April 1

Milan Kundera (1929)

It was on this date, April 1, 1929, that the novelist best known for The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera was born in Brno, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic). Growing up in post-Nazi Czechoslovakia, Kundera and his generation were highly influenced by the totalitarian realism of the occupiers, which may have persuaded the budding writer and film student to join the Communist Party in 1948, while a teenager. But his intellect was too precocious for the Party and he was expelled two years later. He graduated from Charles University, Prague, in 1952, then was appointed lecturer in world literature at the Film Academy there.

Kundera rejoined the Communist Party in 1956 but, along with other Czech artists and writers such as Václav Havel, became a leader of the 1968 Prague Spring, in the naïve hope that the Communists would ease their yoke. Instead, pro-Soviet forces crushed the movement and Kundera was again expelled from the Party two years later (1970). All the time, Kundera was writing: his first novel, The Joke, was published in 1967, followed by such books as Life is Elsewhere (1969), The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979), for which he lost his Czech citizenship, The Art of the Novel (1988), in which he discusses his disbelief in organized religion, Slowness (1994) and Identity (1998). But it is for his 1984 novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, filmed in 1988, that Kundera is chiefly known.

Since 1975 Kundera has lived in France with his wife Vera; he became a French citizen in 1981. Although praising the revolutionist and Encyclopedist Denis Diderot, Kundera admits that political struggle between right and left leaves him cold. In a 1985 interview, he said:

The danger that threatens us is the totalitarian empire. Khomeini, Mao, Stalin - are they left or right? Totalitarianism is neither left nor right, and within its empire both will perish. I was never a believer, but after seeing Czech Catholics persecuted during the Stalinist terror, I felt the deepest solidarity with them. What separated us, the belief in God, was secondary to what united us. In Prague, they hanged the Socialists and the priests. Thus a fraternity of the hanged was born.*

*Interview with Olga Carlisle (1985).

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Abraham Maslow (1908)

It was also on this date, April 1, 1908, that American psychologist Abraham Harold Maslow was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. His lightly educated parents encouraged him to study law, but Maslow abandoned that curriculum, and the state of New York, to study psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There he earned his BA (1930), his MA (1931) and his Ph.D (1934). He returned to New York and taught at Brooklyn College, then later, where he was named Chair of Psychology in 1951, at Brandeis University.

Masow is chiefly known for proposing the "hierarchy of needs" to be met so an individual can achieve "self-actualization." In this hierarchy there was room for religion, and even supernaturalism, but it was not a necessity for the highest level: self-actualization. Indeed, in the introduction to his Religion, Values and Peak-Experiences (1964), Maslow warns against the mystical pursuit of personal salvation as a basically selfish pursuit that frequently turns evil.

His own ideas on religion can be inferred from his naming as Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association in 1967. Maslow died in Menlo Park, California, on 8 June 1970. It was Abraham Maslow who said, “We need not take refuge in supernatural gods to explain our saints and sages and heroes and statesmen, as if to explain our disbelief that mere unaided human beings could be that good or wise.”*

* Description of Maslow's views by Richard J. Lowery in A H. Maslow: An Intellectual Portrait (1973).

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.
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