- The Unbearable Lightness of Being
- Inspired by Milan Kundera's masterpiece .
"The phrase "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" is Kundera's own, but to understand it we actually have too start with Friedrich Nietzsche and the idea of "eternal return." Eternal return is the idea that our universe and our existence has occurred an infinite number of times in the past, and will continue to occur ad infinitum. In this theory, time is cyclical rather than linear. The idea of eternal return is an ancient one, but Nietzsche, a 19th century German philosopher, popularized it for modern times. That's why the narrator of Unbearable Lightness refers to it as Nietzsche's concept .
If we live only once, then we can never compare the decisions we make to any alternatives. And if we can never compare different outcomes, we can never know if the decisions we made are correct or not, which means we can never judge them properly or take responsibility for them. Hence, to live only once is to live with lightness. It's important to keep in mind that Kundera doesn't pose the question of whether life is heavy or light – he suggests that it is light, and then asks questions from there.
And the major question is this: which is better? Do we want lightness, or do we want weight? Which do we choose? Kundera takes a look at Parmenides, a Greek philosopher in the 5th century B.C. who considered the same question. Parmenides argued that lightness was positive and to be desired, while weight was negative. But the narrator of The Unbearable Lightness of Being isn't so sure about this. "The heaviest of burdens is […] simultaneously an image of life's most intense fulfillment," he says (1.2.4). "The heavier the burden, […] the more real and truthful [our lives] become" (1.2.4)."