Some people argue that the French-Czech novelist Milan Kundera can be ranked among the greatest novelist of post-war Europe. A small episode from part one of his Immortality, a novel published in 1990, will take us on an adventurous journey to partly reveal the true meaning of today’s events.
An unfamiliar young woman entered the sauna and the moment she walked through the door began to order everyone about; she made them all sit together, then she picked up a pitcher and poured water on the stones. With much hissing hot steam started to rise, making the woman sitting next to Agnes wince with pain and cover her face. The newcomer noticed it, declared, ‘I like hot steam, it gives me that real sauna feeling,’ squeezed herself between two naked bodies and at once began to talk about yesterday’s television talk show featuring a famous biologist who had just published his memoirs. ‘He was terrific,‘ she said.
Another woman nodded in agreement ‘Oh yes! And how modest! ‘
The newcomer said: ‘Modest? Didn´t you realize how extremely proud that man was? But I like that kind of pride! I adore proud people!‘ She turned to Agnes: ‘Did you find him modest? ‘
Agnes said that she hadn’t seen the programme. As if interpreting this remark as veiled disagreement, the newcomer repeated very loudly, looking Agnes straight into the eyes:
‘I detest modesty! Modesty is hypocrisy! ‘
Agnes shrugged and the newcomer said: In a sauna I’ve got to feel real heat. I’ve got to work up a good sweat. But then I must have a cold shower. A cold shower! I adore that! Actually I like my showers cold even in the morning. I find hot showers disgusting.‘
Soon she declared that the sauna was suffocating; after repeating once more how she hated modesty she got up and left.
Hopefully, most of us got it arranged differently. As a rule we do not tend to burst through a doorway first but let other people in first. Generally, we tend to love more than detest. Also, if we from time to time adopt a strong view, when it comes to action, we are considerate towards others and take care not to upset them.
Agnes recalled the newcomer who had just declared that she hated hot showers. She came in order to inform all the woman present that (1) she likes saunas to be hot (2) she adores pride (3) she can’t bear modesty (4) she loves cold showers (5) she hates hot showers. With theses five strokes she had drawn her self-portrait, with these five points she defined her self and presented that self to everyone. And she didn’t present it modestly (she said, after all, that she hated modesty!), but belligerently. She used passionate verbs such as ‘adore‘ and ‘detest‘, as if she wished to proclaim her readiness to fight for every one of those five strokes, for every one of those five points.
Similarly to the young woman entering the sauna, many of us, with few exceptions, need to draw self-portraits in order to let others know that there is something unique in us, something that is worth fighting for. Among the best at drawing their own portraits, however, are the politicians. They in particular must use fast sketches. Their expression must be straightforward and brief. Sometimes I get impression that they must burst through a doorway first, build flawlessly their image and show us their “true” face. In politics in particular the face and image can often be more important than the content behind it.
Why all this passion? Agnes asked herself, and she thought: When we are thrust out into the world just as we are, we first have to identify with that particular throw of the dice, with that accident organized by the divine computer: to get over our surprise that precisely this (what we see facing us in the mirror) is our self. Without the faith that our face expresses our self, without that basic illusion, that arch-illusion, we can not live or at least we cannot take life seriously. And it isn‘t enough for us to identify with our selves, it is necessary to do so passionately, to the point of life and death. Because only in this way we can regard ourselves not merely as a variant of a human prototype but as a being with its own irreplaceable essence.
With Milan Kundera we may say that the serial number of a human is their face, but it reflects neither character nor soul, nor even what can be called the self. During a fight, sometimes to the point of death, or simply for us as individuals to find our own place under the sun, the face has often not been spared. We tend to dislike faces with an unsightly growth, while most of us are quick to adore friendly faces that apparently reflect so much goodness and love. Perhaps we are reluctant to believe, that in some countries the face can even cause political earthquakes, with an amiable face taking precedence over having a good and competent man or woman in place. Again, the thing is that nowadays more than ever the form of a face can play a more important role than the content that lies behind it.
One could argue that, at least as far as our obsession with the face is concerned, our post-postmodern societies have gone mad already. However, what people do and how they do it, has always been and will always be far more important than how a person looks or what pleasantries he or she says in order to build a favorable image or a successful political career.
Our newcomer to the sauna poured water on the stones and her action resulted in physical pain for others. Outside the sauna, in real life, we are often first confronted with less tangible behavior that is initially based on words only. Except for our instinct we have little chance to explore the truth behind the words uttered. People often say things to make us believe that what they say is actually what they mean. Then we have no other option but to wait and look at the fruits that are the result of their action. Universal wisdom of a couple of thousand years´ standing confirms that: every good tree gives good fruit, but a corrupt tree brings evil fruit. By the same token a good tree cannot bring evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. By their fruits we shall know them.
This leads us to the most recent tragedy that unfolds in Europe. In the past, the lovely face of the British prime minister often claimed to be Eurosceptic yet now the very same man claims to be absolutely devastated by the Brexit referendum result. If devastated, how could he ever have been a Eurosceptic in the first place? Also, Cameron’s decision to resign (but not yet), goes specifically against what he said he would do. Something doesn’t add up here. He seems to be rather a drama queen. In honest politics two and two should always make four and never five. If a politician cannot count, if he says something and does the opposite, if he cannot reason, then people simply will not let him be in place. In case of the British prime minister voters decided that he cannot be trusted, it is as simple as that. The important thing here is, however, what the most recent EU political developments will mean for Israel. In my view, the policy of the UK will very likely remain as it is while the policy of the whole EU will likely be under more influence of Germany and France. On balance, probably not a huge difference for Israel when compared to the current status quo. Nevertheless, if I was to recommend something to the good people of Israel, it would be the following. Please stick to the basic rule: by their fruits you shall know them. Some faces are deceitful and may come to us in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.