The process which turned Milan Kundera into an informer

8. 6. 2009 / Jakub Češka

This essay is written within the tradition of French structuralism. It has been inspired by the work of Roland Barthes, who more than fifty years began the semiotic analysis of modern myths.

I am going to discuss a mythology which is almost exactly like those that Barthes analysed. I think this is perhaps the only framework for the "scandal", which has been created around Milan Kundera by the Czech newsmagazine Respekt. Roland Barthes (Mythologies , 2004) shows convincingly how persuasive is the labelling which turns the natural into something artificial and which gives the artificial an irresistible polish of "being natural", "self-evident" and hence "inevitable".

This basic characteristic can be applied equally to the denunciatory texts in which their authors construct a narrative on the basis of a single ambiguous clue of doubtful authenticity as to the way in which the material is laid out in the Respekt newsmagazine. The cover features a frowning caricature of the author, over which a headline is superimposed "Milan Kundera's denunciation".

The Czech original of this article is HERE.

Petr Třešňák, Adam Hradilek, "Milan Kundera's denunciation", Respekt magazine HERE

The caricature of the wicked culprit refers to the headline and the headline gives additional meaning to the caricature. We are addressed by a twin statement which does not refer to an outside fact but it is encapsulated within itself. The headline looks for its confirmation within the caricature: The evidence for the headline's assertion resides within the explicit nature of the visual metaphor. And, conversely, the caricature finds its clear articulation within the headline. It is the headline which tells us what kind of person is depicted in the caricature. No one can doubt what kind of person is represented by this unfriendly, devious, frowning face. This self-encapsulated sign is monolithic. We are confronted with unambiguous, strict, firm signification. The first-hand impression is "legible" even from the distance of several yards. From such a distance our fleeting gaze at the newsagent's is captivated; a signal is sent to us which commands us to come closer. When we look at the front page of Respekt more closely, we can then read a more detailed "explanation" of the original harsh sign: "The story of a man whom a famous writer had sent to prison for fourteen years in 1950." When we get closer, we can also "read" the caricature better: the evil man has a pencil behind his ear on which there is the inscription: "District police headquarters Prague 6".

Once we get closer, our gaze is exposed to the interconnections between the verbal and the visual references. The primary signification is not deepened (superficiality is its basic characteristic), it is broadened. Words add more details. These details make us look even closer. Henceforth, we mostly read text, which is made "authentic" (more "real") by means of photographs. The photographs contrast with one another. There is a picture of the young Milan Kundera covering a large part of a two-page spread, taken probably in a street in Paris (the typical tables of a French street café represent cosmopolitanism). This picture is contrasted with three small photographs which have the following captions: "They had a common dream (M. Dvořáček) ... to learn to fly (with Juppa during training) ... in order to defend freedom (M. Juppa)." The captions of the small photographs contrast with the lack of caption associated with the large photograph. We see the asymmetry of the "nameless" and the "celebrity"; it is not necessary to say that the person in the photograph is Milan Kundera.

It is true that there is a large headline next to the "Parisian" photograph , in a bigger typeface than the one used on the cover, which reinforces the original impact. Repetition is continuation, we return to what is already well-known, the authors mythologise on the basis of what has already been written, implying that it is now tried and tested, because it is well-known. A highlighted first paragraph completes the original impact. The "Parisian" photograph does not have a caption. Thus it evokes "familiarity", "cosmopolitanism", "celebrity status", "high life": Kundera's "smart jacket", "well-coiffeured hair". This is in an asymmetrical relationship with an airman's uniform including a helmet -- which covers the trainee's hair. These signs contrast Kundera's "being relaxed", "being well-groomed" and "enjoying his free time" with the tied-up bodies of the pilots. The meaning is pinned down by the caption: the trainee pilots are ready to defend freedom. So a mythology, based on contrast, can be read even from the photographs: Kundera is "laid back", has "free time", is "smooth and cultivated", is "relaxed" while the bodies in the airmen's overalls are all tied-up ("lack of comfort", "being constricted"), they are ready to sacrifice themselves for freedom. But there is another meaning: it is as if the main ("Parisian") photograph covered up the real ("nameless", "as yet unnamed", "hidden") lives of the fighters for freedom. The sign "unnamed" creates a signifier: the author of the article is a pioneer who stands on the side of truth and justice. This is confirmed by the signs that follow.

So, the main photograph which accompanies the article implies a false view, a beautified ("done up") world whose "real" nature is shown by the inclusion of the "seamy side" of life; this is a mechanism of mythologisation based on inversion of the positive into the negative and of the negative into the positive, it is based on distinguishing "props" and "real life". The "Parisian" photograph shows a false set. It is only behind this false set that "real life" takes place. The article mythologises, presenting the contrast of a "false image" and "the truth". In order for the article to be able to name (to create) reality it is necessary to construct the impression that there a false set exists.

Let us go back to the characterising features of the cover page. In it, visual and verbal elements are cross-referenced. A process of approximation is used which leads the reader towards gradually completing the picture. The original sign was harsh and simple. It was implied that it was associated with a narrative; it was obvious from the start that the narrative was not going to be fictitious. It is implied that a "story" can function as an example of the "truth ", of "what really happened". This is a process of mythologising on the basis of creating fiction. The strategy of replacing "life" with "fiction" is used here. The mystification is created by camouflaging a performance as something "real". The performance is given a meaning and "natural" characteristics of "authenticity" -- thus the performance comes to be seen as an authentic fact. Such a narrative is self-referential; it constructs a fictitious world. It is placed within a network of cross-references, in a confusing mixture of fiction and fact and is presented as a revelatory story.

The strategy is based on an inversion of fiction and reality. What has been created has the characteristic features of innocence because it implies that we have read nothing but a "selfless", "impartial", "objective" description of an event. The sleight of hand whereby a fictitious narrative has become an authentic "fact" is helped along when the profession of the author of the article is mentioned ("historian") -- such a profession signals impartiality and objectivity: a mythology of an "innocent", "objective" discourse.

If the mystification is to work, it must be simple. This is why it was decided to use a simple slogan. Only a hard-hitting statement has the potential to spread quickly and to make a deep impact. A simple, hard-hitting statement is accessible to any lazy reader and it flatters his/her short attention span. I am of course being imprecise when using the expression "statement". But I am looking at the matter from the point of view of the reader, the reader's interest in snooping on others, the reader's need to be given facts. When we look at the situation from the point of view of the journalist, all these reader's needs have been taken into account (the way Barthes describes it). For mystification to be effective, it must camouflage its methods (the way I have shown above). Mystification must hide the principles on which it has been built. Only then can it acquire the features of an impenetrable natural sign.

Barthes' revolutionary project was based on revealing the hidden mechanisms of labelling. Barthes has managed to deconstruct the mythologising sign - he has tried to make the invisible visible. Barthes' attempts to take the sign to bits (from the point of view of the reader, the consumer of the myth, the sign is an unambiguous, integral entity which it is impossible to dismantle) are motivated by the desire to reduce its power. Is there any other way of unmasking culturally or historically encoded fiction?

In Barthes' view, while the reader is characterised as being blind, the journalist is characterised as being purposeful. In this sense, the journalist is a modern-day rhetorician who understands the impact of certain types of labelling (he is sensitive to its cultural encoding). Thus he is able to invoke certain emotional states in the reader. It is of course unclear whether the journalist is using certain mythologising strategies deliberately or whether his choice is subconscious and hence arbitrary. This, however, doesn't alter the fact that mythologising strategies can be broken down only through the elements of purposefulness, hidden within them. Mythologising strategies are always purposeful. The signs are not blind. They are culturally encoded. The journalist may be blind but only if he insists that the mythologising strategy used was unintended or coincidental.

The narrative, silence versus talking, withholding information versus openness and sincerity, coincidence as a sign of fate and the alibi of being "disinterested" -- these are the basic points of departure from which the unmasking is being carried out.

As I have said before, mythology is based on the authentication of fiction. One of the main instruments is the use of the narrative form. Although in normal parlance people talk about "stories from real life", strictly speaking, life doesn't have the characteristic features of a narrative. To put it more clearly, life isn't "written"; autobiography is a literary genre. After all, everyone knows the fictitious autobiography An Ordinary Life by Karel Čapek. This clearly shows the literary obstacles a person wishing to "tell a life" must contend with. It is simply not possible to avoid such obstacles when composing a narrative. The narrator integrates various sections together, he produces literary encoding, he gives meaning to periods otherwise divided by time, he creates subjective angles of vision. All this leads to the creation of interconnections and makes the "life" a clear structure with concrete meaning. But the interconnections come into being through the construction of an articulatory network, not due to real life's circumstances. When one writes about life, one simply re-writes life, replacing vague personal memories with a clearly formulated narrative memory, which is created from the crutches of literary discourse, and hence it is false. Why is it, then, that a narrative does not feel untrustworthy? How is it that a work of fiction spreads so quickly and with such a great impact?

What matters is not the authentication of the narrative for instance by photographs, as we have discussed above; what matters is the form of the narrative which creates causal links between otherwise incongruous elements. The narrative demands explanations of various actions and events, and these serve as support for one's memory. It is difficult to remember events which are not connected by causal links. If an event anticipates another event, one's memory finds them easier to manage. This is why the narrative uses causality to hold it together. And, when the causal links between individual events are explained, the events are authenticated because one unambiguously follows from another. The principle of unambiguity is paramount: if several causal alternatives were to be possible, they would mutually undermine their authenticity; that is why several alternatives are not used. The classic detective story is a textbook example of this according to Todorov. The originally unintelligible, mysterious event of a crime is gradually authenticated by detective investigation. A classic detective story does use alternative explanations (for instance Dr. Watson argues with Holmes) of incongruous elements, but, as is well known, one line of explanation is always false, and in the end it becomes obvious that it contains contradictions. Watson is incapable of integrating the incongruous circumstances surrounding a murder by means of an explanation which wouldn't contain contradictions. Thus Holmes turns out to be a better narrator. His line of explanations does not contain contradictions. Since his line of explanations is the only convincing one, it authenticates his narrative, making it feel natural. Even though Holmes's narrative is performative (Holmes follows a line of clues and constructs links between them) , by authenticating the causality between these clues, Holmes "unmasks" the event of the murder. This however only happens because no alternative convincing line of explanations is available.

The purpose of this digression was to explain that the narrative contains the principle of authentication: the narrative integrates incongruous elements which turn out to be self-evident because they are "logical". With some exaggeration one could speak of an ideology which is inherent to the narrative. Since, however, the narrative does not integrate elements of reality, but elements of fiction, more mythologisation is necessary: a real example must be given a fictitious counterpart, but this must be done in such a way that it is not visible. This is how protagonists in a novel are built up. It is not necessary to say to what extent the character of a protagonist motivates the narrative or, to what extent the protagonist is derived from the narrative. What matters is that unambiguous causality demands literary types. (The unambiguous causality is false because it pretends that it has unmasked a real situation yet it has acquired its meaning from the laws of fiction.)

Protagonists are built (as in the case of the photographs) on the basis of contrast, on the basis of binary opposites. The first sentence of the introductory paragraph says: "Milan Kundera has always carefully removed all traces behind himself". This "introductory characteristic feature" implies that it contains the essence of the protagonist. In the narrative , a name does not carry any content, it doesn't have any dimensions. It serves as an identifier of certain predicates. And the gradual predication shapes the character of the protagonist. If the name of a living person is placed within a literary fiction, the process of re-writing defines it using elements from the range of devices of literary fiction ("he removes all traces behind himself", "he is silent", "he is the one who is always hiding", "he is the man with the mysterious past").

The parallel between its headline and the first sentence of the article creates a causal link, even though it is not explicit: the reason Kundera removes all traces behind himself is -- that he is an informer. Here, the original signification (the cross-referenced visual/verbal sign) is extended because of its semantic content (the sign has communicated something) the first element in the causal link ("the fact of being an informer") is performed, and thus a narrative is started ("the protagonists removes all traces behind himself") and the character of the protagonist is constructed ("the one who always hides"). What is important is that the story is begun in mythological terms -- it is anchored in the first appeal to the reader. As we go along, the mythology is being enhanced. It is both being extended (more features are added to the protagonist) and it is being consolidated (by introducing unambiguous causality, which is only vaguely tempered by parallels and by the word "maybe"). Then the narrative and the mythology of the cover are cross-referenced. The justification for the narrative (the magazine article) is sought in the original mythology (the cover); the original mythology is at the same time being extended (the narrative is long) and firmed up (false causal links, protagonists, logic, and hence a closed system) by means of the narrative. The game of multiplying self-referencing signs begins: it is the game which is anticipated on the cover. The sign acquires more and more layers. It is obvious that this isn't a discourse which would be trying to explain anything -- everything is "clear" before we started.

The following brief description is far from exhaustive. A deconstructive reading will break down the text into its constituent parts, but if you deal with the whole text (cf. Barthes's S/Z), the deconstructive reading is usually longer than the text which is being commented upon. Hradilek's fiction is simple (it is a basic, easily understandable story), it is narrated in a classical way (the only problem is that the motifs of the "informer" are not known, the protagonist is not fully transparent to the narrator). The author uses elements of a detective story. Hradilek is the detective, Kundera is the criminal, Dvořáček is the victim, Militká is the main witness, the police report is a piece of evidence of the crime, only the murder is missing (from this point of view, it is understandable why the text says "the prosecutor wanted capital punishment"). Although this is an instance of debased literature (a classical narrative, a simple story, the genre of detective fiction) it is suggested to the reader that a mystery will be revealed ("a dark story is emerging"). The reader is being flattered ("this is a complex story"). Both elements of mythologising the story are fulfilled: a) snooping on others, voyeurism, working with facts ("a dark story is emerging") b) flattering a lazy and inattentive reader (it is implied that this is a "complex" story, i.e. a story of high-brow literature, in spite of the fact that it is an extremely simple narrative).

The basic construction of the characters is based on the contradiction of silence and speaking. This contradiction is marked as "hiding", "camouflage", "insincerity", "deviousness" as against "unmasking", "sincerity", "guilelessness". This is why we will find two exclusive oppositions in the narrative. Both of them are highlighted as fulfilling the role of eye-witnesses. While Militká "speaks" and is therefore "sincere", Kundera remains mysteriously silent because he has things to hide. It is obvious that this opposition is based on pseudofacts: it is the opposition of the alleged informer (Militká) versus the real informer (Kundera). The whole story doesn't ever cast doubt on the image of the informer (Kundera). The reason for this is the strategy of repetition (there are repeated returns to the original signification and with each new return the original signification appears to be even more self-evident than before). This authentication by repetition is then confirmed by unambiguous causality: by everything that follows from the character of the informer. It is obvious that it is only a development of the implied figure of the informer which unifies the narrative. Thus the original signification gives the story its basic meaning (the narrative is made ideological by introducing the character of the informer). The original signification thereby firms up the compactness and the integrity of the narrative.

The narrative is constructed using the counterbalance of history (impersonal "facts") and personal testimonies. As previously stated, the alleged informer Militká is the exclusive witness, because she is the only protagonist that speaks. Nevertheless, a number of other protagonists are "interrogated". These individuals have had links with Kundera, but not with the event of the crime -- thus they are able to contribute to the construction of the character of the hero. The original meaning ("Kundera is an informer") is beyond doubt. This meaning is now being extended. It would be possible to discuss further binary opposites here. The main meaning of the testimonies concentrates on Kundera's criticism, his intellectual powers. Kundera was not naive.

Kundera's critical faculties are extremely important because if the hero were naive, he wouldn't be aware what he was doing, he would not be properly responsible for his actions. This is why on the one hand we have the naive girl Militká (she is young and is an enthusiastic communist). Evidence for her naivety is given by her photograph (the guileless gaze, her chin peacefully rests on her inverted palms, she has the soft expression of a dreamer) and there is a caption: "A cherry tree was in blossom in front of her window..." Naivety removes responsibility because the character "doesn't know what he/she is doing".

So, Kundera's critical faculties are being contrasted with the "naivety" of the other characters. Only if an act is deliberate, only if the actor is fully aware of what he/she is doing, does the act of informing acquire the meaning of viciousness. The negative character must be aware of what he/she is doing. Such a contrast must be based on something other than dreaminess and the naivety of youth, since in this respect, there is no difference between the actors.

Only from this point of view it does become clear why Kundera's clearsightedness, intellectual potency and criticism is being built up so laboriously with the help of other witnesses. (Kundera comes from an intellectual family. He has a large library at home, he is better-read than his fellow students at secondary school, when he applies for study at the Film Academy in Prague, he is much better than all the other applicants, he is a critical supporter of communism). Dlask is the future husband of Militká -- his enthusiasm for communism is explained by a family trauma ("Dlask's father as a social democrat had been sent to a concentration camp").

In contrast to this, Kundera has grown up in the warm environment of an intellectual, middle class family (he is the son of a musicologist, musician and a highly educated person). No apologies; the fictional world of the narrative is constructed by adding more and more contrasts, by gradually revealing more and more binary opposites. Each common trait must be explained away by an opposite contrast. The informer is constructed in a sharp light. He is placed onto a stage from which possible accomplices disappear, eventually he remains on his own.

This process of separation is typically used by detective fiction: The light, which is diffuse at the beginning, as it moves from one protagonist to another, illuminates only the culprit by the end of the narrative. While the culprit is floodlit, all the others are invisible. They disappear into the shade. (This is mythologisation on the basis of the contrast of light and shade, of what is visible and what is invisible.) If a young student succumbs to a "contagious ideology", surely it is understandable and justifiable, because ideology and its "contagious nature" are the culprits here. That is why signs are constructed to show that the main protagonist is immune to ideological contagion ("he is fully capable of independent, critical judgment, etc.") .

The narrative seems to be constructed from three different angles of vision: that of the freedom fighters (Dvořáček), that of the young visionaries who believe in the utopian, new, and better, communist world (Dlask) , and that of a laid-back young communist (Kundera "soon became a celebrity both at the faculty and in the Prague cafés".) The "Parisian" photograph in front of a café with all its mythology is complemented with and confirmed by the fact that Kundera was a "celebrity in Prague cafés". This again implies that the protagonist is "profligate" and "laid back". A spoilt brat committed a crime between his two sips of coffee. It is true that I am exaggerating the motif of how "laid back" Kundera was, but it must be admitted that the author gives three possible reasons which conform to the sign of being "a spoiled brat" only in one point (Dlask's jealousy).

Because once Kundera's clearsightedness is constructed, once it is confirmed that he must have known what the consequences of "going to the police" would be, this motif cannot function as a sign of denoting Kundera as a spoiled brat: Dvořáček is trying to seduce my friend's girlfriend, I will send him to prison for that and maybe even to the gallows? Is such reasoning on the part of Kundera realistic? The motif of jealousy is connected with the motif of Kundera's intellectual superiority and is derived from his being an intellectual celebrity in the Prague cafés. The first motive for committing the crime of informing, out of ideological ardour, is rejected by the narrator. Only the alternative motives of jealousy (of being a laid-back intellectual) and of career building are allowed. The narrator gives his protagonist a chance to choose: it is up to him to explain whether the crime was committed out of jealousy (being a spoilt brat) or as a result of the protagonist's decision to protect his future career. Since the fax, sent to Kundera by the author of the article, has remained unanswered ("the informer" remains silent) the last element to complete the picture is missing. The last element would reveal the "correct" motivation, choosing one of the alternatives in the only ambiguous place in the narrative. The narrative is complete, but its overall impact will differ, depending on our decision on which of the two motivations was true.

The photographs included in the article create the impression that the narrative is authentic. The pictures are in opposition to the copy of the police protocol. While photographs need to be interpreted, this is the only way they can be made to speak, the protocol is unambiguous ("what has been written is fixed"). The introductory proposition is not revealed until the last part of the article: because, as I have already said, this is not an explanatory discourse, the progression of the discourse in the article is exactly the opposite. The motivation of the narrative is mythological, the photocopy of the protocol serves as one of the pieces of evidence, confirming the "authenticity" of the narrative, just as this is done by the photographs of the "protagonists".

The secondary headline of the article "The image which will not fade" is symptomatic. The author of the article uses this expression to describe the photocopy of the police protocol as well as its simple, "undeniable" statement. Here the author implies that what has been recorded in writing is authentic , trustworthy and reliable. The police protocol cannot by definition contain any error or inaccuracy. Because it has been recorded in writing, it cannot be a mystification. There can be no doubt how it has come into being (the procedure whereby it was created is not mentioned). While in an explicative discourse this document would be subjected to a critical analysis, it would be analysed and deconstructed and a structure of a number of possible meanings would be examined. When creating a mythology, authors use the principle of the "authenticity" of what has been recorded in writing (usually because what has been spoken is not regarded as reliable, since it has not been written down).

This "document" becomes the focal point of the article, but only in relation to the method in which the article acquires its meaning. Contrasting narratives give the document semantic content, thus it is "brought to life". The document is "animated", made important by means of narrative fiction. At the present time when history is being criticised from the point of view of narrativity (history is being seen as a self-referential construct, see for instance, Doležel, Fiction and history in the postmodern era ), for the author of the article the "document" is an image, a window which looks out into the world: for the author it is an indisputable fact that everything that is mentioned in the protocol has truly happened in real life.

Thus the indictment is a narrative which is based on the argument is that whatever has been written down is proof of authentic truth. It follows from this belief that Kundera has committed the act of informer. This assertion is never questioned anywhere in the article. Milan Kundera is inextricably linked with the act of informing on the basis of something that has been written down and that has been given meaning from fiction. Thus Kundera is left with only one possibility in this context: to explain his motive. This is eloquently stated in the caption under the photocopy of the protocol. The narrator has access into the mind of the protagonist ("...the informer had to know what fate he was preparing for Dvořáček"). The protagonist's only freedom is to tell us on the basis of which of the two motives he committed his action.

The narrative is framed by an introductory historical evocation, anchored in the genre of the chronicle, and by an epilogue where the narrator enters onto the scene. These are contradictory methods of authentication. On the one hand, the narrative is impersonal. It is as though the "facts" presented themselves automatically. On the other hand, the narrator speaks about the journey which led him to the narrated event. The narrator testifies to the "authenticity" of the narrative; his is the perspective of an eye witness. The epilogue is important for one other reason: the author originally intended to follow the story of his distant relative. It would be possible to ask whether such an examination constitutes a conflict of interest. Can the article be seen purely as an attempt to clear the name of the distant relative?

But it is the purpose of this analysis to describe a labelling practice, so I can only record the relationship between the narrator and the alleged informer Militká as a sign which implies a contradiction between an impartial view ("historian") and a biased assessment ("family relative").

But the meaning of the epilogue is symptomatic for another reason. It implies that the research was conducted without any pre-conceived plan. The protocol was discovered by accident. Thus the implication is that the judgment is impartial. But the signal of an "accidental discovery" doesn't merely erase the previous signal of a possible bias. What matters most is that we have a feeling that Fate has acted. The author is confronted with the choice: should I publish this or should I not publish it? He opts for the first alternative which turns out to be moral: the publishing of the narrative will help to remove "blind spots and will contribute towards the recognition of courageous people".

Of course this is an instance of moral kitsch. The moral dilemma has been "solved", the author feels he couldn't let the "courageous" people down. The element of coincidence carries two more connotations: Fate has acted; the narrator belongs amongst the elect. Fate has chosen the researcher and placed the police protocol containing the name of Milan Kundera into his hands. The assertion that Fate has chosen the author is unambiguous: he had set out to follow the narrative of his distant relative, but in his "free time" (Fate speaks only in one's "free time") he happened to discover the police protocol.

It's quite ironic that Milan Kundera approaches coincidence as a source of the narrative with irony in his writings. From the point of view of the narrator of novels, coincidence blinds the hero, coincidence suggests to the hero that Fate is sending him/her a clear message. In fact, this is not true: the hero is affected by coincidental circumstances which are self-contained and do not bring any new meaning. But the author of this article has responded to the call of coincidence: he was faced with its moral dilemma and he has emerged victorious as a moral hero. It is the motif of coincidence which concludes the mythology of Kundera being an informer; the original appeal of the cover story is anchored in coincidence and through cross-references between various signs finds within it a fundamental argument. The coincidence, encoded in terms of literature, its story-making potential, its mystery, all these are reasons for publishing the article. Fate desired that the authors should tell the story of Kundera being an "informer". Fate never makes mistakes. Hence the choice the narrator has made is correct and the narrative is true.

It could seem that this is where the explanation culminates because the framework of the self-referential signage has been revealed: the mutual cross referencing of the verbal and visual signs of the cover are justified by the decision made by Fate which no one can argue against (the crime has been revealed "by a coincidence"). The emphasis on coincidence and on informing (the authors accept that Kundera was an informer as a clear fact) makes it possible to present this cross-referenced sign as an action of Fate.

The primary signification of the narrative is suggestive, but it does not point beyond the interplay of artificial signs. The motif of "coincidence" behaves differently. If coincidence is caused by Fate, it is not a mere triviality, its meaning transcends itself. It is as if coincidence rebels against being imprisoned in the world of signs: it evokes a bridge, a passage into the real world. In plays from ancient Greece Fate speaks through coincidences -- hence coincidences have a metaphysical connotation. When we invoke coincidence, it is as though we find ourselves on the level of truth, outside discourse. It is obvious from this why the author does not analyse the police protocol. The element of coincidence authenticates the narrative which "reveals" Kundera's act of informing. The visual and verbal signs merely complement and extend the suggestive artificial elements. They merely pretend to be real, by being suggestive. Coincidence gives them the hallmark of indisputable truth which stands beyond discourse.

The mythology of Kundera as informer is complete (various authentication methodologies have been used) and now it is sufficient to produce variations on it. In this sense, [Respekt 's editor-in-chief Milan] Šimečka's article ("Majitel klíče", "The Owner of the Key") is a variation on the constructed mythology. In his text, Šimečka takes over the mythological elements of coincidence and of Kundera being an informer as an "indisputable fact". He then elaborates on these motifs using Christian metaphors (sin, confession). Šimečka thus increases Kundera's "guilt" -- by using Christian metaphors, he implies a road to salvation which transcends the limits of human life.

The motif of Kundera's silence is pre-eminent in Hradilek's narrative of Kundera is being an informer (Udání Milana Kundery - the title of the article is formulated so badly that it is not clear who informs on whom -- whether it is Milan Kundera or whether it is Hradilek who informs on Kundera) as well as in Šimečka's religious sermon about a sin that was committed against democracy (Majitel klíče ). In both texts though, the motif of Kundera's silence is encoded in a different way. The international media has noticed that the authors have an ambivalent attitude to Kundera -- the act of "unmasking" was supposed to force the silent author finally to speak.

Šimečka uses the method of confession to discipline Kundera: in his view, Kundera should make a public confession. The protocol of the confession is based on the asymmetry of power: the "culprit" who is supposed to confess, is subjected to the protocol of confession. This is a different kind of disciplining Kundera than in the narrative where the narrator speaks on behalf of the characters. First, it is necessary to use the narrative to "prove" the guilt of the criminal, then he must be taken to the confessional. While in the narrative the culprit does not speak (in a detective story the murderer is not allowed to speak because he would be able to explain his deeds; this is why Lolita , where the narrator is a murderer and a paedophile, isn't a detective story) during confession he is condemned to speak.

The configuration is extremely simple -- while the narrative creates the informer, the culprit's conscience is examined in the subsidiary genre of confession. In the genre of the detective story it is understandable that Kundera is silent (he is the criminal whose angle of vision mustn't be allowed to disrupt the authenticating explanations made by the detective -- what is more, under the circumstances which have been constructed, Kundera has already been silenced by the fact that his guilt is beyond doubt.) However, it will be scandalous if Kundera refuses to confess: If the culprit is silent, this increases his duplicity. Thus his silence becomes a signal of the culprit's condemnation -- not only in life, but for all eternity.

Only now it is obvious how what originally was an insignificant accusation, featured on the cover of Respekt magazine, has been systematically enhanced by numerous discoursive practices. The "horror" of the act of informing was thus deepened until it acquired an exaggerated and fantastic guise, in the Christian metaphors of Martin Šimečka, the defender of democracy.

The original impact of the cover was developed into a narrative with the characteristic features of a detective story. Its impact is then grossly exaggerated and presented as a huge, unforgivable crime once the priest of democracy starts speaking of the sin committed against it. It is obvious that I could continue the analysis of the individual motifs -- for instance I could provide a full analysis of Šimečka's text, or I could deal with the remaining elements of narrativity in Hradilek's story). The aim of this text hasn 't, however, been to provide an exhaustive analysis. Having been inspired by Barthes, I just wanted to show certain mythologising procedures -- and to unmask the false authentication of the mythology of Kundera's being an informer. What, then, are the basic elements of the mythologising procedure in this case? A caricature -- an illustrator; a narrative -- a detective; a sermon -- a priest.

(Translated from the Czech by Jan Čulík)

(The author of this article teaches at Charles University, Prague. He is the author of the monograph Království motivů: Motivická analýza románů Milana Kundery).


Obsah vydání | Pondělí 8.6. 2009