Identity, Milan Kundera

„Yes, I can have two faces, but I can’t have them at the same time. With you, I wear the scoffing face. When I’m at the office, I wear the serious face. I get the resumes of people looking for work at our place. It’s up to me to recommend them or reject them. Some of them, in their letters, express themselves in this perfectly up-to-date lingo, with all the clichés, with the jargon, with all the required optimism. I don’t need to see them or talk to them to detest them. But I know that those are the ones who will do the work well, and zealously. And then there are the ones who, in other times, would certainly be going into philosophy, or art history, or teaching French literature, but these days, for want of anything better, almost out of despair, they’re looking for work at our place. I know that in their hearts they feel contempt for the job they’re seeking and that therefore they are my kinfolk.”

„But no one can do a thing about feelings, they exist and there’s no way to censor them. We can reproach ourselves for some action, for a remark, but not for a feeling, quite simply because we have no control at all over it.”

„’What is it? What’s a happened?’

‘Nothing, nothing,’ she says.

‘What do you mean, nothing? You’re completely transformed.’

‘I slept very badly. I had almost no sleep. I’ve had a bad morning.’

‘A bad morning? Why?’

‘No reason, really no reason.’

‘Tell me.’

‘Really, no reason.’

He insists. She finally says: ‘Men don’t turn to look at me any more.’

He stares at her, unable to understand what she is saying, what she means.

She is sad because men don’t turn to look at her any more? He wants to say to her: And me? What about me? Me who goes searching for you for kilometres on the beach, me who shouts your name in tears and who could chase after you the length and breadth of the planet?

He doesn’t say it. Instead, slowly, his tone low, he repeats her words: ‘Men don’t turn to look at you any more. Is that really why you’re sad?’

She flushes. She flushes as he has not seen her flush for a long time. That flush seems to betray unconfessed desires. Desires so violent that Chantal cannot resist them, and she repeats: ‘Yes, men, they don’t turn to look at me any more.”

„As she did this, she heard the black man’s mocking laughter again and thought that she was just like every other woman; her brassieres suddenly looked vulgar and idiotically feminine.”

“…a couple was plunged in a bottomless silence. Managing silence under the eyes of other people is not easy. Where should the two of them turn their gaze? It would be comical for them to look directly at each other and not say a word. Stare at the ceiling? That would seem to be making a display of their muteness. Observe the neighbouring tables? They might intercept looks of amusement at their silence, and that would be still worse.”

„’Two people in love, alone, isolated from the world, that’s very beautiful.

But what would they nourish their intimate talk with? However contemptible the world may be, they still need it to be able to talk together.’

‘They could be silent.’

‘Like those two, at the next table?’ Jean Marc laughed. ‘Oh, no, no love can survive muteness.’”

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