1 Andrea Gamalski Lit Crit 11/28/08

The female characters in Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being exemplify the unknowable feminine that is a construct of the body of misogynistic text in the literary canon. Both Sabina and Teresa exemplify binary representations of this female persona as described in Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gilbert’s The Madwoman in the Attic. According to Gilbert and Gubar, women are forced into one of two opposing roles of either angel or monster, thus fulfilling the male generated construct of femininity. In addition, the female characters are generated by a male author in a "phallocentric" environment that creates an inauthentic rendering of woman based on this Freudian binary of the angel or monster. Even the contrast between lightness and weight or Sabina and Teresa presents an over-simplified construction of female desire. To Thomas, Sabina exemplifies lightness in her desperate drive to avoid the shackles of monogamous love. In opposition is Tereza is heavy, jealous and flawed. She represents the ideal male concept of woman because she is dutiful, faithful and jealous. Teresa gives all of her female energy and creative powers over to the unrequited object of love she wishes to possess, Thomas. In contrast, Sabina lives in constant fear of weight. This weight manifests as the dark angel of jealousy and obsession. Thus, Sabina moves rapidly from one lover to the next, avoiding a soul collision at all costs. If Sabina and Tereza are opposing forces Thomas is the magnetic lodestone. Thus Thomas represents the great magnetic phallus around which the written women revolve.

2 Although Kundera attempts to construct a complex feminine psyche, he is a man imagining the interiority of a woman according to male conventions of female sexuality. Thomas describes Tereza as a manifestation of his consciousness. He says, “She was neither mistress nor wife. She was a child whom he had taken from a bulrush basket that had been daubed with pitch and sent to the riverbank of his bed”(The Unbearable Lightness of Being 7). Thus Thomas describes himself as a Pharaoh, receiving the god granted gift of Tereza, the harmless, helpless infant whom he must mold into an adult woman. Helen Cixous discusses this sort of narcissistic male creationism in her manifesto The Laugh of the Medusa. She describes the literary construct of women as "phallocentric", love-less and full of self- loathing. Women have absorbed this selfloathing because of her inability to conform to the binary of angel and monster. She has projected it onto other women, thus creating an entire gender that tries desperately to become a no-one. Because this male binary construct is an anomaly we fail and then project self-hatred upon fellow women. This self-inflicted oppression further manifests as all the neurotic diseases attributed to women, including hysteria, anorexia, agoraphobia and amnesia (The Madwoman In the Attic 2033). Cixous describes the anxiety a woman experiences when she realizes her interiority and sexuality do not align with the male construct. She says, “Who, surprised and horrified by the fantastic tumult of her drives (for she was made to believe that a well adjusted normal woman has a divine composure), hasn’t accused herself of being a monster? (The Laugh of the Medusa 2040) Tereza vacillates between these binary archetypes throughout the text. She is the dutiful angel and helpless child delivered to Thomas like Moses in the bulrush basket. When he marries her and she protests his infidelities she becomes his prison warden. He

3 says, “For seven years he had lived bound to her, his every step subject to her scrutiny. She might as well have chained iron balls to his ankles”(30). Here we see the inscrutable woman of man’s imagination. She is a faithful angel, childlike in her reverence for her husband, catering to his every whim sexually and domestically, yet allowing him complete freedom to do whatever he likes with whomever he likes. This person is not human, she is a delusional fantasy devised by the "phallocentric" ego. She has been so imposed upon real women that we do not recognize our authentic drives and desires as healthy and true. Rather, we suppress our creative life force in order to lace ourselves into the stiflingly oppressive role of male generated woman. We degrade and criticize other women because within this patriarchal literary structure we are in fierce competition with one another to be the impossible, virgin, whore, angel, monster, scholar, etc., but never smarter than our patriarchal fathers. Cixous says, “Men have committed the greatest crime of all against women. Insidiously, violently, they have led them to hate women, to be their own enemies” (2041). Tomas executes this “anti-narcissism”(2042) expertly. After moving in with Tomas, Tereza immediately realizes he is having multiple affairs. She begins to have dreams depicting grisly death marches with Tomas as the gunman who shoots at the woman doing knee-bends. She explains, “Tereza saw herself threatened by women, all women. All women were potential mistresses for Tomas, and she feared them all”(18). Clearly it is no fault of Tereza’s for mistrusting other women. Tomas created an atmosphere of insecurity and mistrust because of his promiscuity. He knew Tereza loved him monogamously, yet he married her and continued to have one adulterous affair after the next. Because the text is written in a male voice it is impossible to know the reasons

4 why Tereza would stay with such a man. Cixous cites the male dominant economy of literature as a primary explanation for Tereza’s incomprehensible behavior. She explains, “… writing has been run by a libidinal and cultural -hence political, typically masculine –economy; that is a locus where the repression of women has been perpetuated, over and over, more or less consciously, and in a manner that’s frightening, since it’s often hidden or adorned with the mystifying charms of fiction…”(2042-2043). Thus, for the sake of fiction, Tereza remains in an abusive relationship where she is powerless and exploited, much like her past relationships. Within the guise of innocuous fiction, Tereza’s mother represents a monster from the past. She invades the present with each painful discovery of Thomas’ infidelity. Tereza’s mother is described as bawdy and shameless. She is abusive and intolerant, constantly torturing Tereza out of jealousy of her youth and beauty. In addition, she allows her perverse husband to watch Tereza in the bath. Kundera says, “Once she locked herself in and her mother was furious. ‘who do you think you are, anyway? Do you think he’s going to bite off a piece of your beauty?’”(45). The narrator explains that Tereza’s mother must have been jealous and spiteful toward her daughter, rather than concerned by her husband’s lechery. Thus Kndera proves that the male generated antinarcissism among women is not relegated only to sisterly competition but encroaches maternal relationships as well. This is particularly disquieting because it assumes no safe haven for women. Even the sacred bond between mother and daughter is subject to the vicious rivalry man has written between women. Cixous explains, “The mother, too, is a metaphor. It is necessary and sufficient that the best of herself be given to woman by another woman for her to be able to love herself and return in love the body that was

5 ‘born’ to her”(2045. This rivalry or self-hate is, at its center a mass of misinformation about the true nature of woman. The center of this inter-gender hatred is man’s mistaken belief that woman is an unknowable, perfectly inscrutable mystery whose only discernible drive is to secure the love of a man. If Tereza is the archetypal angel, Sabina tends toward a monster for her lack of fidelity. She is a married man’s mistress and completely averse to a monogamous, committed relationship. Kundera explains her yearning for alienation from human bonds as weightlessness. For Sabina, the very notion of betrayal is an act of revolt toward all convention. In relation to her father, Sabina views betrayal as a singular method of declaring her autonomy from his puritan constraints. Thus, Sabina brings this element of betrayal to all of her relationships because it makes her uniquely Sabina. The narrator says, “Betrayal means breaking ranks and going off into the unknown. Sabina knew of nothing more magnificent than going off into the unknown”(91). Although Sabina is characterized as a free agent of pleasure, her oblivion to the casualties of her affairs could only be derived from a male generated feminine voice. This in part explains the necessity for women to write women. Cixous says, “By writing herself, woman will return to the body which has been more than confiscated from her, which has been turned into the uncanny stranger on display—the ailing or dead figure, which so often turns out to be the nasty companion, the cause and location of inhibitions”(2043). Because Sabina is a male construct, she is emotionally one-dimensional. She does not exhibit any conflicting emotions over her relations with married men. She seems to seek out married men, which is clearly a sign of pathos, yet Kundera never examines this because it is impossible for him to truly live in the interiority of a woman. Thus, Sabina only

6 heightens the neurotic self-abhorrent nature of women in literature because she is no woman. She is a male construct of the imaginary monster-woman who simply does not exist. To remedy the inauthentic representation of women in literature Cixous calls for bi-sexual writing. She demands that the only authentic representation of gender and sexuality in literature be written with the sensibilities of both or possibly all genders thus creating a rich, multi-faceted character with real human yearnings, drives and desires. She explains, “Bisexuality; that is, each one’s location in self (reperage en soi) of the presence –variously manifest and insistent according to each person, male or female—of both sexes, nonexclusion either of the difference or of one sex, and from this ‘selfpermission,’ multiplication of the effects of the inscription of desire, over all parts of my body and the other body”(2047). Cixous does not ascribe bi-sexuality to castration, but rather a thoughtful treatment of sexuality with a multi-gendered perspective. This bisexual perspective is not present in Kundera’s "phallocentric" universe. The encounter between Sabina and Tereza which, began as Tomas’ attempt to introduce his wife to his mistress evolved into a representation of Tomas’ linguistic and sexual sign system played out in the bodies of two naked women. The fact that Sabina introduces Tomas’ command of “strip” into her encounter with Tereza illustrates this lack of bisexuality in Kundera’s novel. Even the lesbian scene is encroached upon with a male sign system devised by a male character. The women do not interact sexually. Instead, they burst out laughing and re-dress. When describing the bowler hat on Sabina’s head, Kundera asks, “Was excitement really a mere step away from laughter?”(86). He does not allow the laughter to progress from desire to action. Perhaps he knows that it would be impossible to

7 represent a lesbian scene with any authority for lack of knowledge. Male authors not only lack knowledge of the feminine, they deem women an impossible mystery. Cixous explains, “Men say that there are two unrepresentable things: death and the feminine sex”(2048). Tomas’ erotic encounters are a means for him to collect a piece of the unknowable feminine and possess her mysterious core. For Tomas, it was not the mere vision of the naked woman but her sounds and gestures, including her face at the moment of climax that make her the “other”, a soul to add to his collection. Kundera says, “What is unique about the ‘I’ hides itself exactly in what is unimaginable about a person. All we are able to imagine is what makes everyone like everyone else, what people have in common”(199). Kundera describes Tomas’ drive to possess the female core, as the human desire for unity via understanding however Tomas still believes that the core of woman is an incomprehensible universe. This negates the validity of Tomas’ motive. If woman is incomprehensible because she is not male then Tomas is not attempting to understand her but rather to possess her. Cixous describes a culture in which woman have been, “Muffled throughout their history, they have lived in dreams, in bodies (though muted), in silences, in aphonic revolts”(2049). Tereza embodies this notion of the muffled woman. Her character predominantly exists in dreams and visions of the past. She is haunted by nightmares of naked women marching around a pool and her mother and being shot. These dreams identify her within the text yet they are the direct result of her relationship with Tomas. They define her only in relation to her husband. She is simply a possession, a manifestation of his consciousness, which, he expertly manipulates and controls. Cixous’ solution to the “phallocentric” literary culture calls for a female literary

8 revolution. She asserts that the current literary period is on the wane. She explains, “For when the Phallic period comes to an end, women will have either annihilated or borne up to the highest and most violent incandescence”(2049). In Kundera’s novel, this combustion takes place retrospectively during the Prague Spring, a radical attempt at democratization of the Communist party in Prague. This uprising is symbolic of a feminine revolution because it encompasses the rupture and spreading out of new, subversive feminine values over the old. As Cixous describes, such a revolution, “…is volcanic; as it is written it brings about an upheaval of the old property crust, carrier of masculine investments; there’s no other way”(2051). Thus, the Prague Spring, with all its fertility and fecundity was a symbolic gesture of feminine voice for those dissenting persons who took up their pens, or phallic extensions and signed for the wide-open hope of democracy. Unfortunately, the Red Army invaded with their erect guns and launched an immediate interrogation of anyone suspect of signing the manifesto. Guilty parties were purged from the country, assuring ultimate power to the grand phallus via force and intimidation. Thus, the incandescence of the feminine revolution does not illuminate Kundera’s novel beyond a flicker. The only solution to the lack of feminine authenticity in literature is for women to write women. It is no fault of Kundera’s that he cannot accurately write the interiority of woman because she still exists on, “the Dark Unexplorable Continent”(2048). The bisexual writing that Cixous deems necessary for the evolution of literature will not happen overnight. This sort of progress comes slowly through male exploration of authentic feminine texts and careful, thoughtful examination of socio-historical documentation of the plight of the literary foremothers. Simply reading Dickenson or

9 Shelly is not enough. One must learn about the “anxieties of authorship” attributed to early female authors. This scholarly query necessitates an honest interest and desire to understand the subject matter. Herein lies the quandary. If the literary power differential favors the phallus, what male scholar wants to question the authorities that control publishing? This is a significant bind, however there are a large number of progressive thinkers in gender studies today that have exploded the notion of a heterosexual male -dominant literary culture. They have opened up a floodgate of multi-gendered criticism and literature, which in turn has awakened the volcano of feminine text and spread over the ancient ruins of monuments to an old phallic regime. The resulting creative soil is rich with the volcanic nutrients. It has been replaced by fertile earth for the outgrowth of multi-gendered literature and sexually diverse text.

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