December 2, 2023


Connecting Asian writers with global readers

Essay: Transgressively Transforming Technology and Surveillance in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Sakhi Thirani

2 min read

Sakhi Thirani’s essay explores how the transforming technology and surveillance permeate the narrative by distinctly engaging, exposing, and subverting totalitarian institutions in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Milan Kundera’s narrative explores the intricate potentialities present in the systems of technology and surveillance during the spread of totalitarianism. Through the technological machinery of print media, video recording, photography, and bugging, the regime sustains perennial surveillance in the narrative, the internalization of which achieves the totalitarian goal of obliterating privacy and individualism. However, Kundera’s narrative also embeds in it a possibility of rupturing the hegemonic binary between seeing the subject and seen object by employing the very mechanisms of technology and surveillance in an utterly different manner. Weaved through these “double exposures” thus (Kundera 77), the novel dissects and transcends the totalitarian utilization of technology and surveillance. 

Kundera’s narrative substantiates the “densely systematized and rigorously coded” manner in which the technological apparatus that is embedded in social reality functions, as seen in the “pathological ‘over reading’” that the print media produces of Tomas’ submission by aggressively schematic editing (Eagleton 47). Further, this mangled article generates consistent surveillance on him by the secret police and dissident groups alike. The simultaneous unwillingness of these opposing forces to comprehend the “border between good and evil [which] is terribly fuzzy” exposes the monolithic structures of totalitarianism (Kundera 235).

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