The Hitchhiking Game - A Short Story by Milan Kundera

The Hitchhiking Game - Photographic Portrait of Milan Kundera
Photographic Portrait of Milan Kundera

Contents

The Author & His Work

The short story The Hitchhiking Game by Milan Kundera (April 1, 1929) is included in the author’s collection of short stories entitled Laughable Loves (Směšné lásky). The collection constitutes Kundera’s second book, and was published in the former Czechoslovakia in 1969, by the former publishing house Československý Spisovatel.

The important writer Milan Kundera was born in the city of Brno, in what is now the Czech Republic, into a prominent bourgeois family. He was initially taught piano by his father Ludwig Kundera (1891-1971), who was an excellent musicologist and pianist, and then studied musicology and musical composition.

He was admitted to the Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague, in the Department of Literature and Aesthetics. He soon transferred to the Film Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague where he attended lectures in film direction and screenwriting.

Initially a committed communist on the party line and then a reformer, he finally abandoned the "existing utopia" of so-called Socialism and emigrated – without interference from the Czechoslovak regime – in 1975 to France. However, three years later, the Czechoslovak authorities, participating in the joyous event of the publication of his book The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, stripped him of his citizenship.

In addition to Laughable Loves, Kundera has also written 3 poetry collections, 4 theatrical plays, 10 essays and 10 novels, the most important of which are:

  • The Joke (Žert)
  • The Farewell Waltz (Valčík na Rozloučenou)
  • Life is Elsewhere (Život je Jinde)
  • The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (Kniha Smíchu a Zapomnění)
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Nesnesitelná Lehkost Bytí)
  • Immortality (Nesmrtelnost)
  • Ignorance (L’Ignorance)

A black mark in his life is the accusation that he was an informer, who  had denounced Miroslav Dvoracek (probably a Western agent) in 1950, which cost to the arrested only 22 years in prison. The accusation was never proven, nor was it definitively found to be unfounded.

… Our verdict?

Life is Elsewhere.

Laughable Loves in their Unbearable Lightness

The Laughable Loves include short stories whose writing spans almost an entire decade. In fact, they were written between 1959 and 1968, and their titles are:

  • Nobody Will Laugh
  • The Golden Apple of Eternal Desire
  • The Hitchhiking Game
  • Symposium
  • Let the Old Dead Make Room for the Young Dead
  • Havel After Twenty Years
  • Edward and God

Kundera himself mentions that his previous involvement with music, poetry and drama did not bring him satisfaction. But by writing the first short story of the collection, he felt that he had finally acquired a writing voice and style.

Although the Laughable Loves are quite far from his contemplative character of subsequent work, seeds of the creator’s problematic can be found here as well: love, the search for identity, the everyday and philosophical dimension of Being and Appearance.

Especially love has its due, as the author, in this collection of short stories, mainly targets the winged god and the consequences of his action, striving to demolish the widespread mythmaking framework that surrounds him.

Through his writing, love as Eros is delivered to the reader, albeit naked but at the same time unarmed.

For the Hitchhiking Game

The game – if we do not betray the thought of Jason Xenakis – presupposes voluntary accession and voluntary abandon at any moment; and if in the short story the accession is indeed voluntary, the abandon remains meteoric – pending or in its prospect cancelled.

A couple of lovers, going on vacation, devise and engage in an initially exciting love game. But during the game things get confused, the given identities of the lovers are pulverized, their relationship is laid bare and the consideration of the beloved/romantic Other gives an explosive revisionist performance.

In other words, the game takes an uncontrollable turn and the players are called to take a stance.

They will take;

No, they won’t.

And in this way, the author artfully entrusts the reader with the task of writing the end of the game/short story, giving his/her own version of the attitude of the players in this game, The Hitchhiking Game.

We, for our part, undertake immediately below to give Kundera’s version of the beginning of the game/short story.

Milan Kundera - The Hitchhiking Game (1/4)

The needle on the gas gauge suddenly dipped toward empty, and the young driver of the sports car declared that it was maddening how much gas the car guzzled. "See that we don’t run out of gas again," protested the girl (about twenty-two), and she reminded the driver of several places where this had already happened to them. The young man replied that he wasn’t worried, because whatever he went through with her had the charm of adventure for him. The girl objected; whenever they had run out of gas on the highway it had, she said, always been an adventure only for her. The young man had hidden, and she had had to make ill use of her charms by thumbing a ride and letting herself be driven to the nearest gas station, then thumbing a ride back with a can of gas. The young man asked the girl whether the drivers who had given her a ride had been unpleasant, since she spoke as if her task had been a hardship. She replied (with awkward flirtatiousness) that sometimes they had been very pleasant, but that it hadn’t done her any good as she had been burdened with the can and had had to leave them before she could get anything going. "Sex fiend," said the young man. The girl protested that it was he who was the sex fiend. God knows how many girls stopped him on the highway when he was driving the car alone! Still driving, the young man put his arm around the girl’s shoulders and kissed her gently on the forehead. He knew that she loved him and that she was jealous.

Milan Kundera - The Hitchhiking Game (2/4)

Jealousy isn’t a pleasant trait, but if it isn’t overdone (and if it’s combined with modesty), apart from its inconve- nience there’s even something touching about it. At least that’s what the young man thought.
Because he was only twenty-eight, it seemed to him that he was old and knew everything that a man could know about women. In the girl sitting beside him he valued precisely what, until now, he had encountered least in women: purity.
The needle was already on empty when, to the right, the young man caught sight of a sign announcing that a gas station was five hundred meters ahead. The girl hardly had time to say how relieved she was before the young man was signaling left and driving into a space in front of the pumps. However, he had to stop a little way off, because beside the pumps was a huge gasoline truck with a large metal tank and a bulky hose, which was refilling the pumps. "We’ll have to wait," said the young man to the girl, and he got out of the car. "How long will it take?" he shouted to the man in overalls. "Only a moment," replied the attendant, and the young man said: "I’ve heard that one before." He wanted to go back and sit in the car, but he saw that the girl had gotten out the other side. "I’ll take a little walk in the meantime," she said. "Where to?" the young man asked on purpose, wanting to see the girl’s embarrassment. He had known her for a year now, but she would still blush in front of him. He enjoyed her moments of modesty, partly because they distinguished her from the women he’d met before, partly because he was aware of the law of universal transience, which made even his girl’s modesty a precious thing to him.

Milan Kundera - The Hitchhiking Game (3/4)

The girl really didn’t like it when during a trip (the young man would drive for several hours without stopping) she had to ask him to stop for a moment somewhere near a clump of trees. She always got angry when, with feigned surprise, he asked her why he should stop. She knew that her modesty was ridiculous and old-fashioned. Many times at work she had noticed that they laughed at her on account of it and deliberately provoked her. She always blushed in advance at the idea that she was going to blush. She often longed to feel free and easy about her body, the way most of the women around her did. She had even invented a special course in self-persuasion: she would repeat to herself that at birth every human being received one out of the millions of available bodies, as one would receive an allotted room out of the millions of rooms in an enormous hotel; that consequently the body was fortuitous and impersonal, only a ready-made, borrowed thing. She would repeat this to herself in different ways, but she could never manage to feel it. This mind-body dualism was alien to her. She was too much at one with her body; that is why she always felt such anxiety about it.
She experienced this same anxiety even in her relations with the young man, whom she had known for a year and with whom she was happy, perhaps because he never separated her body from her soul, and she could live with him wholly. In this unity there was happiness, but it is not far from happiness to suspicion, and the girl was full of suspicions.

Milan Kundera - The Hitchhiking Game (4/4)

For instance, it often occurred to her that other women (those who weren’t anxious) were more attractive and more seductive, and that the young man, who did not conceal the fact that he knew this kind of woman well, would someday leave her for a woman like that. (True, the young man declared that he’d had enough of them to last his whole life, but she knew that he was still much younger than he thought.) She wanted him to be completely hers and herself to be completely his, but it often seemed to her that the more she tried to give him everything, the more she denied him something: the very thing that a light and superficial love or a flirtation gives a person. It worried her that she was not able to combine seriousness with lightheartedness.
But now she wasn’t worrying, and any such thoughts were far from her mind. She felt good. It was the first day of their vacation (of their two-week vacation, which she had been dreaming about for a whole year), the sky was blue (the whole year she had been worrying about whether the sky would really be blue), and he was beside her. At his "Where to?" she bhished, and she left the car without a word. She walked around the gas station, which was situated beside the highway in total isolation, surrounded by fields. About a hundred meters away (in the direction in which they were traveling), a wood began. She set off for it, vanished behind a little bush, and gave herself up to her good mood. (In solitude it was possible for her to get the greatest enjoy- ment from the presence of the man she loved.) […]

Milan Kundera, The Hitchhiking Game (from Laughable Loves – 1969)

The Hitchhiking Game (2008) - Short Film

The short film The Hitchhiking Game brings Kundera’s short story of the same title to cinema, marking the directorial debut of Darian Lane, who also wrote the screenplay. It was released in 2008, starring him, along with Laura Clery and Luigi Marchese.

The least an author can do for his works: sweep up around them.
Milan Kundera
The Art of the Novel
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