Explore Barnes and Shakespeares presentation of the philosophical debate of lightness vs. weight and consider how 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' has illuminated your ideas.

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The novel, “The Sense of an Ending” is a story of Tony Webster's life that concludes in a revelation that, “There is great unrest” which is unsettling. The revaluation of Tony's life depicts the philosophy of existentialism, especially in part one, who lives by the mindset of Eros and Thanatos and is a reoccurring theme throughout the novel bringing the novel much weight. The unreliability of Tony's narration is a microcosm of the post-modern movement which breaks the conventions of truthful accounts and adds another dimension to the novel which forces the reader to analyse the perceptions of the unreliable-first person narrator. This ties in with the philosophical debate of lightness vs. weight as Tony's memory is often described as unreliable by himself and is a depiction of the nature of history as a whole looking at 'effect and cause' within Tony's life.

This in depth re-evaluation adds weight to the events from the retrospection in 2011, adding intensity and emotion by the idea of eternal return – everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia or becomes permanently protuberant. The philosophical question of Lightness vs. Weight., the book explores the themes of female characters which is explored in Shakespeare's sonnet cycle with his contrasting attitudes between The Dark Lady and The Fair Youth.

In 'The Sense of an Ending' the debate is apparent through other themes such as; history, the nature and complexity of love, natural imagery and symbolism in the form of biblical connotations. Illuminating these ideas is the main concept of Kundera's book The Unbearable Lightness of Being which focuses on Nietzsche's idea of eternal return – how could there ever be a verdict on an singular historical event if there is no 'corroboration' to validate the result. This is the problem Tony struggles with, not only is his history not repeated but his memory distorted as history 'is the self-delusions of the defeated' and the concept of eternal return lies heavy on our actions. However in the case of Tony, his lack of eternal return and unreliable memory has that lightness of ambiguity and in Kundera's words 'History is as light as Individual human life' .

Although Tony's memories are returned to him in the form of letters and Adrian's diary, there are still inaccuracies displayed which completely throw the present Tony off-guard. Asserting the theme is Shakespeare's Sonnets which, also has biographical implications. Shakespeare was an actor as well as a playwright and poet– a dramatist who endeavoured hyperbole and this is, like Tony's memories, self-delusion. For this reason Shakespeare's sonnets can be placed anachronistically into a 'post-modernist' genre. This line of argument also touches upon the motif that the expectations of literature never live up to reality, 'that was another of our fears: that life wouldn't turn out to be like literature'. Literature's trivial nature is echoed through Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 which plays an elaborate mockery the Elizabethan conventions of love poetry that were modelled after the sonnets of Petrarch. This can be applied to Kundera's idea of 'kitsch' – art, literature, music which are concepts formed from vanity and non-realism. In both Kundera's and Barnes' novels, romanticism is presented in scatological terms, 'but they were just dry wanks' and 'Kitsch is the absolute denial of shit' which illustrates the debate of Lightness vs. Weight. In a contextual sense the arts have been mass produced and consumer culture at its height in Tony's 1960s England, this weightiness of the arts and literature is exemplified in Kundera's context of Soviet occupation in Czechoslovakia, where all creative liberty was restricted and replaced with an influx of political propaganda and modified censored art. Thus the weight of art bears heavy on its people. However in Elizabethan England, art and literature were regarded as the highest form of pleasure. The lightness and grandeur of literature is epitomised in the whole sequence of sonnets in a burst of desperation and expression, evident in Shakespeare's literary devices. For example in Sonnet 147, catharsis of emotion is expressed through the chain of words that have been foregrounded; 'disease', 'ill', 'love' 'unrest' with emphasises on these words come the emphasis of desperation and poignancy these words highlight of the human condition. Ultimately, the authenticity and expression of literature and art sheds a lightness to its society by adding an abstract romanticism to all aspects of human life. The argument that literature and art carry weight, as implied in Barnes' novel, is plausible and hypocritical of Tony. This paradox is outlined by the cinematic imagery that opens and closes the novel 'band of yelping students whose torchlight criss-crossed in the dark' – Tony reflects back on that period of his life in an air of nostalgia and sentimentality and this duration of his life had much weight in his memory. The fact that Tony remembers snippets of his time with Veronica unreliably verifies the psychoanalysis of Freud's theory of repressed memory.

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In Barnes' novel, Tony sees clear edged women as an embodiment of lightness in 'The Sense of an Ending – as Margaret is believed to personify. To the narrator, Tony, there seems to be genuine feeling of love as depicted in page 73, “That’s where we found the other person, and find them still” which contrasts with Veronicas ‘mystery’ and heaviness, “ I hadn’t known where I was with her, couldn’t read her heart or mind or her motivation. But enigma is a puzzle you want to solve.”.Tony seems to have indecisive feelings towards Veronica but is also ...

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