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Milan Kundera’s rendering of Psycho-spatial dimensions

Dilshan BOANGE

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.