milan kundera

“We all need someone to look at us. We can be divided into four categories according to the kind of look we wish to live under.

The first category longs for the look of an infinite number of anonymous eyes, in other words, for the look of the public. That is the case with the German singer, the American actress, and even the tall, stooped editor with the big chin. He was accustomed to his readers, and when one day the Russians banned his newspaper, he had the feeling that the atmosphere was suddenly a hundred times thinner. Nothing could replace the look of unknown eyes. He thought he would suffocate. Then one day he realized that he was constantly being followed, bugged, and surreptitiously photographed in the street. Suddenly he had anonymous eyes on him and he could breathe again! He began making theatrical speeches to the microphones in his wall. In the police, he had found his lost public.

The second category is made up of people who have a vital need to be looked at by many known eyes. They are the tireless hosts of cocktail parties and dinners. They are happier than the people in the first category, who, when they lose their public, have the feeling that the lights have gone out in the room of their lives. This happens to nearly all of them sooner or later. People in the second category, on the other hand, can always come up with the eyes they need. Marie-Claude and her daughter belong in the second category.

Then there is the third category, the category of people who need to be constantly before the eyes of the person they love. Their situation is as dangerous as the situation of people in the first category. One day the eyes of their beloved will close, and the room will go dark. Tereza and Tomas belong in the third category.

And finally there is the fourth category, the rarest, the category of people who live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present. They are the dreamers. Franz, for example. He traveled to the borders of Cambodia only for Sabina. As the bus bumped along the Thai road, he could feel her eyes fixed on him in a long stare.

Tomas’s son belongs in the same category. Let me call him Simon. (He will be glad to have a Biblical name, like his father’s.) The eyes he longed for were Tomas’s. As a result of his embroilment in the petition campaign, he was expelled from the university. The girl he had been going out with was the niece of a village priest. He married her, became a tractor driver on a collective farm, a practicing Cathoilic, and a father. When he learned that Tomas, too, was living in the country he was thrilled: fate had made their lives symmetrical! This encouraged him to write Tomas a letter. He did not ask him to write back. He only wanted him to focus his eyes on his life.”