Identity by Milan Kundera

Since I was on bed rest since last week and prevented from doing any form of work, I reverted to my old indoor past time of reading novels. This was the first love story written by Kundera that I have read. And as always, it did not disappoint. It took me to another place and made me relate to the text at the same time. The story is about this really interesting and quirky couple who grappled with the immensity of their love for each other and the fears that ensue out of this love.

Kundera painted this couple as an interesting pair. Frequently, married life is associated with negative terms like boredom or settling for a less superior quality of life. I have been laughed at, ridiculed even, for my choice to get married by certain people. Even among married people, there is an abundant source of hate for marriage as an institution. It’s really sad and I find it very understandable why there are strong sentiments against marriage. It really is challenging. Some days, I even wonder if I can get through it. There are things that you will discover as a married woman and they are not always easy.

Kundera’s writing in here is more light compared to the other novels I have read like Unbearable Lightness of Being. This is one of his later novels, written at the sunset of his writing life. And it owns this mellowed down quality that I do not find in his earlier works. He is still brilliant as always. But this novel is not as aggressive as the previous ones. It does not diminish the beauty of it despite that. There is still the magic. I kind of half-expected that Kundera will go on a semantic discussion about certain words but he did not. Instead, he actualized a deeply internal human experience in the height of passionate love along with its ebbs and flows.

Apart from the tiny gratitude for regaining back my reading time, I really feel like there are new challenges for me this year and it’s up to me which one to tackle first and how I should face them. Whatever choice I make, the option to win is always palpable for as long as I do not give up.

Prior to specific setbacks of life, I planned like crazy, even up to the minutest details of life. And not all of those plans fell into place. I had to cross out numerous things on my planner after most of my plans were wiped out. Still, I continue to refine my old plans into new plans and hope for the best. Because in the middle of all that orderly planning is the grace of God to breathe more opportunities, opportunities that are quite exclusively provided to a life that multiplies its time with efficiency.

I still believe in efficiency and processes even when life is a huge chaotic mess. I still believe that even if you can only control a minuscule subset of this planet, you can still make some sense of what you have in your hands for as long as you do your best, that rest will only really happen ultimately in death.

So… having said all that, I continue to peruse through interesting reads and turn the pages of my life into a new chapter, a chapter that I explicitly did not want to embark into out of fear. But it is a chapter into which I was forcefully thrown into because of my current health circumstances. And hopefully, when I reach the sunset of my life, I will have a life stitched by diverse but interesting chapters that actualize the fire that burns and resonates from inside of me. I am really optimistic and hopeful about the future. Today’s decisions will affect them profoundly, and hopefully for the better.

 

 

 

Immortality
by Milan Kundera

Kundera is Immortality. Immortality is Kundera.

If I were to liken the four books I’ve read of this Czechoslovakian author (who speaks fluent French), I’d say that his prose in each novel are like pearls on a string. Each pearl is lovely to look at and hold, and together, they form a sparkling and seamless reflection of his deepest philosophical thoughts. He’s a black pearl with his unabashed, brilliant perversion.

But of all the Milan Kundera titles I had the privilege of reading, only Immortality has that immortal quality of remaining  in the pages of a novel. I cannot imagine it being depicted as a film. I believe Unbearable Lightness of Being had a movie depiction in the 1980s or early 1990s. That was somehow possible. But I doubt that anyone can actually capture the essence of Immortality in the big screen. It’s too good, too intricately woven to be depicted otherwise. Clearly, there are things that remain in novels. He even had one character, Professor Avenarius, expound on this idea: “The present era grabs everything that was ever written in order to transform it into films, TV programs, or cartoons. What is essential in a novel is precisely what can only be expressed in a novel, and so every adaptation contains nothings but the nonessential. If a person is still crazy enough to write novels nowadays and wants to protect them, he has to write them in such a way that they cannot be adapted, in other words, in such a way that they cannot be retold.”

There is something so strange about the author in this novel. All throughout the novel, he is interspersing his way in and out of the world of his main characters. Interestingly, this novel was borne out of Kundera’s inspiration from a gesture of an old woman in a health club. Imagine that! One gesture leads to gesticulations of this smart man’s thoughts finally distilled into a work of prose that had me thinking harder than I have ever thought for any other book I have read this entire month.

And in the book’s setting, his main character, Agnes, possessed the immortality of the other great people he mentioned like Goethe and Hemingway.

Agnes looked upon old men with envy; it seemed to her that they aged differently: her father’s body slowly changed into its shadow, it dematerialized, it remained in the world merely as a carelessly incarnated soul. In contrast, the more useless a woman’s body becomes, the more it is a body, heavy and burdensome; it resembles an old factory destined for demolition, which the woman’s self must watch to the very end, like a caretaker.

It had a haunting quality that will make you think, will make you sad, and will make you strangely nostalgic as if you are an old person sitting on a rocking chair and ruminating on days gone past in the throes of old age.  The mixing of the setting, the mingling of Kundera with his main characters and the intersections between recollection and present-day made the novel’s structure unlike any other. If Gabriel Garcia Marquez posed a challenge with his punctuation-hating patriarch, Kundera posed a challenge to the reader with the numerous layers of philosophical insights discussed in the midst of a well-woven and non-linear storytelling.

Kundera’s other main characters are all well-developed, even putting in a surprise character in the end who was used to tie all the philosophical arguments together from earlier chapters. I had a love-hate relationship with the characters of Paul and Laura. But they way they were characterized as a couple in love by Kundera completely floored me: “It was summertime. Laura closed her shop and the two of them left for a two-week seaside vacation. The waves dashed against the shore and their call filled Paul’s breast. The music of this element was the only kind that he loved passionately. He discovered with happy surprise that Laura merged with this music; the only woman in his life whom he found to resemble the sea; who was the sea.

In the novel, the themes of sibling rivalry and complicated father-child and husband-wife relationships were portrayed. They were not depicted in the usual sappy and predictable way that sells like hotcakes these days. It was under the grand scheme of eliciting words that produce more words in the head.  “Yes, the essence of every love is a child, and it makes no difference at all whether it has ever actually been conceived or born. In the algebra of love a child is the symbol of the magical sum of two beings.

What I like the most about the book is the numerous metaphors that Kundera is notoriously an expert in. In Unbearable Lightness of Being, he mentioned love as a metaphor. In Immortality, he had metaphors for every person. If Laura was the sea, there was also corresponding metaphors for husbands and fathers. “The world of roads was the world of fathers. The world of highways was the world of husbands. And Agnes’s story closes like a circle: from the world of roads to that of highways, and now back again.

I was chuckling at the relevant themes that I noticed. It was during the height of celebrity scandals of morning talk shows when I got to this part of the book: “Fame adds a hundredfold echo to everything that happens to us. And it is uncomfortable to walk the world with an echo.“And with the non-stop reports on a politician’s messed-up love life, I also found an equally appropriate quote from the same book: “Humor can only exist when people are still capable of recognizing some border between the important and unimportant. And nowadays this border has become unrecognizable.

And I realized that in any age or century, this thing holds true. Saliently, other universal precepts like suffering were touched on albeit a little lightly: “In intense suffering the world disappears and each of us is alone with his self. Suffering is the university of egocentrism.” (I might have a master’s degree already from this university, basing from my blogging activity and increasing self-absorption these days. LOL)

The whole book is quite MEATY for the brain that genuinely loves to probe beyond the gestures depicted in the surface, for the lack of a better word. It plumbed the depths of my head using concepts usually reserved to depict the emotions of the heart. No word put to waste. Everything had its purpose. It was like in that old novel I read which he also wrote (the title is The Farewell Party) that revolved around a blue pill. In this case, the world revolved around a woman’s single gesture at a health club. I am no literature expert (although I certainly wish I knew the technical terms for these literary phenomenon that these great writers have in common) in the college degree sense of the word, but I enjoy reading as one of my hobbies. And this title, Immortality, enchants me. I am so fascinated at how something can emerge out of the two-dimensional world of words printed on paperback. It elicited a world within a world within a world, if I may add. The sense of shame of the public’s prying of artists’ lives posthumously that literary greats struggle with were depicted anew, just like his exposition in The Testament (an essay in nine parts).

Again, all his creations are pearls on a single string, gems of words that are consistently aligned with each other. If I were to become a competent writer of anything, I’d like to have my own pearl necklace of words like he did. But my occasional lack of logic betrays me so I can probably just hope for a hodge podge of buttons on a basket than a pearl necklace. Nonetheless, this literary genius is one of my writing inspirations, without a doubt.

And for those who like to make literary necklaces, here’s a comforting thought from the same:  “…that those who create (statues, poems, symphonies) deserve more respect than those who rule (over servants, officials, or whole nations); that creativity means more than power, art more than politics; that works of art, not wars or aristocratic costume balls, are immortal.

Indeed. I bow in genuine and perpetual obeisance, Mr. Kundera.

 

 

 

 

Telex the Tour Guide, Skype Romance, and the CDO River Survey Experience

In my previous post, I mentioned about Bacolod but it was about me and my friend Tine. I find it ironic writing about Visayas that way when I am actually in Mindanao soil. I was unable to capture the entire experience, but I am saving this subsequent blog post to mention another important person in my Bacolod trip with my friend Tine.  And that is none other than our good tour guide Telex. (No, I have not forgotten you, Sir. I was saving my thank you for this post because your utmost hospitality to me and Tine deserves an entire post in itself.)

With Bacolod being my first domestic leisure trip, I had no other means to compare the experience elsewhere. So when I flew to Cagayan De Oro last October 25 to survey a river, it was the first trip where I really felt a severe homesickness. This place is all new to me, I don’t speak Visayan dialect, and I really appreciated the presence of Tine and Telex more during my last out-of-Manila trip prior to CDO. It’s ironic because CDO is a place of extreme activities and well, I’m not exactly the adventurous type. I climbed seven waterfalls with a mountain level 1 difficulty, and I was already like a rolling and noisy can from 4th waterfall to 7th waterfall. I made sure not to look like it in my photos, but yeah, I was sedentary like that:

Mambukal Falls’ Elusive 7th Waterfall with Tiney

Going back to my CDO trip… I was just with my stuffed toy Cookie and my Milan Kundera novel (which I haven’t got the time to read at all!) as I braved the 2 hour turbulent flight. I hate riding planes and well, I was just gripping my rosary the whole time I was up there.

I arrived here with barely any clue of what to do or where to go. To make things worse, it was Signal Number 1 at the time of my flight. So I had moments where the airplane was moving vertically and people were already screaming a little inside the Cebu Pacific airbus. I stifled my screams because my guy seatmate was watching and waiting for me to scream. I did not want to give him any satisfaction. The plane was not able to land its usual route because of the strong winds. Forever thankful to the ultra-skilled pilot of Cebu Pacific for NOT RISKING the passengers just to land the usual way. He found a way to go above the turbulent parts and made a different maneuver as he landed.

Lumbia Airport on a Rainy Evening Landing

 

Camwhoring before the Turbulent Flight

 

My only friends who hail from CDO are both engineers who were working in Manila and Qatar, respectively, at the time of my arrival. Fortunately, I had fellow homesick but homely officemates who are working fulltime on the field with me on the Cagayan de Oro river project. They have been in the area for a month already when I arrived. I lived with them for a week, until I got spooked during Undas by a Sendong ghost in the house by Kauswagan road. It was my first ever encounter with witchcraft, so it was really a learning experience. I no longer want to elaborate but I am just thankful that I am now able to work without those setbacks.  Thanks, St. Benedict and Mama Mary (the Mother of God and the Mother of Paulo). I continue to remember in my prayers the 7,000 missing bodies buried by the same river we are surveying here in CDO. Only 1,000 were recovered during the recovery operations here last year.

Sendong's Cagayan de Oro River - The Powerful Force to be Always Reckoned with

Travel buffs are always posting about CDO’s whitewater rafting activities and its proximity to Dahilayan Adventure Park, the longest zipline in the world. I don’t have that experience from this “workation” but I was fascinatingly able to explore the innards of CDO River’s perimeter. I have immensely improved when it comes to being trained as a seasoned geodetic engineer. Two years of office work could not possibly match the level of technical learning I got from this challenging project:

Engr. Helen Mary Labao – camwhore at the GPS baseline

Surveying a river is tough. It’s not as easy as smiling for a camera in the early morning. (No need to post the evening pics cause I look like shit in them already. LOL.)

The Work-related Fieldwork Debutante in the Barracks

I was not able to participate much in the field activities because I was handling all the data taken from the field since September. While the rest of the team battled snake encounters and sharp grass blades piercing their sunburnt skin, I was mostly battling equations and trying to make sense of numerous leveling, traverse, cross section stakeout, and soundings data from my trusty office-issued Sony Vaio laptop which garnered dust and braved all these mental adventures with me.

 

 

Fieldwork Preparation of Coordinates from Satellite Image

This is what we find during actual fieldwork for the same area…

 

The Leveling Data Monsters I had to slay… LOL (I am at leveling loop 140+ now!)

At one point in my almost month-long stay here in Mindanao, I think I tweeted something like: Home is not necessarily a place, but it can also be a person. And I felt by my lonesome on most days because I miss my family and my boyfriend so bad. And the only semblance of family I have here are my officemates who are not living with me anymore after my first week. I practically lived here and stayed here longer than I stayed in Bacolod, Cebu, or Palawan. So as a reluctant traveler by nature, I really learned a lot. Staying here gave me more appreciation for my loved ones; I easily take them for granted when I am in Manila because I see them all the time. I also got to appreciate the wonders of googling a place you’re going to, and having a well-versed friend from the place of interest such as Telex in our Bacolod trip earlier this year.

Skype was VERY helpful.

Missing my love sooooo bad!

Also, I was here in CDO when my first ever successful matchmaking endeavor finally had its fruition. I am really very happy for my two friends Joseph and Maureen for finally meeting after months of BBM and Skyping romance. I love you to bits, you two. <3

Understandably, since I stayed in CDO longer, I was somehow able to discover the good food / accommodation options here despite my missing out on the famous whitewater rafting and zipline activities. I promise to write another post about CDO and show you what I loved about this second place I visited here in Mindanao.

(Trivia in case anyone finds it necessary: My first Mindanao trip was in General Santos City in 4th year high school for a writing contest.)

There’ll be more in the coming days when all this data madness is over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ignorance by Milan Kundera

While it’s true that writing is a matter of technique that can be harnessed by constant practice, there is that soulful facet to writing that is possessed only by the magical few. Undoubtedly, Milan Kundera is in the ranks of these natural writing talents. He wrote on Ignorance, but he is far from being one as far as writing is concerned.

I believe that genius writing is a silent but strong and unspoken fraternity of authors who possess that divine x-factor in their writing. These authors show without telling too much, leave readers wanting more, and uses even seemingly meaningless parts of the novel into something of monumental or pivotal significance. On second thought, these authors do not waste words so there is no meaningless utterance in the entirety of their creations; they economize but let each syllable speak volumes. And the connections can hardly be missed, subtly interlaced as they are.

Kundera’s novel, Ignorance, which was originally in French, was not called a bestseller for nothing.

Ignorance knows no bounds and it’s not just in real life. This is the second Kundera book that I finished reading, and I liked this one better than the last (Testaments Betrayed).

Kundera’s novels always make me think deeply about things. He shakes up definitions of certain words which I thought are immovable. He makes me have a certain consciousness and heightened devotion for the milieu of languages and the world beyond it.

Irena and Josef’s story was not even a lame attempt to produce a love story. It redefined what coming home meant to emigrants. It redefined emigration altogether against the backdrop of a falling communist regime. And it also possessed haunting presences like that of Milada and the hidden secret behind her lonesome beauty.

It was shameless, enticing, and intellectual, just like any other Kundera novel. And I intend not to give too much away in my review, lest I deprive readers of the privilege to enjoy it in the same way.

I enjoy the fact that both feet were propped up on pillows while I was in bed reading this book, the very book on Ignorance that unabashedly stripped me of my ignorance. 🙂