Interesting. This is part of an old article, taken from Paris Review, I think.
Afterword. A Talk with the Author of “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”
Milan Kundera: Take the other theme of the book, forgetting. This is the great private problem of man: death as the loss of the self. But what is the self? It is the sum of everything we remember. Thus, what terrifies us about death is not the loss of the future but the loss of the past. Forgetting is a form of death ever present, within life. This is the problem, of my heroine, in desperately trying to preserve the vanishing memories of her beloved dead, husband. But forgetting is also the great problem of politics. When a big power wants to deprive a small country of its national consciousness it uses the method of organized forgetting.
This is what is currently happening in Bohemia. Contemporary Czech literature, insofar: as it has any value at all, has not peen printed for twelve years; 200 Czech writers have been proscribed, including the dead Franz Kafka; 145 Czech historians have been dismissed from their posts, history has been rewritten monuments demolished. A nation which loses awareness of its past, gradually loses its self. And so the political situation as brutally illuminated the ordinary metaphysical problem of forgetting that we face all the time, every day, without paying any attention, Politics unmasks the metaphysics of private life, private life unmasks the metaphysics of politics.
Phillip Roth: the, sixth part of your book of variations-the main heroine, Tainina, reaches an island when: there are only children. In the end they hound her to death. Is this a dream, a fairy tale, an allegory?
Milan Kundera: Nothing is more foreign to me than allegory, a story invented by the author in .order to illustrate some thesis. Events,. whether realistic or imaginary, must be significant in themselves, and the reader is meant to be naively seduced by their power and poetry. I have always been haunted by this image, and during one period of my life it kept recurring in my dreams: A person finds himself in a world of children, from which he cannot escape. 'And suddenly childhood, which we all lyricize and adore, reveals itself as pure horror. As a trap. This story is not allegory.
But my book is a polyphony in which various stories mutually explain, illumine, complement each other. The basic event of the book is the story of totalitarianism, which deprives people of memory and thus retools them into a nation of children. All totalitarianisms d0 this. And perhaps our entire technical age does this, with its cult of the future, its cult of youth and childhood, its indifference to the past.