Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

To Kundera, it is immaterial whether Jaromil has poetic talent or is only a pseudopoet. Although Kundera explores the nature of the poetic personality in Life Is Elsewhere, his main interest is the “lyrical attitude,” which both poets and nonpoets can hold. In particular, he has noted in several places that the lyrical attitude is typical of revolutionaries, such as the Communist revolutionaries of his own Czechoslovakia. Poets and revolutionaries have the lyrical attitude in common, which is why poets are attracted to revolutions and revolutions need poets—why Jaromil is attracted to the Communists and ultimately hits it off with the security police.

Jaromil thus illustrates the reasons Kundera distrusts the lyrical attitude, which is characterized by enthusiasm and emotion rather than rationality. In poets the lyrical attitude can lead to fine poems, but in revolutionaries it can lead to fanaticism, excesses, and disregard for human life (much as it can destroy the personal life of the poet and those around him). Jaromil, the “sensitive” poet, demonstrates the horrible potential of the lyrical attitude by his treatment of the redheaded girl and his trip to the security police to inform on her brother.