Painting by Katarina Countiss
Excerpt from The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Book-1984) by Milan Kundera, page 39-40
It would be senseless for the author to try to convince the reader that his characters once actually lived. They were not born of a mother’s womb; they were born of a stimulating phrase or two or from a basic situation. Tomas was born of the saying “Einmal ist keinmal.” Tereza was born of the rumbling of a stomach
The first time she went to Tomas’s flat, her insides began to rumble. And no wonder; she had nothing to eat since breakfast but a quick sandwich on the platform before boarding the train. She had concentrated on the daring journey ahead of her and forgotten about food. But when we ignore the body, we are more easily victimized by it. She felt terrible standing there in front of Tomas listening to her belly speak out. She felt like crying. Fortunately, after the first ten seconds Tomas put his arms around her and made her forget her ventral voices.
Tereza was therefore born of a situation which brutally reveals the irreconcilable duality of body and soul, that fundamental human experience.
A long time ago, man would listen in amazement to the sound of regular beats in his chest, never suspecting what they were. He was unable to identify himself with so alien and unfamiliar an object as the body. The body was a cage, and inside that cage was something which looked, listened, feared, thought, and marveled; that something, that remainder let over after the body had been accounted for, was the soul.
Today of course, the body is no longer unfamiliar; we know that the beating in our chest is the heart and that the nose is the nozzle of a hose sticking out of the body to take oxygen to the lungs. The face is nothing but an instrument panel registering all the body mechanisms; digestion, sight, hearing, respiration, thought.
Ever since man has learned to give each part of the body a name, the body has given him less trouble. He also learned that the soul is nothing more than the gray matter of the brain in action. The old duality of body and soul has become shrouded in scientific terminology, and we can laugh at it as merely an obsolete prejudice.
But just make someone who has fallen in love listen to his stomach rumble, and the unity of body and soul, that lyrical illusion of the age of science, instantly fades away.