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THE JOKE by Milan Kundera


by Milan Kundera

Pub Date: July 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-06-019030-2
Publisher: HarperCollins

 Shades of the Rocky movies: This is English translation number five of Kundera's 1967 novel. The novel itself is one of the mordant fictions of Kundera's Czech-period--the story of a youthful jape made by a young man, Ludvik Jahn, a joke that escapes all proportions in the unnatural quiet of repression and fear of the tone-deaf state. In an odd way, it may be Kundera's most musical fiction, all about over- and under-tones. But the arrogant meanspiritedness Kundera exhibits here in his foreword about inaccuracies in Michael Henry Heim's 1982 Harper ``retranslation'' of the first American edition (1969 Coward McCann) amounts to not much more than a literary tantrum: ``...In good conscience he [Heim] produced the kind of translation that one might call translation-adaptation (adaptation to the taste of the time and of the country for which it is intended, to the taste, in the final analysis, of the translator). Is this the current, normal practice? It's possible. But unacceptable. Unacceptable to me.'' So, Kundera tells us, he set to work on what we're now to take as the ``definitive version'': ``On enlarged photocopies of the fourth version, I entered word-for-word translations of my original, either in English or in French, wherever I thought necessary...and soon I realized that...a new, fifth version was taking shape.'' What's this, the Dead Sea Scrolls? Translators, writers, readers, all can be offended by the authorial gracelessness, publishing astigmatism, and general waste of paper this amounts to. Buy someone's first novel instead.