For the Jewy Jews out there celebrating Passover, chag sameach. And for everyone who writes those fine romance novels we love so very, very much with heaving bosoms of passion, this is from our family seder last night. It was written by Milan Kundera, and we used it during the portion of the seder known as the Four Questions.
The Stupidity of Having an Answer
A novel does not assert anything; a novel searches and poses questions. I don’t know whether my nation will perish and I don’t know which of my characters is right. I invent stories, confront one with another, and by this means I ask questions. The stupidity of people comes from having a question for everything.
The novelist teaches the reader to comprehend the world as a question. There is wisdom and tolerance in that attitude. In a world built on sacrosanct certainties the novel is dead. The totalitarian world, whether founded on Marx, Islam or anything else, is a world of answers rather than questions. There, the novel has no place. In any case, it seems to me that all over the world people nowadays prefer to judge rather than to understand, to answer rather than ask, so that the voice of the novel can hardly be heard over the noisy foolishness of human certainties.
How does that relate to romance? I think with each romance novel, the question is how to arrive at the happily ever after, and to ask repeatedly “Aren’t each of us worthy of love and care?” Even the most unredeemable hero finds true love, and his perfect match, and the same can be said for some heroines. Miss Thing might be slightly more sharp than a box of hair, but there is a handsome hero for her by the final page.
The judgments people render against romance novels try to dismiss the question of why romance is so popular, and why so many millions of people spend so many millions of dollars on their choice of reading material. But even against the certainty that romance is “dreck,” or “chick porn” or just lowbrow popular culture loved by dim women in puffy paint sweatshirts, the questions that we ask about romance push back against judgment and assumption to celebrate the questions romance novels ask about human emotional and sexual experience.
Now, pass the matzo ball soup!