The Well of the Past

… Thomas Mann brought his very important contribution: [ to these questions: what is an individual and wherein does his identity reside?] we think we act, we think we think, but it is another or others who think and act in us: that is to say, timeless habits, archetypes, which – having become myths passed on from one generation to the next – carry an enormous power and control us (says Mann) from “the well of the past.”

Milan Kundera, Testaments Betrayed: An Essay in Nine Parts. trans Linda Asher. Faber and Faber, 1995 (1993).

Mann’s contribution mentioned here by Kundera is from Joseph and his Brothers. I bought a copy today in an edition of just under 1500 pages, daunting and exciting in equal measure. It recalls the idea Mann started to develop through Hans Castorp in Magic Mountain, straying into Jungian, perhaps even Gnostic realms.

Suspending Moral Judgement

Suspending moral judgement is not the immorality of the novel; it is its morality. The morality that stands against the ineradicable human habit of judging instantly, ceaselessly, and everyone; of judging before, and in the absence of, understanding. From the viewpoint of the novel’s wisdom, that fervid readiness to judge is the most detestable stupidity, the most pernicious evil. Not that the novelist utterly denies that moral judgment is legitimate, but that he refuses it a place in the novel. If you like, you can accuse Panurge of cowardice, accuse Emma Bovary, accuse Rastignac – that’s your business; the novelist has nothing to do with it.

Milan Kundera, Testaments Betrayed: An Essay in Nine Parts. trans Linda Asher. Faber and Faber, 1995 (1993).

Whether we can ever come to a novel completely free of moral values is arguable, but it must be desirable that the attempt to suspend beliefs and values is in a reader’s interest if literature is to have the potential to change us.