The Festival of Insignificance Background

The Festival of Insignificance Background

The Festival of Insignificance is a seven-part novel by Czech-born French author Milan Kundera. The novel was first published in French in 2013 and translated into English in 2015 by Linda Asher. The Festival of Insignificance shares its seven-part structure--as well as its themes of insignificance, philosophy, and sexual promiscuity--with the best-known of Kundera's works, the 1984 novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being; however, The Festival of Insignifcance received generally negative reviews due to critics' perception of the ironic/satirical aspects as being forced.

The Festival of Insignificance, like many of Kundera's later novels, draws heavily on the ideas of European philosophers. Characters in the novel discuss the ideas of Hegel, Kant and Schopenhauer. Kundera's work overall is known to be influenced by Musil, Kafka, and Nietzsche. Critics have also suggested that the depiction of Charles' and Alain's relationships with their respective mothers (especially Alain's " fantasises [of] his own conception as an act of violence, his father’s will forcing itself upon his resisting mother" and his fixation on the female navel) recalls the ideas of Sigmund Freud.

Kundera was once a member of the Communist Party, but defected from Soviet Czechloslovokia and went into exile in France in 1975, becoming a naturalized French citizen just six years later. In 2008, was accused of denouncing a fellow Czech to the Communist authorities, although he was later acquitted and defended by almost a dozen other prominent writers. His work since his exile has been mostly apolitical and at times morally abiguous; however, his political history has influenced his recent work in other ways. Stalin, for example, features in The Festival of Insignificance on several occasions. In Diane Johnson's New York Times article about Kundera, she writes that "One of the strategies of occupied Czechoslovakia was in fact laughter. People watched irreverent movies about tyrants and allowed their derision to ring through open windows, where the Soviets could hear them. It may be that when Kundera writes about laughter, he conceives of it not as a subjective expression of appreciation or surprise, the way we usually understand it, but as a material form of aggression, an actual act of self-­defense, even a duty."

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