Milan Kundera, speaking through the voice of his character Tereza in Part Four of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, asserts that “A concentration camp is the complete obliteration of privacy.”
I confess that this line, this definition, struck me so powerfully that it remained the only salient feature of this complex work that I could recall.
In Kundera’s novel, Tereza’s mother invaded and obliterated her privacy by reading her secret diary aloud to friends who had a good laugh at the adolescent Tereza’s expense. Tereza herself calls the concentration camp created for her by her mother as “a given into which we are born and from which we can escape only with the greatest of efforts.”
In our age of universal self-disclosure through the so-called social media of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and our age of universal snooping courtesy of the National Security Agency in the States and other like organisations throughout the world, privacy is well-worth re-examining. And it is well-worth examining in the context of adolescence.
Generally speaking adolescence, that remarkable transition from childhood to ostensible maturity, is routinely characterised by a surge of hormones, erratic mood swings, changes in physical shape, the formation of grand ideals, sexual development and activity, passion, risky behaviours, all of which contribute to the setting of a kind of trajectory for one’s life.
I can hardly add anything to what everyone well knows who has passed through adolescence or who is fretting about it from the parental perspective. But I want to call attention to one feature that has not been celebrated as much as it should: namely, a perceptive clarity, a brilliant insight into the blinding discordance between the world the teenager is moving into, full of the false mythologies and strictures created by adults, and the world they perceive can be devoid of such hypocrisy: a brave new world that somehow never comes into being.
Is it any wonder then that teens move to drugs and drink or acts of lawlessness when they easily discern with all of their youthful clear-sightedness and vigour a discrepancy between what parents and religious leaders preach and what they actually practice? When they wonder how a country can advocate peace while prosecuting endless war? And when a monstrous place like Guantanamo Bay can be created, where unfortunates have been consigned without the right to legal representation, in violation of any semblance of humane law? And where, of course, privacy has been utterly abolished.
And this is the point I’ve been meandering to. Is privacy essential? Does privacy serve any function anymore? The privacy to one’s peculiar, wild, dark and sometimes deranged and beautiful imaginings? The privacy within which one may be most utterly free in thought?
I confess, I think along the lines of Duke Orsino in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (Act 1, Scene 4) when he says that he is “best when least in company.”
We should have secrets, we should nurture them, we should permit ourselves this sanctuary, we should encourage our children to have their sacred spaces of thought within which there may be true creative liberty, an unparalleled freedom to think beyond bounds. We should understand that it is permissible to harbour any conceivable idea, so long as the distinction between imagination and action is preserved.
Otherwise we are all prisoners indeed.
Dr. Garcia is a poet, novelist and physician who now resides in New Zealand. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.