On Kafka

from SHADES OF THE DEPARTED: Piercing Kafka

Last night I began reading Kafka’s The Trial. Though I plan on finishing this unfinished novel, I was immediately struck by the cold isolation of the world icing its lead character, Josef K. into a prison of immediate world-changing despair, only in the first few pages. It is an atmosphere of desolation and dread that I innately responded to for I have been there too, of being plunged into a situation beyond one’s control, of stepping from the comfort shallows into the icy deep of uncertainty is as uncomfortable as it is familiar.

How did I avoid Kafka so long?

I feel and have felt that reading any translation is already one step removed from the mother text. I have avoided Proust, Japanese haiku, Homer and others… at least from serious study because I feel that I am reading someone else’s book and not that of the original author. Yet, still, I go there from time… I despair at not being able to read Dostoevsky in his original Slavic tongue, or Tolstoy and others. Nuances of not only the language are gone, but also the writing form of the author now recalibrated for another audience of another tongue, another time and a distant sensibility. Therefore it is compromised.

But that is just opinion.

It has not stopped me from reading these books, just not delving into them with an inquisitive eye toward form and style. The buried detritus of authorial thought remains, like the sea wrack of a storm tide that washes its refuse to the shore.

To return to Kafka:

This lack of control of one’s life does not reside within the scope of the law solely, but of differences toward all matters of opposition. This could be the bureaucratic firewalls isolating its invested parties from its better interests, or of our fractured social structures imbued with a secular neuroses inhibiting us to react out of a native instinct that is shunned and forever frowned upon. It is to act with soul-crushing spirit-killing pragmatism, and so the first ten pages or so of The Trial caused me to immediately identify with the conflict at hand, perceiving it as a causal conflict exacerbated by oppressive manmade forces serving to disorient and destroy the placid fluctuating soul of mankind.

Doing good isn’t good enough.

The Being that does good is thought of as good for nothing. There rings no bell to arrest the sleeping dog’s attention, but only that to thwart and inhibit the soul’s natural progression to serve and sublimate. In that instance of reading The Trial, it caused my self to be drawn into the absurdist conflict of Josef K.

and this…

Many of the shades of the departed busy themselves entirely with lapping at the waters of the Acheron, because it comes from us and still carries the salt tang of our seas. This causes the river to coil with revulsion, and even to reverse its course, and so to wash the dead back to life. they are perfectly happy, and sing choruses of gratitude, and caress the indignant river. [Hofmann]

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