Saturday, October 18, 2008

In Defense of Milan Kundera

Here's a perfectly good statement of the charge. For the sake of argument, I'm going to assume it's true. The Economist suggests that it's a mild offense because he was acting out of more or less desperate self-interest. Others have proposed it's mitigated by the very opposite: that he was acting out of conviction.

I want to suggest a simpler defense: he snitched on a traitor. I think it's important to keep in mind that he was not informing on an internal dissident, i.e., someone who may have been stirring up trouble under an assumed name, or organizing civil disobedience, or distributing pamphlets. Dissidents are serving their country by opposing it from within. Informing one's state about the activities of one's own countrymen in trying to change it is contemptible in the usual way.

But Miroslav Dvoracek seems to have been working for a foreign spy agency. I think that's an altogether different matter. There is a big difference an American who thinks Hugo Chavez should be treated with respect and one who sells secrets to the Venezuelan spy services. Even if you are one the former, informing on one of the latter is a perfectly respectable activity. And that remains true even if you were right about Chavez.

Conversely: suppose Chavez is a garden variety dictator. I would respect dissidents working against him within his borders. But I don't think people who start working for Venezuela's enemies are necessarily worthy of the same respect.

I haven't thought the Kundera case through yet; this is just a first observation.

1 comment:

Kirby Olson said...

I hadn't heard about this Kundera case, and find it interesting.

When I wrote my book on Codrescu he indicated that any poet who was still publishing in Romania under Ceausescu was on the payroll of Ceausescu, and deeply in the pocket, and had to inform, and regularly, in order to retain any kind of official privileges, such as the ability to publish.

He named many names during the course of our seven years of work on the book, and I was rather surprised.

I ended up not putting any of that into the book, but it gave me a sense of how communism worked on a cultural and critical level that reinforced what I already thought I knew for the most part but in many particulars I was rather surprised.

The few seeming dissidents in the communist countries were actually deeply in bed with the dictators or they wouldn't have been allowed their cognitive dissonance.

One wonders even about NSK in Slovenia, and Zizek's involvement, especially now that he still can't seem to get away from Leninism as a nexus of values on which he insists.