Kundera’s Dichotomy Between Lightness and Heaviness

In The Art of Travel Spring 2018, Prague, 11. Second book by Sean Oh1 Comment

The book I read for this assignment was The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. I chose this book as it was recommended to me by fellow peers and I had once come across this author in a previous reading. Before I delve into an analysis and application of the book, I would like to pause at the book title. The title presents paradox. Colloquially, we have come to understand the term “unbearable” to be associated with heaviness or weight rather than lightness. Before the book even begins, Kundera presents a point of interest through the irony of the “unbearable lightness of being”. The audience begins to wonder, until they come to a gradual understanding of the underlying message that Kundera poses throughout the book.

Once the book begins, Kundera presents the key dichotomy between notions of lightness and weight. Lightness connotates a sense of aloofness and lack of consideration of extrapersonal circumstances while weight, or heaviness, includes the exact opposite. Kundera also poses a philosophical query into the limits of human experience.

“We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.”

Because we can only live one life and are restricted to the confines of that experience, we cannot measure our lives to that of others. Such, in a way, adds weight to our lives both collectively and individually. We are unable to experience different lives and paths, therefore, we are given a responsibility to live our lives to the fullest, adding on to the notion of “heaviness”.

During my study abroad experience in Prague, I notice the definite juxtaposition between lightness and heaviness that the city offers in a strange way. Most Czech people seem to carry the heavy weight of “heaviness” while the tourists embody “lightness”. Some may ask, “isn’t that the case in every major city with a lot of tourists?, and while they may be correct in a general aspect, such dichotomy and paradox is most clearly shown in Prague.

The weather has finally cleared up in Prague and is thankfully beginning to reach the sixties, meaning that tourist season has begun. A noticeably larger population of tourists have begun showing up in Prague, laughing and jumping around in the streets, exuding a radiance of “lightness”.  Warmer weather is generally associated with warmer people and content but the Witch of the Czech Republic seems to refuse to let this phenomenon affect its own people. Praguers seems to be locked within a perpetual winter, preventing its people from feeling the “lightness” and joy that the rest of the world enjoys.

In subways, trams, buses, and even on the streets, Praguers carry an atmosphere of heaviness in which they themselves restrict the emotional capacity to relieve themselves of constant distress. As a result, they lack laughter and aloofness, consistently maintaining a stoic expression of skepticism towards the world.

“Heaviness” and “lightness”, neither can be fully associated with what we understand as “good” or “bad”. Both are separate concepts and ways of life. Understanding these clashing concepts, how will you choose to live your life?

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(Image: Havel Market at Sunset; Source: Sean Oh)


  1. Hey Sean! I really enjoyed your post! Thanks for introducing the concepts of lightness and weight! It really adds a different way to think about how one should go about living their life. Without ever having read the book and as a firm believe in balance, maybe we can choose to be light with respect to certain things and situations and heavy with regards to others? It seems too tiring to be heavy all the time yet, as you mentioned, its hard to really be living life when one is aloof all the time

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