The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

There is an infinite difference between a Robespierre who occurs only once in history and a Robespierre who eternally returns, chopping off French heads.
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for in this world everything is pardoned in advance and therefore everything cynically permitted.
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but what were their deaths compared with the memories of a lost period in my life, a period that would never return?
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We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.
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If we have only one life to live,we might as well not have lived at all.
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He understood he was not born to live side by side with any woman and could be fully himself only as a bachelor. He tried to design his life in such a way that no woman could move in with a suitcase.
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Ten years earlier, when he had divorced his wife, he celebrated the event the way others celebrate a marriage.
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If the Pharaoh’s daughter hadn’t snatched the basket carrying little Moses from the waves, there would have been no Old Testament, no civilization as we now know it! How many ancient myths begin with the rescue of an abandoned child!
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If Polybus hadn’t taken in the young Oedipus, Sophocles wouldn’t have written his most beautiful tragedy!
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A single metaphor can give birth to love.
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Why should he feel more for that child, to whom he was bound by nothing but a single improvident night, than for any other? He would be scrupulous about paying support; he just didn’t want anybody making him fight for his son in the name of paternal sentiments!
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spending the night together was the corpus delicti of love.
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Making love with a woman and sleeping with a woman are two separate passions, not merely different but opposite. Love does not make itself felt in the desire for copulation (a desire that extends to an infinite number of women) but in the desire for shared sleep (a desire limited to one woman).
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A person who longs to leave the place where he lives is an unhappy person.
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For there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.
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Any schoolboy can do experiments in the physics laboratory to test various scientific hypotheses. But man, because he has only one life to live, cannot conduct experiments to test whether to follow his passion (compassion) or not.
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It was an allusion. The last movement of Beethoven’s last quartet is based on the following two motifs: Muss es sein? Es muss sein! Es muss sein! Must it be? It must be! It must be!
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Apart from her consummated love for Tomas, there were, in the realm of possibility, an infinite number of unconsummated loves for other men.
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the love story of his life exemplified not ”Es muss sein! ”(It must be so), but rather ”Es konnte auch anders sein ”(It could just as well be otherwise).
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The town had several hotels, but Tomas happened to be given a room in the one where Tereza was employed. He happened to have had enough free time before his train left to stop at the hotel restaurant. Tereza happened  to be on duty, and happened to be serving Tomas’s table. It had taken six chance happenings to push Tomas towards Tereza, as if he had little inclination to go to her on his own.
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had the same significance for her as an elegant cane
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acquaintance with Tereza was the result of six improbable
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autodidact
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was not an extension of public life but its antithesis.
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True, he would rather have slept by himself, but the marriage bed is still the symbol of the marriage bond, and symbols, as we know, are inviolable.
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But if we betray B., for whom we betrayed A., it does not necessarily follow that we have placated A.
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The first betrayal is irreparable. It calls forth a chain reaction of further betrayals, each of which takes us farther and farther away from the point of our original betrayal.
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”It’s a vicious circle,”  Sabina said. ”People are going deaf because music is played louder and louder. But because they’re going deaf, it has to be played louder still.”
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Living for Sabina meant seeing. Seeing is limited by two borders: strong light, which blinds, and total darkness. Perhaps that was what motivated Sabina’s distaste for all extremism. Extremes mean borders beyond which life ends, and a passion for extremism, in art and in politics, is a veiled longing for death.
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your plaything, your slave, be strong! But they were
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How nice it was to celebrate something, demand something, protest against something; to be out in the open, to be with others.
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He saw the marching, shouting crowd as the image of Europe and its history. Europe was the Grand March. The march from revolution to revolution, from struggle to struggle, ever onward.
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She would have liked to tell them that behind Communism, Fascism, behind all occupations and invasions lurks a more basic, pervasive evil and that the image of that evil was a parade of people marching by with raised fists and shouting identical syllables in unison.
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Beauty in the European sense has always had a premeditated quality to it. We’ve always had an aesthetic intention and a long-range plan. That’s what enabled Western man to spend decades building a Gothic cathedral or a Renaissance piazza. The beauty of New York rests on a completely different base. It’s unintentional. It arose independent of human design, like a stalagmitic cavern. Forms which are in themselves quite ugly turn up fortuitously, without design, in such incredible surroundings that they sparkle with a sudden wondrous poetry.
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”When a society is rich, its people don’t need to work with their hands; they can devote themselves to activities of the spirit. We have more and more universities and more and more students. If students are going to earn degrees, they’ve got to come up with dissertation topics. And since dissertations can be written about everything under the sun, the number of topics is infinite. Sheets of paper covered with words pile up in archives sadder than cemeteries, because no one ever visits them, not even on All Souls’ Day. Culture is perishing in overproduction, in an avalanche of words, in the madness of quantity. That’s why one banned book in your former country means infinitely more than the billions of words spewed out by our universities.”
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No matter how brutal life becomes, peace always reigns in the cemetery. Even in wartime, in Hitler’s time, in Stalin’s time, through all occupations.
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One could betray one’s parents, husband, country, love, but when parents husband, country, and love were gone—what was left to betray?
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The goals we pursue are always veiled. A girl who longs for marriage longs for something she knows nothing about. The boy who hankers after fame has no idea what fame is. The thing that gives our every move its meaning is always totally unknown to us.
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People use filthy language all day long, but when they turn on the radio and hear a well-known personality, someone they respect, saying fuck in every sentence, they feel somehow let down.
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When a private talk over a bottle of wine is broadcast on the radio, what can it mean but that the world is turning into a concentration camp?
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Almost from childhood, she knew that a concentration camp was nothing exceptional or startling but something very basic, a given into which we are born and from which we can escape only with the greatest of efforts.
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What is flirtation? One might say that it is behavior leading another to believe that sexual intimacy is possible, while preventing that possibility from becoming a certainty. In other words, flirting is a promise of sexual intercourse without a guarantee.
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Tereza could feel orgasm advancing from afar,
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Toilets in modern water closets rise up from the floor like white water lilies. The architect does all he can to make the body forget how paltry it is, and to make man ignore what happens to his intestinal wastes after the water from the tank flushes them down the drain. Even though the sewer pipelines reach far into our houses with their tentacles, they are carefully hidden from view, and we are happily ignorant of the invisible Venice of shit underlying our bathrooms, bedrooms, dance halls, and parliaments.
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The bathroom in the old working-class flat on the outskirts of Prague was less hypocritical:
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what happens during the moment love is born: the woman cannot resist the voice calling forth her terrified soul; the man cannot resist the woman whose soul thus responds to his voice.
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Did her adventure with the engineer teach her that casual sex has nothing to do with love? That it is light, weightless? Was she calmer now? Not in the least.
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Sophocles’ Oedipus. The story of Oedipus is well known: Abandoned as an infant, he was taken to King Polybus, who raised him. One day, when he had grown into a youth, he came upon a dignitary riding along a mountain path. A quarrel arose, and Oedipus killed the dignitary. Later he became the husband of Queen Jocasta and ruler of Thebes. Little did he know that the man he had killed in the mountains was his father and the woman with whom he slept his mother. In the meantime, fate visited a plague on his subjects and tortured them with great pestilences. When Oedipus realized that he himself was the cause of their suffering, he put out his own eyes and wandered blind away from Thebes.
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the main issue is whether a man is innocent because he didn’t know. Is a fool on the throne relieved of all responsibility merely because he is a fool?
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It was the smile of two men meeting accidentally in a brothel: both slightly abashed, they are at the same time glad that the feeling is mutual, and a bond of something akin to brotherhood develops between them.
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How could someone who had so little respect for people be so dependent on what they thought of him?
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It is a tragicomic fact that our proper upbringing has become an ally of the secret police. We do not know how to lie. The ”Tell the truth!” imperative drummed into us by our mamas and papas functions so automatically that we feel ashamed of lying even to a secret policeman during an interrogation. It is simpler for us to argue with him or insult him (which makes no sense whatever) than to lie to his face (which is the only thing to do).
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People derived too much pleasure from seeing their fellow man morally humiliated to spoil that pleasure by hearing out an explanation.
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Isn’t making love merely an eternal repetition of the same?
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What did he look for in them? What attracted him to them? Isn’t making love merely an eternal repetition of the same? Not at all. There is always the small part that is unimaginable. When he saw a woman in her clothes, he could naturally imagine more or less what she would look like naked (his experience as a doctor supplementing his experience as a lover), but between the approximation of the idea and the precision of reality there was a small gap of the unimaginable, and it was this hiatus that gave him no rest. And then, the pursuit of the unimaginable does not stop with the revelations of nudity; it goes much further: How would she behave while undressing? What would she say when he made love to her? How would her sighs sound? How would her face distort at the moment of orgasm?
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Men who pursue a multitude of women fit neatly into two categories. Some seek their own subjective and unchanging dream of a woman in all women. Others are prompted by a desire to possess the endless variety of the objective female world.
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The obsession of the former is lyrical: what they seek in women is themselves, their ideal, and since an ideal is by definition something that can never be found, they are disappointed again and again. The disappointment that propels them from woman to woman gives their inconstancy a kind of romantic excuse, so that many sentimental women are touched by their unbridled philandering. The obsession of the latter is epic, and women see nothing the least bit touching in it: the man projects no subjective ideal on women, and since everything interests him, nothing can disappoint him. This inability to be disappointed has something scandalous about it. The obsession of the epic womanizer strikes people as lacking in redemption (redemption by disappointment).
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very long time, constantly scanning her red-blotched
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Tereza occupied his poetic memory like a despot and exterminated all trace of other women. That was unfair, because the young woman he made love to on the rug during the storm was not a bit less worthy of poetry than Tereza. She shouted, ”Close your eyes! Squeeze my hips! Hold me tight!” ; she could not stand it that when Tomas made love he kept his eyes open, focused and observant, his body ever so slightly arched above her, never pressing against her skin. She did not want him to study her. She wanted to draw him into the magic stream that may be entered only with closed eyes. The reason she refused to get down on all fours was that in that position their bodies did not touch at all and he could observe her from a distance of several feet. She hated that distance. She wanted to merge with him. That is why, looking him straight in the eye, she insisted she had not had an orgasm even though the rug was fairly dripping with it. ”It’s not sensual pleasure I’m after,” she would say, ”it’s happiness. And pleasure without happiness is not pleasure.” In other words, she was pounding on the gate of his poetic memory. But the gate was shut. There was no room for her in his poetic memory. There was room for her only on the rug.
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I have said before that metaphors are dangerous. Love begins with a metaphor. Which is to say, love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory.
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”I’m beginning to be grateful to you for not wanting to have children.”
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Imagine having an arm amputated and implanted on someone else. Imagine that person sitting opposite you and gesticulating with it in your face. You would stare at that arm as at a ghost. Even though it was your own personal, beloved arm, you would be horrified at the possibility of its touching you!
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Tomas noticed that when concentrating the boy slightly raised the left side of his upper lip. It was an expression he saw on his own face whenever he peered into the mirror to determine whether it was clean-shaven. Discovering it on the face of another made him uneasy.
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”Ideas can save lives, too.”
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”You know the best thing about what you wrote?” the boy went on, and Tomas could see the effort it cost him to speak. ”Your refusal to compromise. Your clear-cut sense of what’s good and what’s evil, something we’re beginning to lose. We have no idea anymore what it means to feel guilty. The Communists have the excuse that Stalin misled them. Murderers have the excuse that their mothers didn’t love them. And suddenly you come out and say: there is no excuse. No one could be more innocent, in his soul and conscience, than Oedipus. And yet he punished himself when he saw what he had done.”
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Is it right to raise one’s voice when others are being silenced? Yes.
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Is it better to shout and thereby hasten the end, or to keep silent and gain thereby a slower death?
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Human life occurs only once, and the reason we cannot determine which of our decisions are good and which bad is that in a given situation we can make only one decision; we are not granted a second, third, or fourth life in which to compare various decisions.
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If Czech history could be repeated, we should of course find it desirable to test the other possibility each time and compare the results. Without such an experiment, all considerations of this kind remain a game of hypotheses.
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But the world was too ugly, and no one decided to rise up out of the grave.
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famous myth from Plato’s Symposium: People were hermaphrodites until God split them in two, and now all the halves wander the world over seeking one another. Love is the longing for the half of ourselves we have lost.
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Stalin’s son laid down his life for shit. But a death for shit is not a senseless death. The Germans who sacrificed their lives to expand their country’s territory to the east, the Russians who died to extend their country’s power to the west—yes, they died for something idiotic, and their deaths have no meaning or general validity. Amid the general idiocy of the war, the death of Stalin’s son stands out as the sole metaphysical death.
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When I was small and would leaf through the Old Testament retold for children and illustrated in engravings by Gustave Dore, I saw the Lord God standing on a cloud. He was an old man with eyes, nose, and a long beard, and I would say to myself that if He had a mouth, He had to eat. And if He ate, He had intestines. But that thought always gave me a fright, because even though I come from a family that was not particularly religious, I felt the idea of a divine intestine to be sacrilegious. Spontaneously, without any theological training, I, a child, grasped the incompatibility of God and shit and thus came to question the basic thesis of Christian anthropology, namely, that man was created in God’s image. Either/or: either man was created in God’s image—and God has intestines!—or God lacks intestines and man is not like Him.
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Shit is a more onerous theological problem than is evil. Since God gave man freedom, we can, if need be, accept the idea that He is not responsible for man’s crimes. The responsibility for shit, however, rests entirely with Him, the Creator of man.
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Bear in mind: There was pleasure in Paradise, but no excitement.
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Yes, said Franz to himself, the Grand March goes on, the world’s indifference notwithstanding, but it is growing nervous and hectic: yesterday against the American occupation of Vietnam, today against the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia; yesterday for Israel, today for the Palestinians; yesterday for Cuba, tomorrow against Cuba— and always against America; at times against massacres and at times in support of other massacres; Europe marches on, and to keep up with events, to leave none of them out, its pace grows faster and faster, until finally the Grand March is a procession of rushing, galloping people and the platform is shrinking and shrinking until one day it will be reduced to a mere dimension-less dot. 21
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Yes, said Franz to himself, the Grand March goes on, the world’s indifference notwithstanding, but it is growing nervous and hectic: yesterday against the American occupation of Vietnam, today against the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia; yesterday for Israel, today for the Palestinians; yesterday for Cuba, tomorrow against Cuba— and always against America; at times against massacres and at times in support of other massacres; Europe marches on, and to keep up with events, to leave none of them out, its pace grows faster and faster, until finally the Grand March is a procession of rushing, galloping people and the platform is shrinking and shrinking until one day it will be reduced to a mere dimension-less dot.
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can’t help thinking about the editor in Prague who organized the petition for the amnesty of political prisoners. He knew perfectly well that his petition would not help the prisoners. His true goal was not to free the prisoners; it was to show that people without fear still exist. That, too, was playacting.
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His choice was not between playacting and action. His choice was between playacting and no action at all.
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We all need someone to look at us. We can be divided into four categories according to the kind of look we wish to live under. The first category longs for the look of an infinite number of anonymous eyes, in other words, for the look of the public.
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The second category is made up of people who have a vital need to be looked at by many known eyes. They are the tireless hosts of cocktail parties and dinners. They are happier than the people in the first category, who, when they lose their public, have the feeling that the lights have gone out in the room of their lives. This happens to nearly all of them sooner or later. People in the second category, on the other hand, can always come up with the eyes they need.
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Then there is the third category, the category of people who need to be constantly before the eyes of the person they love. Their situation is as dangerous as the situation of people in the first category. One day the eyes of their beloved will close, and the room will go dark.
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And finally there is the fourth category, the rarest, the category of people who live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present. They are the dreamers.
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Punishing people who don’t know what they’ve done is barbaric.
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People drifted off in groups to sightsee; some set off for temples, others for brothels.
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Yes, a husband’s funeral is a wife’s true wedding! The climax of her life’s work! The reward for her sufferings!
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Before we are forgotten, we will be turned into kitsch. Kitsch is the stopover between being and oblivion.
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Men who use borrowed flats for rendezvous and never make love to the same woman twice are not so rare.)
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Of course, Genesis was written by a man, not a horse. There is no certainty that God actually did grant man dominion over other creatures.
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Man was not the planet’s master, merely its administrator, and therefore eventually responsible for his administration.
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People started being removed from their jobs, arrested, put on trial. At last the animals could breathe freely.
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True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind’s true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.
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Not so long before, forty years or so, all the cows in the village had names. (And if having a name is a sign of having a soul, I can say that they had souls despite Descartes.) But then the villages were turned into a large collective factory, and the cows began spending all their lives in the five square feet set aside for them in their cow sheds. From that time on, they have had no names and become mere machinae animatae. The world has proved Descartes correct.
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Man is master and proprietor, says Descartes, whereas the beast is merely an automaton, an animated machine, a machina animata. When an animal laments, it is not a lament; it is merely the rasp of a poorly functioning mechanism. When a wagon wheel grates, the wagon is not in pain; it simply needs oiling. Thus, we have no reason to grieve for a dog being carved up alive in the laboratory.
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Nietzsche leaving his hotel in Turin. Seeing a horse and a coachman beating it with a whip, Nietzsche went up to the horse and, before the coachman’s very eyes, put his arms around the horse’s neck and burst into tears. That took place in 1889, when Nietzsche, too, had removed himself from the world of people. In other words, it was at the time when his mental illness had just erupted. But for that very reason I feel his gesture has broad implications: Nietzsche was trying to apologize to the horse for Descartes. His lunacy (that is, his final break with mankind) began at the very moment he burst into tears over the horse.
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life in Paradise was not like following a straight line to the unknown; it was not an adventure. It moved in a circle among known objects. Its monotony bred happiness, not boredom. As long as people lived in the country, in nature, surrounded by domestic animals, in the bosom of regularly recurring seasons, they retained at least a glimmer of that paradisiac idyll. That is why Tereza, when she met the chairman of the collective farm at the spa, conjured up an image of the countryside (a countryside she had never lived in or known) that she found enchanting. It was her way of looking back, back to Paradise.
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The longing for Paradise is man’s longing not to be man.
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Paradise, where Adam leans over a well and, unlike Narcissus, never even suspects that the pale yellow blotch appearing in it is he himself.
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Perhaps the reason we are unable to love is that we yearn to be loved, that is, we demand something (love) from our partner instead of delivering ourselves up to him demand-free and asking for nothing but his company.
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And therein lies the whole of man’s plight. Human time does not turn in a circle; it runs ahead in a straight line. That is why man cannot be happy: happiness is the longing for repetition.
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even humor is subject to the sweet law of repetition.
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how horrible that we actually dream ahead to the death of those we love!)
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Horror is a shock, a time of utter blindness. Horror lacks every hint of beauty. All we can see is the piercing light of an unknown event awaiting us. Sadness, on the other hand, assumes we are in the know.
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”Missions are stupid, Tereza. I have no mission. No one has. And it’s a terrific relief to realize you’re free, free of all missions.”
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