Milan Kundera’s rendering of Psycho-spatial dimensions

The writings of Milan Kundera, Czech born author who is domiciled in France, are marveled in the world of literature for many attributes which some view as marked with features and approaches distinctive of modernist writing. Psychology can be treated as a significant domain which characterizes the space in which Kundera’s writings find grounding to express views on society, the individual, state politics, matters on sexuality and a great many other topics.  An interesting literary landscape is crafted by Kundera in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, which presents the psychological realms of certain characters as a space in which acts and emotions coalesce to present a narrative alongside what unfolds in the material, physical world. What one could say in respect of such narrative modality, is that Kundera paints the mental landscape which runs alongside the, material world, as scenery which is almost tangible, though actually meant as insight as to what runs in the mind of a given character. Along this discussion line an intriguing facet is how Kundera presents distances, lengths of the physical world in (relational) application to the realm of man’s psychology. This is to say in other words, how a particular distance, length, space in the real world finds its meaning, and form and very importantly its significance, at a given situation in the mental sphere. It is a rendering of ‘psycho-spatial’ dimensions of what is perceivable and existent in the material world. And in such ground of discussion, a basic tenant of ‘the theory of relativity’, which is ‘time’, cannot be negated. The passage of time maybe felt in differing paces dependent on the situation and the disposition of the one who perceives (or fails to perceive with attentive effort) ‘time pass’. Boredom would deem a given length of time, slow in passing, while a moment felt as exhilarating may pass all too soon.

The psycho-spatial dimensions Kundera presents in the section titled “Mama” in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, too, clearly have the temporal factor linked to the scheme of psychology portrayed. The character of ‘Karel’ presents a storyline where carnal advents unfold the psyche of a grown man who at a certain point of the story’s narrative recounts experiences of the past that render new meaning of the physical present within the privacy of his own mind. On beholding the sight of his mistress Eva from a rear elevation of her half naked body, Karel’s mind recalls the sight of one Mrs. Nora whom he had happened to see naked, at the age of about four. This sight of a grown shapely woman’s naked physique had been significant in Karel’s world of experience, and of this Kundera says “He had retained an unforgettable secret memory of it.” What follows in the course of the narrative from this point in the story, ushers in how ‘time’, ‘physical space, and dimensions’, and ‘psychology’, play with one another in the realm of Karel’s mind.

“The image of that naked body, standing up and seen from behind, had never been effaced from his memory. He was very little and was seeing that body from below, from the perspective of an ant, and if he at his present height were to look up at her today, it would be as if she were a statue five meters high. He was close to the body, yet infinitely distant from it. Doubly distant. In space and in time. It rose very high above him and was separated from him by countless years.”

The distance ‘felt’ by Karel as a child between his small self and Mrs. Nora’s body is affected by the age gap factor which one may view as a tenant of the psychological realm, in this case. The ‘doubling’ of the distance shows how the physical distance between them takes a new form when rendered in the psyche in terms of a psycho-spatial dimension. The closeness in physique does not equate to what the psyche holds as ‘distance’ which the above extract calls an ‘infinite’ distance since the age gap between (the child) Karel and Mrs. Nora is a non-physical dimension which acts as an obstacle in crossing over the distance of space. In this context the age factor may be understood in terms of time, which plays an integral part in shaping the psycho-spatial dimension in the mind of Karel. Further as the scene progresses, one finds how Kundera interprets physical distance in relation to a psycho-spatial framework where crossing (physical) distance translates in the mind of Karel, as equal to the passage of a certain time span (or even age). This aspect of the discussion is brought out in the course of coition between Karel and Eva, the former holding the latter in his psyche as an embodiment of the Mrs. Nora who otherwise only inhabits his mind as a memory with no tangible dimensions. Kundera expounds it thus-“He had the impression that this leap in onto her body was a leap across an immense period of time, the leap of a little boy hurling himself from childhood to manhood.” Crossing the physical space that stood as distance between bodies renders as a passage of time which before was not crossable. Kundera’s narrative of Karel’s mind’s workings and the physical situation he is in, presents an instance where physical distance is calculated according to psychological interpretation of what a certain distance may present in terms of time. In the narrative of the scene of Karel engaged in coitus with Eva it is said “That movement, usually measuring fifteen centimeters at most was as long as three decades.” It was a time period of nearly thirty years that had passed before Karel could cross ‘the distance’ which in his childhood was doubled in its length on account of space (physical distance) and time (age). Thus Kundera presents how the passage of time or age may be given new dimensions in relation to dimensions of the physical world, grounded in the realm of psychology. And thereby one accosts the intriguing and marvelous scheme of rendering the psycho-spatial dimension(s) in the writings of Milan Kundera.


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