What is Litost? Litost is an untranslatable Czech word. Its first syllable, which is long and stressed, sounds like the wail of an abandoned dog. As for the meaning of this word, I have looked in vain in other languages for an equivalent, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can understand the human soul without it. Take an instance from the student’s childhood. His parents made him take violin lessons. He was not very gifted and his teacher would interrupt him to criticize his mistakes in an old, unbearable voice. He felt humiliated, and he wanted to cry. But instead of trying to play in tune and not make mistakes, he would deliberately play wrong notes, the teacher’s voice would become still more unbearable and harsh, and he himself would sink deeper and deeper into his litost. What then is litost? Litost is a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery. Anyone with wide experience of the common imperfection of mankind is relatively sheltered from the shocks of litost. For him, the sight of his own misery is ordinary and uninteresting. Litost, therefore, is characteristic of the age of inexperience. It is one of the ornaments of youth.
— Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting