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Testaments Betrayed: An Essay in Nine Parts Paperback – August 2, 1996
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Milan Kundera, one of the twentieth century's masters of fiction and author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Immortality, offers a brilliant and thought provoking essay, following in the tradition of his highly regarded The Art of the Novel. Testaments Betrayed is written like a novel: the same characters appear and reappear throughout the nine parts of the book, as do the principal themes that preoccupy the author. Kundera once again celebrates the art of the novel, from its birth in a spirit of humor unique to European culture and sensibility - illustrated by some wonderful examples from the work of Rabelais and Cervantes - through its flowering in successive centuries. He celebrates the particular wisdom the novel offers about human existence. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
In this stimulating, free-form essay, Czech novelist Kundera (The Art of the Novel) traces the evolution of the novel from Rabelais to Kafka and draws parallels between literature and music as he shuttles effortlessly among Tolstoy, Nietzsche, Chopin, Thomas Mann, Bach and Andre Breton. The betrayals implied by the title include conductor Ernest Ansermet's rejection of the music of his erstwhile friend Igor Stravinsky; the halfhearted support for Salman Rushdie by intellectuals who misconstrued his Satanic Verses as an attack on religious faith; and Hemingway biographer Jeffrey Meyers's "kitsch-making" interpretations, which, in Kundera's view, confuse Hemingway's life with his fiction. Another alleged "testament betrayed" involves Max Brod, Kafka's friend and literary executor, accused here of promoting an image of Kafka as saintly martyr. Because of Brod, Kundera argues, Kafka's works tend to be read either as autobiographical or as religious allegories instead of as "the real world transformed by an immense imagination." First serial to the New York Review of Books.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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His main examples are Franz Kafka (Max Brod didn't respect his testament which ordered to destroy all non published work) and Leos Janácek (whose opera score was `adapted' by an opera director).
Art has an autonomous status, its own laws. Art is not an imitation of reality. It is a unique expression of an individual. It is therefore logical that this individual possesses all rights over a work that emanates exclusively from him.
Moreover, one doesn't need biographical furor (Sainte-Beuve), to know the writer, painter or composer in order to understand his work. As Marcel Proust states: 'a book is the product of a self, other than the self we manifest in our habits.'
Milan Kundera detests also those critics who interpret a work of art with their own political, philosophical, religious convictions (see Adorno's scandalous critic of Stravinsky's music).
Essential for the novel are the facts that it is a realm where moral judgment is suspended, that there are no dogmas of psychological realism and that it breaks through the plausibility barrier with fantasy and humor (Rabelais, Cervantes) in order to apprehend better the real world.
It is evident that in these conditions art can be a dangerous weapon in the hands of political, religious, social, cultural, sexual, -in one word -, critical opponents of established powers. In the Rushdie case, `the guardians of the temple were powerless against a novel.'
I have a few remarks about this text.
Firstly, art is indeed an individual expression (of the artist's emotions), but true art is the craftsmanship to arouse emotions in the spectator, the listener, the reader.
Secondly, writers have normally a (few) friend(s) whom they ask to evaluate their work before submitting it to a publisher (in the case of Kafka, one of these persons was certainly Max Brod).
Thirdly, in `The Critic as Artist' Oscar Wilde expressed perfectly why art is so dangerous: `For when a work is finished it has as it were, an independent life of it own, and may deliver a message far other than that which was put into its lips.'
Therefore, it is absurd that an artist should fanatically impose his own `vision' on his work.
And lastly, Orwell's 1984 has not only a political dimension, but also a social, des(human)izing, Kafkaesque one (important facts happening or that happened in the world are only known by an all-powerful `secret team'). Its main theme is freedom to live, to know (`who controls the present, controls the past') and to speak. It is perhaps a bad novel, but an immortal good bad one.
This is a thought-provoking book and a must read for all lovers of art, and of literature in particular.