"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."—Milan Kundera, The Book Of Laughter And Forgetting
Kundera gives an example of a boy who cannot swim very well, while his girlfriend is a strong swimmer. The boy struggles to keep up with her as she swims off beyond him, and when she returns, the outraged boy slaps her face. By slapping her, he projects his incompetency as though it is her fault.
"She was madly in love with him and tactfully swam as slowly as he did. But when their swim was coming to an end, she wanted to give her athletic instincts a few moments' free rein and headed for the opposite bank at a rapid crawl. The student [the boy] made an effort to swim faster too and swallowed water. Feeling humbled, his physical inferiority laid bare, he felt litost. He recalled his sickly childhood, lacking in physical exercise and friends and spent under the constant gaze of his mother's overfond eye, and fell into despair about himself and his life. They walked back to the city together in silence on a country land. Wounded and humiliated, he felt an irresistible desire to hit her.…and then he slapped her face."
Litost is, essentially, a guilt trip through actions; by aggravating someone via verbal actions, physical actions, and sometimes silence. There are layers to Litost. The ultimate form of Litost, Kundera explains is, "circuitous revenge…the indirect blow." Kundera writes, "Litost is a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one's own misery."
Kundera writes that love is a remedy for misery, and that all faults are redeemed by love's gaze. "Love's absolute," Kundera says,
"is actually a desire for absolute identity: the woman we love ought to swim as slowly as we do, she ought to have no past of her own to look back on happily. But when the illusion of absolute identity vanishes (the girl loks back happily on her past or swims faster), love becomes a permanent source of the great torment we call litost."
I think this ties in nicely to the (positive) idea of most monotheistic religions, in which no matter your state of being, God is said to be along side you, loving you eternally; God will not try and out-swim you either. However, this also creates a subconscious (or conscious) inferiority, which is apparent that though God is swimming along with the individual, the individual must at one point stop swimming at the risk of drowning from fatigue. This is the flaw, though God will be alongside the individual, the individual knows God, being perfect, can outperform the individual in every aspect of life. Thus, a feeling of litost is brought upon the individual again.