July 26, 2021

Milan Kundera, from Brno to Paris

What is a European? Nothing more topical than this question to which Milan Kundera, with his proverbial irony, answered in The art of the novel (Gallimard, 1986): “The European is the one who yearns for Europe. “ Borrowing its title from this melancholy non-definition, the Czech Center of Paris, in collaboration with the Moravian Library in Brno, to which the Kundera spouses donated their archives, offers a very beautiful exhibition retracing the life and work by the great Franco-Czech writer. Walk after walk (a chronology wraps around the staircase that leads to the new library, reopened for the occasion), typescripts in original drawings and photographs in rare interviews, we retrace the course of a creative life that led Milan Kundera from Brno, capital of Moravia, where he was born in 1929, to France, where he emigrated in 1975. From East to West, we follow the thread of this Mitteleuropa so distant and so close, including the author of Betrayed Wills (Gallimard, 1993) will never cease to recall how much the contribution remains decisive, even today, for the cultural and civilizational anchoring of Europe.

“Milan Kundera: nostalgia for Europe”, until September 5. Original drawings on display until the end of June. Czech Center of Paris, 18, rue Bonaparte, Paris 6e, Thursday to Sunday from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Free entrance.

Read also (2019): The unusual fate of Milan Kundera, the writer who came from the cold
  • 1975. In Czechoslovakia, the situation became untenable for the writer, banned from publication and monitored by the regime. Invited by the University of Rennes as professor of comparative literature, he leaves Prague with his wife, Vera, and settles in Brittany, still unaware that he will never return to live in his native country. “We left in our little Renault 5 with four suitcases and boxes of books, he once confided to us. And the first thing we saw when we arrived in Rennes was the« Brno alley “ ! » Yet in the tower where they are housed, the apartment walls are bare and depressing. So, to dress them, and fight against nostalgia for “the other Europe”, Kundera began to draw and paint. We recognize here, hanging behind him, the portrait reproduced below.
Drawing by Milan Kundera, 1975.
  • This is one of the merits of this exhibition: to show how much drawing and painting occupy a significant place in Kundera’s creative activity. Not only because, over time, all over the world, his elastic figures will appear more and more often on the covers of his books. But also because, in terms of humor and sarcasm, they form the exact visual counterpart of his literary universe. Above all, they follow in the wake of Czech surrealism, which, until the “Prague Spring” in 1968, bubbled with creativity and irrigated all the arts. On this 1975 gouache, Kundera’s leitmotif: the man holding his gaze between thumb and forefinger, and constantly playing to change its orientation. An allegory of the artist?