Kundera’s “graphomania”

imagesMy new venture — reviewing e-books for KindleBookReview.net — has left me with a virtual stack of books to read and review. On my e-shelf: 3 fantasy novels, 1 science fiction, 1 counter-historical, 1 anarchic romp through NYC, and a satire.

I shouldn’t be surprised by the number of requests I’ve received. Hundreds of millions of people seem to suffer from what Milan Kundera called “graphomania” — the desire to “have a public of unknown readers” (“Lost Letters”, The New Yorker, 14-07-1980, tr. Michael Henry Heim). Forgive this lengthy excerpt, but I can’t summarize it:

Graphomania (an obsession with writing books) takes on the proportions of an epidemic whenever a society develops to the point where it can provide three basic conditions: 1. a sufficiently high degree of general well-being to enable people to devote their energies to useless activities; 2. an advanced state of social atomization, and the concomitant general feeling of the isolation of the individual; 3. a radical absence of significant social change in the internal development of the nation. (In this connection I find it symptomatic that in France, a country where nothing really happens, the percentage of writers is twenty-one times higher than in Israel….) ¶And the effect transmits a kind of feedback to the cause. If isolation causes graphomania, mass graphomania reinforces and aggravates the isolation. The invention of printing originally promoted mutual understanding. In the era of graphomania the writing of books has the opposite effect: everyone surrounds himself with his own writings, as with a wall of mirrors, cutting off all voices from without.

Don’t worry. I know Kundera’s story is fiction, and the views are those of the narrator rather than Kundera himself. I also understand a tiny bit about this word’s connotations in Soviet and post-Soviet Europe.

But still.


About Lizzie Ross

in no particular order: author, teacher, cyclist, world traveler, single parent. oh, and i read. a lot.
This entry was posted in Am writing, reading, Review and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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