I’m currently reading Kundera’s most recent meditation on the novel, The Curtain (which shares a number of ideas and themes with his previous meditation on the topic, Testaments Betrayed). There is a wonderful chapter about world literature, and how those working within a literary tradition don’t recognise the (successful) innovators within their own ranks, and it is only the outside world that does so (discuss in the context of the RAE…). Effortlessly readable, as is much of Kundera, with perceptive insights on lots of books you won’t have read (for
there’s a nice discussion of Hasek compared with Kafka as existentialist writers at one point.
Anyway, the book begins with an anecdote about Kundera’s father which explains a lot:
“They used to tell a story about my father, who was a musician. He is out with friends someplace when, from a radio or a phonograph, they hear the strains of a symphony. The friends, all of them musicians or music buffs, immediately recognize Beethoven’s Ninth. They ask my father, “What’s that playing?” After long thought he says, “It sounds like Beethoven.” They all stifle a laugh: my father doesn’t recognize the Ninth Symphony! “Are you sure?” “Yes” says my father, “Late Beethoven.” “How do you know it’s late?” He points out a certain harmonic shift that the younger Beethoven could never have used.””