The subject of these fictions became the impossibility of maintaining them, and the author by his candor became the only character the reader could believe in. Characters are not born, like people, of woman; they are born of a situation, a sentence, a metaphor, containing in a nutshell a basic human possibility . That is why I am equally fond of them and equally horrified by them. Because it is supremely valuable to us - as valuable as science or religion - we feel all violence done to it must finally be in its service.
John Barth is one writer who comes to mind as having explored the possibilities of this strategy, and the distinguished Czech novelist Milan Kundera in his new book, ''The Unbearable Lightness of Being,'' continues to find it useful. Virginia Woolf's experiment in avoiding narrative, ''Mrs. In Prague, in the spring of 1968, when Alexander Dubcek is trying to make the Czech Communist Government more human, Tomas writes a letter to a newspaper to add his voice to a public debate.
Appearing noticeably in the United States 15 or 20 years ago was the disclaimed fiction in which the author deliberately broke the mimetic spell of his text and insisted that the reader should not take his story to heart or believe in the existence of his characters. There is a particular hazard to the author who intrudes on his text: He had better be as interesting as the characters he competes with and the story he subverts or we may find him self-indulgent or, worse, coy, like those animated cartoons where a hand draws a little animal and colors it in and pushes it along to its adventure down the road.
Disclaiming had the theoretical advantage of breaking through to some approximation of the chaos and loss of structure in life. the characters in my novels are my own unrealized possibilities. Even now, in our age, there is a sanctity to the story.
''And once more I see him the way he appeared to me at the very beginning of the novel,'' Mr. Dalloway,'' discovered another way to construct it or, perhaps, another place in which it could occur. Thereafter, the Russians invade Prague, Dubcek is replaced, public debate ceases, and Tomas is asked by the authorities to sign a statement retracting the sentiments of his letter.
They have compacted their given languages, or invented their own, or revised the idea of composition entirely by assembling their books as collages. Let us return to Tomas.'' The question may reasonably be asked if this convention too isn't ready for assault. Do we have to be told where he comes from any more than we have to be told where babies come from?
He has brought Eastern Europe to the attention of the Western reading public, and he has done so with insights that are universal in their appeal.
His call for truth and the inner freedom without which truth cannot be recognized, his realization that in seeking truth we must be prepared to come to terms with death - these are the themes that have earned him critical acclaim, including the Jerusalem Prize for Literature on the Freedom of Man in Society that he was awarded two weeks ago.
Kundera deals with this danger allegorically, with an irrepressible sense of the grotesque.
Like his compatriot Milos Forman, the Academy Award-winning director who has adapted to exile and has thrived in the West, Kundera, who has lived in France since 1975, has been prolific enough to dispel the popular notion that writers uprooted from their native soil lose their inspiration.