Laughter

the human race has one really effective weapon


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Stephen King in The Paris Review, 2006

A great long read from Paris Review’s “The Art of Fiction” series. Check it out here.

INTERVIEWER

Cujo is unusual in that the entire novel is a single chapter. Did you plan that from the start?

KING

No, Cujo was a standard novel in chapters when it was created. But I can remember thinking that I wanted the book to feel like a brick that was heaved through your window at you. I’ve always thought that the sort of book that I do—and I’ve got enough ego to think that every novelist should do this—should be a kind of personal assault. It ought to be somebody lunging right across the table and grabbing you and messing you up. It should get in your face. It should upset you, disturb you. And not just because you get grossed out. I mean, if I get a letter from somebody saying, I couldn’t eat my dinner, my attitude is, Terrific!

INTERVIEWER

What do you think it is that we’re afraid of?

KING

I don’t think there’s anything that I’m not afraid of, on some level. But if you mean, What are we afraid of, as humans? Chaos. The outsider. We’re afraid of change. We’re afraid of disruption, and that is what I’m interested in. I mean, there are a lot of people whose writing I really love—one of them is the American poet Philip Booth—who write about ordinary life straight up, but I just can’t do that.

I once wrote a short novel called “The Mist.” It’s about this mist that rolls in and covers a town, and the story follows a number of people who are trapped in a supermarket. There’s a woman in the checkout line who’s got this box of mushrooms. When she walks to the window to see the mist coming in, the manager takes them from her. And she tells him, “Give me back my mushies.”

We’re terrified of disruption. We’re afraid that somebody’s going to steal our mushrooms in the checkout line.

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Forthcoming Jason Molina Book: Riding with the Ghost

The 2CD deluxe edition of Song: Ohia’s Didn’t It Rain was released yesterday, and to celebrate SPIN Magazine published an excerpt from a forthcoming book about Jason Molina written by Erin Osmon. You can read that here.

And below is a performance of “Blue Factory Flame” from Didn’t It Rain, recorded in Bloomington, IN two years before that album was released. There’s a demo version of it on the deluxe release, but the version here is substantially different. It’s one of the most intense solo recordings of his that I’ve heard.


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Review: Joseph Clayton Mills, “The Patient” (Entr’acte)

Franz Kafka died of starvation on June 3rd, 1924, his throat cinched by laryngeal tuberculosis. The intravenous delivery of food to sick patients wouldn’t be invented for another 35 years and the swelling in Kafka’s throat caused by the infection made swallowing even water difficult. Forbidden from speaking by his doctor at the sanatorium in Kierling, Austria, Kafka would often communicate with his friends and visitors by writing small notes on scraps of paper. Some such scraps were less notes and more fragments or disconnected ideas, phrases impossible to understand without context. It’s something Max Brod, Kafka’s friend and literary executor, recalls in the opening pages of the booklet that accompanies Joseph Clayton Mills’s The Patient. “Usually these notes were mere hints; his friends guessed the rest,” he writes. Mills, accompanied by Olivia Block, Noé Cuéllar (Coppice), Steven Hess (Pan•American, Haptic, Innode), and Jason Stein take a shot at interpreting those fragments on this record, using Mills’s textual score to trace a line around Kafka’s final abraded thoughts.

“The goal of this document is to suggest a vocabulary of actions,” Mills writes. “It should in no way be seen as prescriptive or comprehensive, and the sequence of elements in this document should not be construed as implying a particular linear arrangement.”

The 52-page score for The Patient bears only a passing resemblance to traditional musical scores. It contains a couple of references to particular notes in the Western 12-tone system, a few bar lines (one set displays both a treble and bass clef, but is otherwise blank), a few more very precise frequencies for sine wave generator, and even a reference to Wagner’s “Tristan chord,” but the majority of it is filled with suggested actions of the sort written by George Brecht, La Monte Young, and Pauline Oliveros. They read, “play for longer than you think you should” and “image of water/droplets/dew” and “hushed breath/for unvoiced bellows/vocalist/friction on drumhead.”

Together they are enough to constitute a composition, only the number of performers is unspecified and there are no instructions for how to string individual performances together. Participants have only Kafka’s quotes and Mills’s accompanying directions to guide them, along with a handful of photographs, drawings, medical diagrams, story excerpts, and historical summaries. None of it is prescriptive, but all of it sets a very particular tone, which is why, despite the score’s innate openness, this performance of The Patient sounds so compact, controlled, and potent.

(Read More… with samples)


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Today’s Reads 002

A collection of articles read over the last couple of days actually. Collected from the Internet for sharing and easy reference:

  • How Did Gandhi Win? (Dissent Magazine)
    That the Salt March might at once be considered a pivotal advance for the cause of Indian independence and a botched campaign that produced little tangible result seems to be a puzzling paradox. But even stranger is the fact that such a result is not unique in the world of social movements. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s landmark 1963 campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, had similarly incongruous outcomes: on the one hand, it generated a settlement that fell far short of desegregating the city, a deal which disappointed local activists who wanted more than just minor changes at a few downtown stores; at the same time, Birmingham is regarded as one of the key drives of the civil rights movement, doing perhaps more than any other campaign to push toward the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964. This seeming contradiction is worthy of examination.
  • Effects of climate change ‘irreversible,’ U.N. panel warns in report (Washington Post)
    The report said some impacts of climate change will “continue for centuries,” even if all emissions from fossil-fuel burning were to stop. The question facing governments is whether they can act to slow warming to a pace at which humans and natural ecosystems can adapt, or risk “abrupt and irreversible changes” as the atmosphere and oceans absorb ever-greater amounts of thermal energy within a blanket of heat-trapping gases, according to scientists who contributed to the report.
  • The IPCC is stern on climate change – but it still underestimates the situation (The Guardian)
    At this point, the scientists who run the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change must feel like it’s time to trade their satellites, their carefully calibrated thermometers and spectrometers, their finely tuned computer models – all of them for a thesaurus. Surely, somewhere, there must be words that will prompt the world’s leaders to act. This week, with the release of their new synthesis report, they are trying the words “severe, widespread, and irreversible” to describe the effects of climate change – which for scientists, conservative by nature, falls just short of announcing that climate change will produce a zombie apocalypse plus random beheadings plus Ebola.
  • Inventing Climate Change Literature (The New Yorker)
    Climate change has occasioned a lot of good journalism, but it poses as tremendous problems for imaginative literature as it does for electoral politics, and for many of the same reasons. The worst effects aren’t yet here, and even when global warming is the suspected culprit behind a hurricane or a drought, its fingerprints are never to be found on the scene of any particular disaster. Fictional characters, like flesh-and-blood citizens, have more urgent concerns than the state of the climate twenty years hence. Nor is it easy for people, real or imaginary, to feel any special moral relationship to the problem. Oil-company executives may be especially guilty, and environmental activists especially virtuous. The rest of us, in the rich countries, are culpable to such a similar degree that we might as well be equally innocent. So it is that a crisis at the center of our collective life exists for us at the margins of individual consciousness, as a whisper of dread or a rustle of personal implication. The main event of contemporary civilization is never, on any given day, the main event.
  • Science Graphic of the Week: How Magic Mushrooms Rearrange Your Brain (Wired)
    Investigating psychedelia wasn’t the direct purpose of the experiment, said study co-author Giovanni Petri, a mathematician at Italy’s Institute for Scientific Interchange. Rather, psilocybin makes for an ideal test system: It’s a sure-fire way of altering consciousness. “In a normal brain, many things are happening. You don’t know what is going on, or what is responsible for that,” said Petri. “So you try to perturb the state of consciousness a bit, and see what happens.”
  • Sweden Gives Recognition to Palestinians (The New York Times)
    The Palestinian leadership welcomed the move, which came amid growing criticism and frustration in Europe and the United States of Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel fears that the move by Sweden could lead other influential European countries to follow suit, a trend Israeli officials say would pre-empt the results of future negotiations over a Palestinian state with agreed borders. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of Israel said in a statement Thursday that the decision by the Swedish government to recognize a Palestinian state was unfortunate and would strengthen radical elements and Palestinian recalcitrance.


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Today’s Reads 001

Articles I read today, pulled from the Internet for sharing and easy reference.

  • The Cowardice of Bill Maher’s Anti-Muslim Bigotry (The Nation)
    With powerful media personalities like Maher perpetuating the notion that Americans should associate the horrible atrocities committed by ISIS with their Muslim-American neighbors, it shouldn’t be surprising if anti-Islamic sentiment continues to grow. That possibility alone is enough reason to condemn Maher’s fear-mongering. When one delves deeper and uncovers the simplistic, reductionist nature of Maher’s argument, it is clear he is also guilty of intellectual laziness, if not dishonesty.
  • Why Do We Keep Thanking the Troops? (TomDispatch)
    Will the “Concert for Valor” mention the trillions of dollars rung up terrorizing Muslim countries for oil, the ratcheting up of the police and surveillance state in this country since 9/11, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost thanks to the wars of George W. Bush and Barack Obama? Is anyone going to dedicate a song to Chelsea Manning, or John Kiriakou, or Edward Snowden — two of them languishing in prison and one in exile — for their service to the American people? Will the Concert for Valor raise anyone’s awareness when it comes to the fact that, to this day, veterans lack proper medical attention, particularly for mental health issues, or that there is a veteran suicide every 80 minutes in this country? Let’s hope they find time in between drum solos, but myself, I’m not counting on it.
  • Law Lets I.R.S. Seize Accounts on Suspicion, No Crime Required (The New York Times)
    There is nothing illegal about depositing less than $10,000cash unless it is done specifically to evade the reporting requirement. But often a mere bank statement is enough for investigators to obtain a seizure warrant. In one Long Island case, the police submitted almost a year’s worth of daily deposits by a business, ranging from $5,550 to $9,910. The officer wrote in his warrant affidavit that based on his training and experience, the pattern “is consistent with structuring.” The government seized $447,000 from the business, a cash-intensive candy and cigarette distributor that has been run by one family for 27 years.
  • Coming Soon To A Coast Near You: Vertical Tsunami Shelters (Popular Science)
    In the wake of the devastating Japanese tsunami in 2011 and the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, other communities on the West Coast have begun considering similar structures to shelter the thousands of people who live in low-lying areas. Other places around the world are also looking into vertical evacuation strategies. In Japan, a few different structures have already been built, and in Indonesia, researchers at Stanford are looking into reinforcing existing buildings to make them safe spaces in the event of a tsunami. 
  • The Fruit of Another (The Paris Review)
    Hilarion’s temptations inspired two very striking—and very different—French nineteenth-century paintings, both of which testify to his suffering more acutely than Jerome’s storytelling. The first, by Dominique-Louis-Féréol Papety, sees an almost catatonic Hilarion visited by a topless seductress with an elegant array of fruits, wine, and hors d’oeuvres, a surreal counterpoint to the forbidding landscape. What a brilliant thought on Papety’s part to have Hilarion’s arms outstretched—in protest as much as in longing, it seems—his face sick with fear and confusion [includes images].


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“Anyone who doesn’t believe in you and your future, to hell with them”

Lots of great anecdotes, quotes, and writing advice from Ray Bradbury, lifted from this post at Tor.com. The below video includes a whole host of books and writers to check out, and some surprising insights into Bradbury’s mind (“Writing is not a serious business!” and “I don’t write things to benefit the world”). Just make sure to ignore the bit about modern poetry.


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“The Very Best Thing in All this World”

twain_tesla_labThe following is from Mark Twain’s short story “Luck,” first published in Harper’s Magazine in 1891.

Just to provide a little context, the story begins at a banquet in London, where a war hero, alias Arthur Scoresby, is being honored for his bravery and intelligence in battle. His renown is so great that he is described as a “demigod” unconscious of the “sincere worship” lavished upon him by the military and the public alike.  During the ceremony, a clergyman leans over to the narrator and informs him that Scoresby is, in reality, “an absolute fool.” As proof, the clergyman offers up an account of his time in the military, where he served as Scoresby’s tutor and unwitting accomplice. Right at the end of the story, we get this brilliant and bitter summary of Scoresby’s success.  It made my morning commute through the snow a bit more tolerable:

He is just as good and sweet and lovable and unpretending as a man can be, but he doesn’t know enough to come in when it rains. Now that is absolutely true. He is the supremest ass in the universe; and until half an hour ago nobody knew it but himself and me. He has been pursued, day by day and year by year, by a most phenomenal and astonishing luckiness. He has been a shining soldier in all our wars for a generation; he has littered his whole military life with blunders, and yet has never committed one that didn’t make him a knight or a baronet or a lord or something. Look at his breast; why, he is just clothed in domestic and foreign decorations. Well, sir, every one of them is the record of some shouting stupidity or other; and taken together, they are proof that the very best thing in all this world that can befall a man is to be born lucky.


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“Contact! Contact!”

detail from Robert Rauschenberg's "Mother of God" (ca. 1950)

detail from Robert Rauschenberg’s “Mother of God” (ca. 1950)

Henry David Thoreau, from The Maine Woods:

What is it to be admitted to a museum, to see a myriad of particular things, compared with being shown some star’s surface, some hard matter in its home! I stand in awe of my body, this matter to which I am bound has become so strange to me. I fear not spirits, ghosts, of which I am one—that my body might— but I fear bodies, I tremble to meet them. What is this Titan that has possession of me? Talk of mysteries!—Think of our life in nature—daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it—rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! The solid earth! The actual world! The common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? Where are we?

This little passage caught me off guard. You can almost feel Thoreau trembling a little when he writes “Contact! Contact!” Almost as if his heart is breaking at the idea. Or maybe that’s just a modern reading of it—contact can sometimes feel like a miracle.


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The Many Faces of Lolita

lolita_kubrick_stillRachel Arons’ most recent post on the New Yorker’s lit blog examines the history of Lolita’s cover art. She interviews John Bertram, co-editor of Lolita: The Story of a Cover Girl: Vladimir Nabokov’s Novel in Art and Design, who says some very interesting things about Nabokov’s demands for the cover, as well as the novel’s reception.

About half way through the book, one question started to nag me more than any other: who the hell decided this was an erotic novel? When and how did Dolores Haze, the-impossible-to-summarize 12 year-old victim of a predator’s hyper-sexed affections, become a sexual fantasy and fashion icon? Turns out Bertram has a very good answer.

Arons notices that “Many of the covers guilty of misrepresenting Lolita as a teen seductress feature images from Hollywood movie adaptations of the book— Kubrick’s 1962 version, starring Sue Lyon, and Adrian Lyne’s 1997 one” and then asks, “Are those films primarily to blame for the sexualization of Lolita?”

Bertram replies:

As is argued in several of the book’s essays, the promotional image of Sue Lyon in the heart-shaped sunglasses, taken by photographer Bert Stern, is easily the most significant culprit in this regard, much more so than the Kubrick film itself (significantly, neither the sunglasses nor the lollipop ever appears in the film), or the later film by Adrian Lyne. Once this image became associated with “Lolita”—and it’s important to remember that, in the film, Lolita is sixteen years old, not twelve—it really didn’t matter that it was a terribly inaccurate portrait. It became the image of Lolita, and it was ubiquitous. There are other factors that have contributed to the incorrect reading, from the book’s initial publication in Olympia Press’s Traveller’s Series (essentially, a collection of dirty books), to Kubrick’s startlingly unfaithful adaptation. At the heart of all of this seems to be the desire to make the sexual aspect of the novel more palatable.

There’s absolutely nothing palatable about what happens to Dolores in the course of the novel. Near the start of the second part there’s a particularly disturbing scene where Humbert bemoans the limits of his affair. He’s just described how he would use rewards like coffee or candy to force Lolita into her “morning duty,” when he unleashes this hellish day dream:

My only grudge against nature was that I could not turn my Lolita inside out and apply voracious lips to her young matrix, her unknown heart, her nacreous liver, the sea-grapes of her lungs, her comely twin kidneys.

Maybe Kubrick believed he couldn’t get away with portraying the rape of a 12 year old child on film, so he changed the Dolores’s age. I haven’t looked into the why, but the result would be the same just so long as her age increased, and Bertram nails it: the normalization of Humbert’s desire.

Definitely a good read. Worth it just for the link to the Lolita cover gallery, but if you don’t care to read, you can skip straight to the pictures here. I’ve posted my favorite below, but I’d love to hear what other people think about the artwork on that site.

Cover design by Jamie Keenan.

Cover design by Jamie Keenan.


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“Perhaps they don’t know what sex is either.”

nabokov_at_workI started reading Lolita for the first time over the weekend. I can’t remember the last time an opening passage left such an impression on me:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

I love that parade of hard T’s in the third sentence and the way Nabokov breaks her name into syllables. I speak like that sometimes, when I’m having fun: Na. Bo. Kov. We hear sounds like these all of the time but rarely slow down to appreciate them.

Before I even opened the book, my impression of Lolita was well formed. Probably too well formed. Critics called it erotica, pornography, and trash. I understood it to be primarily about sex and hebephilia. It was banned in the United Kingdom and France for a short time, and banned books emit a particular aura, especially when their topics are taboo.

Thanks to this book the name Lolita is practically synonymous with perversion. Yet it ranked fourth on Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels list and is widely considered a classic of the English language. Speaking to the BBC in 1962, Nabokov said “Lolita is a special favorite of mine. It was my most difficult book—the book that treated of a theme which was so distant, so remote, from my own emotional life that it gave me a special pleasure to use my combinational talent to make it real.”

With that in mind, I went to Youtube this evening looking for an interview with Nabokov about the book and found this two-part video from CBC’s “Close-Up” television program. Vladimir spoils a plot point or two during the conversation, so consider yourself warned, but I think it is worth watching because he goes into some detail about how he views his work.

Sex and destructive obsessions are discussed, and Nabokov does not dispute their presence in the novel, but he spends much more time emphasizing love, passion, and tragedy. Responding to the sexual scandal surrounding the book, he says, “If sex, you see, is the servant maid of art, love is the lady of that tower.” The topic shifts away from perversion and toward our perceptions as he asks us to consider how we define sex and love, and whether we can tell the difference. A lot of remarkable things are said at the end of the interview, so be sure to watch all the way through:


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Poem for the Day: Robert Frost, “The Telephone”

frost_writingAfter reading about flowers for the last couple of days (don’t ask), I flipped through a Robert Frost collection this morning and fortuitously landed on this poem. It struck me and so I thought I’d share it. It’s from Mountain Interval, first published in 1916; the same collection that contains “The Road Not Taken.”

The Telephone

“When I was just as far as I could walk
From here today,
There was an hour
All still
When leaning with my head against a flower
I heard you talk.
Don’t say I didn’t, for I heard you say—
You spoke from that flower on the windowsill—
Do you remember what it was you said?”

“First tell me what it was you thought you heard.”

“Having found the flower and driven a bee away,
I leaned my head,
And holding by the stalk,
I listened and I thought I caught the word—
What was it? Did you call me by my name?
Or did you say—
Someone said ‘Come’—I heard it as I bowed.”

“I may have thought as much, but not aloud.”

“Well, so I came.”


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Friendly Advice from Ray Bradbury

ray_bradbury_typewriterBelow you’ll find “Ray Bradbury: Story of a Writer,” a short documentary made in 1963 by David L. Wolper. In it, Bradbury gives advice to fledgling writers, reflects on the dangers of new technology, and stresses the importance of the subconscious mind for his thinking.

I pulled this from a post over at Dangerous Minds, which you can find here. Their article summarizes some of Bradbury’s broader points, but it skips much of his practical advice, which is fantastic. Bradbury talks candidly about his early experiences as a writer, the need for an agent, his love of painting, the role his wife played in editing and assessing his work, rejection, and even his fear of the dark.

Cut throughout the interview material are excerpts from his short story “Dial Double Zero,” which only ever appeared as part of this documentary and remains unpublished.

Essential viewing for Bradbury fans, or anyone who has ever had the urge to write.


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The Monthly List: 2012 in Review, Part Two

satantango_owlPart two of December’s Monthly List features my favorite movie of the year, which wasn’t even released in 2012, plus a few thoughts about a couple of books I read, one or two of the live shows I saw, and a brief reflection on visiting the Museum of Modern Art for the first time.

Continue reading


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A Country Doctor: The Animated Version

still_from_a_country_doctor Via Open Culture: an amazing animated version of Franz Kafka’s “A Country Doctor” directed by Koji Yamamura. Available on the DVD Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor and other Fantastic Films. Of Yamamura, Wikipedia says:

Yamamura was born in Nagoya and studied painting at Tokyo Zokei University. His 2002 movie Mt. Head (Atama Yama) won the short film award for the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, the Grand Prize at the 2004 Zagreb World Festival of Animated Films and was nominated for the Academy Award for Animated Short Film. Yamamura won the 2007 Ottawa Grand Prix with his animated adaptation of Franz Kafka’s “A Country Doctor.” Both of the films were included in the Animation Show of Shows.

Definitely worth 20 minutes of your time. The music and sound are excellent, and the animation is every bit as surreal as the story.


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Kafka, the Pugilist

kafka_book_cover

I first read The Metamorphosis when I was 18—maybe 19—after it was recommended to me by my dad. I remember thinking it was a strange science fiction story. Completely unlike the Asimov and Clarke I knew. I registered that there was more going on in it than I could understand and I made a resolution to come back to it eventually. That never happened, at least not for a long time. A couple years later, I read In the Penal Colony when a friend of mine gave me a photocopy he’d made at the library, but my impression of it was quickly obscured and smoothed out by the many other books I was reading at the time. I essentially missed Kafka while in college.

And then, last month, a random conversation on an Internet message board reminded me of him. Now I find myself wrestling with A Country Doctor, the second collection of Kafka’s short stories published during his lifetime. After reading The Judgment and The Metamorphosis, it feels like catching a hard right hook to the jaw. The Metamorphosis eats at you page by page; you can watch it work on your soul and on your spirits; watching it makes it somehow easier. The conclusion doesn’t shock, there aren’t any twists or sudden turns, but it wears you down. At some point, you become Gregor Samsa and the world gets that much dimmer. The Judgment catches you off guard and steals a bit of your breath; it hits hard, but the conclusion is absurd, even to the point of being funny.

The stories in A Country Doctor, on the other hand, are taut, tough, and unforgiving. They jab, dodge, fake left, swing right, and crush. They’re bloody and a little ugly, and I’m left wondering how I am supposed to keep up. A story like “The Cares of a Family Man” isn’t even two pages, but it contains so many ideas that interpreting it looks impossible. It’s compact and muscular and if there is a touch of humor there, it’s camouflaged.

How to approach these stories then? Merely reading them gets me nowhere. I have to do more; come back swinging; get into shape and learn the footwork; I have to laugh off blows and toughen up; get bruised. In terms of reading and writing, that means doing the job of interpretation myself.

It’s temping to look for answers from scholars who have spent lots of time reading and studying Kafka’s life and works. Knowing how other readers have responded to him helps. Context helps. So does taking the chance on a personal encounter with his stories. I take comfort in the idea that Kafka can’t be interpreted. That I have to take from him whatever I can glean, and that if there is someone or something behind the text, something fixed and waiting to be found, it is a total secret impossible to penetrate.

I found the following quote while browsing different essays on Kafka. It reinforced this idea of Kafka as a pugilist for me, as somebody I have to fight directly, not vicariously. It’s from a letter written in 1904 to Oskar Pollak, one of Kafka’s classmates at the Altstädter Gymnasium:

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? …we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.

Wounded is a great way to describe how I feel after reading some of these stories. Especially the end of “An Old Manuscript.” Kafka describes an alien presence in an unnamed city; armed soldiers that steal and threaten violence; a cowardly defense force; animals eating other animals from starvation; nomads gnawing on bones and consuming raw flesh; and then a conclusion that falls like a blow to the gut:

“What is going to happen?” we all ask ourselves. “How long can we endure this burden and torment? The Emperor’s palace has drawn the nomads here but does not know how to drive them away again. The gate stays shut; the guards, who used to be always marching out and in with ceremony, keep close behind barred windows. It is left to us artisans and tradesmen to save our country; but we are not equal to such a task; nor have we ever claimed to be capable of it. This is a misunderstanding of some kind; and it will be the ruin of us.” (Willa and Edwin Muir translation)

Everyone knows Kafka’s a writer. He’s also a boxer. I can’t always see what he’s fighting with, but sometimes I catch one of his punches and it sends me reeling.