I re-read Milan Kundera’s Identity on my last day of indisposition – got a crippling bout of flu day after the May 1 protest rally. No new book to read and had gotten tired of watching one dvd after another.
I do not wish to discuss Milan Kundera’s political background, or his denouncement of it. He actually rejected his own earlier works (those he wrote when he was still a full-fledged member of the Czech communist party. He was expelled twice, for what reasons I have no idea…), according to him they were immature and adolescent works unworthy of acclaim. But I digress…
Most of Kundera’s works that I read (Immortality, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Immortality, Identity) were mostly his later novels. Identity is a novel written in 1996, published in 1997 and, unlike most of his works, written originally in French (translated to English by Linda Asher) and not his native Czech. Apart from the anti-communist and the unbearably light and God/spiritualist-invoking innuendos, I couldn’t help but appreciate the novel all over again.
Unlike other Kundera books I read, this one was much simpler, almost as if it were not even a novel at all but the author’s guilty stream of consciousness reflected in his characters passions, fears, apprehensions. Indeed, Kundera even intervenes in the surrealistic ending, suggesting in his own persona that the characters might simply be in a dream state.
The novel, of course, however simpler is far more intricate that whatever synopsis I could come up with. It is basically a love story but incredulously goes on to expand to territories of more than a simple romance.
It is about a woman, Chantal, and her lover, Jean-Marc. Chantal is forever haunted by the death of her child from her defunct marriage and at the same time, brought about by the same trauma, experiencing a sort of helpless paranoia over things happening in her immediate environment – causing her to imagine losing Jean-Marc, being sexually-ravished by a tattooed stranger, etc, etc.
One setting had her eavesdropping on an innocent conversation between two waitresses over a TV program, Out of Sight, about people who have mysteriously disappeared and she instantly imagines the pain of losing Jean-Marc ‘that way someday.’ Another had her reminiscing when ‘she used to cherish a certain metaphor’ when she was sixteen years old, that of wanting to be a ‘rose fragrance, a pervasive, overwhelming fragrance, she wanted to move thus through all men and, by way of the men, to embrace the entire world. The pervasive rose fragrance: a metaphor of adventure.’ This, after she uttered out of the blue to Jean-Marc that, ‘men don’t turn to look at me anymore.’
The novel, however, is not exclusively about Chantal’s musings. Jean-Marc had his own frustrations with wanting to fill and fulfill his lover but later on realizing that ‘his loving gaze could never console her…because the gaze of love is the gaze that isolates.’ So he concocts a plan to be her secret admirer, writes her letters of love and passion, ends up feeling enormous jealousy for the secret lover he created.
Hehe, I could go on and on. I was probably delirious, hence this rambling effect of a book that I already read.
So here comes my unabashed expression of love for my husband, my Sinag. There really are situations when we fail for a moment to recognize the person we are with. In that split second the identity of the other is lost while we at once question our own. Sinag and I have been quarrelling a lot lately, over the littlest things. One shouting match ended up with us accusing one another that we have ceased to ‘really know’ each other at all.
I felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia then. But then, like Chantal, how could I feel nostalgia when he was right in front of me? “How can you suffer from the absence of a person who is present?”
But if my husband is anything he is omnipresent, omni-loving. Our gazes of love may only just occasionally isolate us now — what with our facing the new life of the sometimes domesticated but never mundane — but I realize that because of him I would never wish to be a rose fragrance.
I blame our stressful lives, the pressures, the simple things we take for granted as husband and wife but mostly I chide myself for not telling him everyday how much I appreciate, respect and love him. For being my luster, my warmth, Sinag ng araw ko.
On our wedding day, I sang, “You make me so crazy, baby, I swallow the moon.” I’m confusing my imagery, but I have not a bit confused both our identities. Still crazy, still all true.
Three days of fever and I wake up in the end like Chantal, not wanting to blink, never wanting to get him out of my sight. “I’m going to leave the light on all night. Every night.” ###