Exile and exilic Experiences in Kundera’s Novel

Exile and exilic Experiences in Kundera’s Novel

Based on Kundera’s novel, human beings are implied as having been entangled into a web of social trivialities that either makes them loyal to their traditional cultural practices or traitors of their authentic ethnicities. Reflecting back on the articles by Katherine Hayles and Nick Bostrom gives credit to the realization that exile and exilic experiences can be mutually classified into cabalistic groups among them being migrants and political refugees. In both situations, an aura of uncertainty lies on the illustrations but integrating pertinent aspects embedded in Kundera’s novel ‘Ignorance’, we can appreciate that ignorance is a self-induced condition that confounds the exilic experience. None the less, the tale of Irene who is a Czech expatriate residing in France and her subsequent decision to travel back to her mother country opens a new chapter on the whole experience of being in exile. Her interaction with Josef whom she accidentally meets on the plane makes the experience more intense as we are made to realize that their previous love escapades at Prague are still exiled into their hearts. The nostalgic feeling that engulfs emigrants when they return to their homeland sweeps through the novel accentuating the Odysseus theme on homecoming (Kundera 66).

Kundera’s tactful approach to the theme of homecoming and love paints another poignant imagery of passionate and romantic manifestations. As a result the theme of love is exhibited as it keeps recurring and consequently linking the personas memories to selective ignorance. We are made to understand that there are self-induced exiles and exilic experiences as well as involuntary exiles. Relating the novel to Hayles readings categorically alludes that post-humanism is characterized by informational patterns and material instantiation (Hayles 23). Additionally, just Cultural and philosophical antecedents like it is made in the readings by Bostrom  who interconnects historic trans-humanism thoughts to the philosophical transcends that narrow down into  elaborating the plight of people living in foreign countries as either voluntary or involuntary exiles.

According to Kundera, nostalgia is the new face of people in foreign countries. Based on narrations made regarding the love affair between Josef and Irene at Prague before they left their countries, there is no sweeter feeling than being in a mother country and enjoying the family cohesion, unity, communal celebrations for instance the fiestas as mentioned by Bostrom. Regardless of the varied geographical locations, political landscape and other eventualities that motivated the writing of these three articles, it is certain that they are focused on analyzing the transformational experiences faced by people in exile. The contrast and comparison implicated by Bostrom and Hayles are in a way explanatory to the experiences faced by both Josef and Irene. All writers seem to support the slogan that East or West home is best. Josef was forced to flee into another country and so was Irene. Apparently spending several years in the diaspora taught them more than they had anticipated and that could be one reason why Irene is willing to give up her life for Josef. Even as the two travel back to Czech they are filled with nostalgic feelings as they begin to deliberate on their affairs at Prague (Kundera 77).

Irene cannot copiously recollect back the full picture which she excuses for his poor memory but it is evident that she misses home and more so their passionate escapades with Josef.  At some point in the novel ‘Ignorance’ Kundera vividly makes explicit several encounters experienced by Irene some twenty five years ago before she moved into exile. She then realizes that nothing much had changed but she is unable to recollect the whole picture of how it feels like being at home thus the theme of homecoming is obscured by the animalistic experiences faced by foreigners living in exile. “…her talk leaps from one fantasy to another as she senses that it is already too late, that this delirium is about to end and that her future lies empty… she waits, staring at him with the whole weight of a life that has no future to it” (Kundera 78)

From the experiences narrated regarding the plight of people in exile operating like refugees, the post-humanistic perspective presented by Hayles illustrates that people in exile are often faced with confusing situations ranging from nostalgia, disparagement, depression and displacement. The exilic experiences get even worse with the realization that the social circles of people in the diaspora are limited. Kundera narrates how Josef enjoys getting intimate with Irene for the first time because back in France where he has been for 25 years, his sexual life has been inhibited by the fact that his life is monitored and that as a foreigner, he is not entitled to having such privileges. ‘A feeling of peace envelops him: for the first time in his life, sex is located away from all danger, away from conflict and drama, away from persecution, away from any accusation, away from worries; he has nothing to take care of, love is taking care of him, love as he’s always wanted it and never had it: love-repose; love-oblivion; love desertion; love-carefreeness; love-meaninglessness’ (Kundera 80)

From the description it emerges that exilic experience are faced with loads of challenges and humiliation. Despite such challenges there is a possibility that the experiences can challenge a person into embodying themselves with dignity and personal identify which propels a foreigner into becoming successful. This post-humanistic viewpoint is supported by the apprehension that determination is a vital ingredient among individuals in exile. As illustrated by Hayles, people who are lucky often use the opportunities in the foreign countries to become more successful. By so doing the misfortunes associated with being in an exilic state could easily become an avenue for both professional and personal growth. To some extent it is a victory over prejudiced self, personal inflexibility coupled with identity crises or cultural perversion. From the different literal works identified by Hayles linking life to a futuristic world of post-humanism, several spectrums relating to reasons for exile and exilic experiences are portrayed among them being banishment whereby someone is forcefully evicted from his ancestral country because of social or political reasons while the second reason is nomadism which is driven by the inert desire for transnational experiences which deter someone from reverting back to his or her country. Given this two reasons that could lead a person into exile, their exilic experiences are bound to differ. For instance, whereas a person in the nomadism category can freely trace back his or her roots and settle back in their mother country, people in the banishment category are faced with hardships because of their previous misconduct. Specifically, focusing on the fate of the people who flee their countries because of political reasons, it becomes so hard for them to return unless the political regime has changed and the reigning government accepts them back as citizens to that country (Hyles 53).

For banished people who move into exile, their lives are faced with constant fear of the unknown which may deter them from pursuing their dreams. The most persistent of their fears is that of security whereby their identity is distorted by the fact that their enemies might be looking out for them. On the other hand is the nomadic exile where a person commits himself into a self-induced exilic situation coupled by his need for adventure. Such experiences might be directed by the need for a more fulfilling life outside of their homeland. Such people often become alienated from their previous cultural practices which at times are overtaken by their professional knowledge. Being that the modern world is cosmopolitan by virtue of its being a global village, nomadism might lead a person into loss of identity whereby they are torn between their ancestral practices and the new norms they are exposed to as social beings. In the end, they become alienated into becoming cultural nomads as well which further deters them from their real identity. Even though such people might enjoy a good life as opposed to the banished exiles, they are often haunted by the reality that their lives are not settled and more so they live their lives as an illusion. Despite this, their exilic experiences are benefiting because they have a bigger social circle in the foreign countries where they reside and acquire dual citizenship through naturalization (Hayles 12).

Courtesy of the two classifications, global cosmopolitanism has either affected the plight of foreigners in a negative or a positive way. This is because self-induced exilic experiences caused by either banishment or nomadism as a way of avoiding being manipulated by a certain regime could be the only avenue for a person convicted of a felony or assassination can escape and get a new life in another country as an exile. The only disadvantage for taking such as step is that the vast cultural interactions that have dominated the world in a bid to become more globalized does little in guaranteeing people in exile that they will not be victims of cultural and linguistic shock. The experience is the same as that felt by tourists, political exiles, economic emigrants or war refugees who have similar experiences as that of any other person in the diaspora (Kundera 44). Neither does symbolic citizenship guarantee the presumption of personal identity, which is bound to be distorted by myriads of personal experiences as someone is entangled in a nomadic voyage just like it was for Josef and Irene.

On the other hand Bostrom supports that symbolic citizenship entangled into the need for self-identity could be helpful in gaining acceptance and cultural integration. The journey towards identifying with one’s authentic cultural practices is thus blurred by social and personal factors such as memories of love, hatred or bitterness as implied by Kundera in her novel. Furthermore Bostrom highlights on exile as being a life long journey which is hard to stomach. The reason for such a journey being the search for personal identifies which at times is caused by banishment or cultural alienation which depolarizes ones cultural believes leaving them empty and unwanted. Bostrom further substantiates that human beings are filled with desires which need constant gratification through acquisition of novel capabilities, expand their social, mental and geographical boundaries which supports the reason why people become self-induced exiles due to nomadism (Bostrom 25). The positive side of people who go into nomadic exiles is that they are creative enough to forge their way through the exilic experiences that come with it.

According to Bostrom, post-modernism can be redefined through historical studies whereby traditional burials were ceremoniously marked with the preservation of artifact in the form of religious writings because they were partially disturbed by the thoughts of missing them in their day to day lives. Other philosophical writings and theories stipulated by Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus identify that ancient Christianity was marked with conflicting views on exiles. Human renaissance created the ideals of a good identity which became the focal point for any person who wanted well rounded personalities (Bostrom 4). Society also became entangled into the need for sufficiency which led to the need for morality, cultural heritage as well as spiritual identity. To most people in exile, these rights and privileges are obscured by the fact that they have no cultural identities and that their symbolic citizenships cannot guarantee giving them security against harassments and social prejudice as experienced by Josef and Irene.

Connecting ideologies stipulated by Bostrom in his article there emanates other great thinkers whose ideologies are helpful in illustrating the exilic experiences faced by people either voluntarily or involuntarily. He further reiterates that the death of Enlightenment age ushered in the Romanticism era which gave human beings generous power over their reasoning and decision what is right for them but the reality still remains that exiles and people in the diaspora are still forced into being victims of identity crisis. It is because of such crises that Irene narrates sad memories of her encounter with communism and the fact that she felt lonely all the time because of her being looked at as an alien in a foreign country. Being in a post-humanistic era does not guarantee Irene that she still has her personal freedom to enjoy in spite of her residing in France for twenty years. She is even accused of being a Stalin supporter as well as being a communist (Kundera 66). This means that exilic experiences are filled with human oppression which is against vital components aimed at promoting personal growth and development.


Works Cited

Katherine, Hayles. How we became post-human. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000.

Milan, Kundera. Ignorance: A Novel. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.

Nick, Bostrom. History of Trans-humanism. Journal of Evolution and Technology ‐ Vol. 14 Issue 1 ‐ April 2005; in Academic Writing Across the Disciplines, eds. Michael Rectenwald & Lisa Carl. New York: Pearson Longman, 2011.




Milan Kundera’s novel ‘Ignorance’ takes the center stage of this literal works in a bid to define the meaning of exilic existence on the diverse challenges faced by people in the diaspora. Apparently the lives of Josef and Irene who are the main characters in the novel by Kundera is integrated into critical analysis of the plight of exiles, tourists, political exiles, economic emigrants and war refugees. All these people face diverse challenges depending on their categories. Consequently there are two classifications which categorically put exiles into nomadic and banished exiles. The two groups enjoy different privileges based on their social lives, their political integration and their need for self-identification. There are also other classifications which support that there are voluntary and involuntary exiles. Whereas banishment is involuntary, nomadism is a self-inflicted exile which makes it voluntary. Because of this, a involuntary exiles are more painful because the people feel neglected just like Josef and Irene are forced to break apart because of exilic experiences.