One of the great writers of the 20th century lays out his theory of why novels are important. His argument starts this way
In 1935, three years before his death., Edmund Husserl gave his celebrated lectures in Vienna and Prague on the crisis of European humanity.
Hmmm … the timing — not too long before the horrendous second great war — suggests that Husserl may have been onto something. Let’s see what Kundera has to say about this line of thought
For Husserl, the adjective “European” meant the spiritual identity that extends beyond geographical Europe (to America, for instance) and that was born with ancient Greek philosophy. In his view, this philosophy, for the first time in History, apprehended the world as a question to be answered. It interrogated the world not in order to satisfy this or that practical need but because “the passion to know had seized mankind.”
That takes us well beyond the immediate crisis that was about to grip the world in 1939. We are getting into deep water indeed
The crisis Husserl spoke of seemed to him so profound that he wondered whether Europe was still able to survive it.
Wow! The suspense is at a high level. What could be that dangerous?
The roots of the crisis lay for him at the beginning of the Modern Era, in Galileo and Descartes, in the one-sided nature of the European sciences, which reduced the world to a mere object of technical and mathematical investigation and put the concrete world of life, die lebenswelt, as he called it, beyond their horizon.
The rise of the sciences propelled man into the tunnels of specialized disciplines. The more he advanced in knowledge, the less clearly he could see either the world as a whole or his own self, and he plunged further into what Husserl’s pupil Heidegger called in a beautiful almost magical phrase ” the forgetting of being”.
The problem is revealed. We are diminished.
Once elevated by Descartes, to “master and proprietor” of nature, man has now become a mere thing to the forces (of technology, of politics, of history) that bypass him, surpass him, possess him. To those forces, man’s concrete being, his “world of life” (die legenswelt), has neither value nor interest it is eclipsed, forgotten from the start.
You cannot help but admire the scope of Kundera’s thinking and his ability to pitch an idea of such deep importance in such concise terms.
So how do we get beyond this crisis? Read on! There is a possible way out!