“philosophers who write novels are nothing but pseudo-novelists”: Milan Kundera

INTERVIEWER

But why would a novelist want to deprive himself of the right to express his philosophy overtly and assertively in his novel?

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KUNDERA

Because he has none! People often talk about Chekhov’s philosophy, or Kafka’s, or Musil’s. But just try to find a coherent philosophy in their writings! Even when they express their ideas in their notebooks, the ideas amount to intellectual exercises, playing with paradoxes, or improvisations rather than to assertions of a philosophy. And philosophers who write novels are nothing but pseudonovelists who use the form of the novel in order to illustrate their ideas. Neither Voltaire nor Camus ever discovered “that which the novel alone can discover.” I know of only one exception, and that is the Diderot of Jacques le fataliste. What a miracle! Having crossed over the boundary of the novel, the serious philosopher becomes a playful thinker. There is not one serious sentence in the novel—everything in it is play. That’s why this novel is outrageously underrated in France. Indeed, Jacques le fataliste contains everything that France has lost and refuses to recover. In France, ideas are preferred to works. Jacques le fatalistecannot be translated into the language of ideas, and therefore it cannot be understood in the homeland of ideas.

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