Archive for March 2010
While rummaging throughout my books I came across a copy of Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories. This volume ignores the novels and instead compiles his 55 shorter works. I have long preferred his stories, or more accurately, his snippets.
Kafka’s longer works have achieved notoriety (who has not at least heard of The Trial or Metamorphosis ?), but lend themselves to abstracting his work – “Kafkaesque,” “absurdist,” etc. Abstraction of this sort, while useful in a macro-literary study, are useless when trying to extract a man’s thinking process. (For my mind, the only point of consuming any kind of media.)
In the short stories (some only a paragraph long) it becomes clear that these are those moments of pure release, spurts of literary orgasm if you will, those moments that are all too often embedded in longer works, surrounded by fluff. And they are lodged in a specific moment, rather than the timeless quality of longer stories. In this way, these are, in the words of my roommate, “Facebook statuses of the day”, and perhaps that is why they appeal to me so much. We can see actually discern or even ‘see’ the way he thinks.
For example, in contrast to the Metamorphosis, in Poseidon we can easily imagine a bored Kafka staring off into space while behind a desk at an insurance firm, idly contemplating the amount of paperwork the Greek god would have to go through in order to manage the oceans of the world.
Others are more complex. In a short 6 lines, The Departure juxtaposes the men and women who have heard ‘the call’ with those who have not:
I ordered my horse to be brought from the stables. The servant did not understand my orders. So I went to the stables myself, saddled my horse, and mounted. In the distance I heard the sound of a trumpet, and I asked the servant what it meant. He knew nothing and had heard nothing. At the gate he stopped me and asked: “Where is the master going?” “I don’t know,” I said, “just out of here, just out of here. Out of here, nothing else, it’s the only way I can reach my goal.” “So you know your goal?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied, “I’ve just told you. Out of here- that’s my goal.”
Some can hear the clarion call. To fight, to publish, to build, to photograph, to love, to think, to create. In my experience, this class of people shares the strength to leave. Rather than be confined, or dictated, or silo-ed, or oppressed, they innovate, shatter boundaries, and move – often with surprising velocity. But, as The Departure reminds us, others can’t hear that frequency.
On the question of how those who are limited can transform themselves into those who can hear the call, Kafka is profoundly unhelpful. All he can offer us is a giant fucking caterpillar-man.
But. Perhaps that is a solution. Perhaps the essence of Kafka’s thinking – to observe and then attach your own, regardless of relationship with reality – is the answer. Perhaps, in the modern era, our daily blogging, our hourly Facebook statusi, our minute-by-minute tweets should be, rather than observations of the present, offerings on the unknown, thoughts, snippets, fantasies, but in the end, output the original.
Twitter offers the amazing ability to transmit our most naked and original moments, across time and space, with rich video and imagery, our trials and tribulations. Our sons and their granddaughters will be able to see how we thought with a thousand times more clarity than we will ever be able to comprehend Kafka’s snippets. Perhaps this will drive them to hear the call – itself embedded in the global thought-stream copiously documented online.
Kafka was first limited by his day job, and later in his life, his health, revealing an inverse relationship between constraints and writing the absurd, creating the original. Today we have compounded those physical constraints with overwhelming information overload.
Crippled by this daily infoassault, we cannot even output our absurd, our original. We cannot add to that which we observe. Instead, courtesy of Kafka’s servants at Twitter, we can endorse, but we cannot transform what we experience into our own.
We are reduced to Retweets.