have had to use gesture and prosody in saying "That was an experience," but that can only join up associations which have nothing like what perezhivanie has accumulated in Russian literature and practice.

Consider Schadenfreude. "The Germans are a terrible people, they even have a word for Schadenfreude!" But once invented, the word passes easily into English because in fact we experience that emotion too! "Tres joli!" - is that satisfactorily translated as "Very nice"? I don't think it is. And "sympathique"? I think people grow into those emotions which are given the grace of a name in their language, and in turn that shapes their emotional constitution. There is a very extensive common pallet of emotions, which most people are raised into. We do live in a globalised world after all. But I guess examples like litost show how the coining of a word for an emotion allows it to develop depth and breadth and really become something.


Nektarios Alexi wrote:
Hello Mike,

I have read the chapter of Kunderas on Litost,which really it seems that is a piece of real classic literature work. I have been greatly inspired by Milan Kundera in my teenage years and it was a real pleasure to come in contact again with his such deep and inclusive spirit.

One wonders though what constitutes a classical work in literature? Through that chapter one can just be amazed of how a person (the writer,Kundera in our case) can grasp the human condition in its movement. But what is that movement? Is it the human conciousness unfolding it self by the means of cultural-historical tools? Or is the human condition just manifesting it self just as it is by not taking into consideration the limitation of the given cultural-historical condition of the time?
My point is that: Is Litost a state of mind that is subject to cultural-historical mediation or is a state of mind that transcends any possible given cultural-historical condition?


Attachment: Litost.pdf
Description: Adobe PDF document

xmca mailing list