“Kitsch” is a German word born in the middle of the sentimental nineteenth century, and from German it entered all Western languages. Repeated use, however, has obliterated its original metaphysical meaning: kitsch is the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and the figurative senses of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its pureview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence.
Ten years later (by which time she was living in America), a friend of some friends, an American senator, took Sabina for a drive in his gigantic car, his four children bouncing up and down in the back. The senator stopped the car in front of a stadium with an artificial skating rink, and the children jumped out and started running along the large expanse of grass surrounding it. Sitting behind the wheel and gazing dreamily after the four little bounding figures, he said to Sabina, “Just look at them.” And describing a circle with his arm, a circle that was meant to take in stadium, grass, and children, he added, “Now, that’s what I call happiness.”
Behind his words there was more than joy at seeing children run and grass grow; there was a deep understanding of the plight of a refugee from a Communist country where, the senator was convinced, no grass grew or children ran.
At that moment an image of the senator standing on a reviewing stand in a Prague square flashed through Sabina’s mind. The smile of his face was the smile Communist statesmen beamed from the height of their reviewing stand to the identically smiling citizens in the parade below.
How did the senator know that children meant happiness? Could he see into their souls? What if, the moment they were out of sight, three of them jumped the fourth and began beating him up?
The senator had only one argument in his favor: his feeling. When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object. In the realm of kitsch, the dictatorship of the heart reigns supreme.
The feeling induced by kitsch must be a kind the multitudes can share. Kitsch may not, therefore, depend on an unusual situation; it must derive from the basic images people have engraved in their memories: the ungrateful daughter, the neglected father, children running on the grass, the motherland betrayed, first love.
Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass!
The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass!
It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.
The brotherhood of man on earth will be possible only on a base of kitsch.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Milan Kundera 1984