Kafka redux


Have you ever read a book, closed the covers, then started in on reading it again right away?  I never have until now.  I finished Kafka’s The Trial, and now I am reading it again.  It is a remarkable book!

I cannot by any means see this novel as a parable about contemporary society, politics, bureaucracy, totalitarianism, or other thematic streams discussed by many reviewers.  For me, this book is pure poetry of the most difficult sort.  And a very dark, ominous sort as well.

Key to this book is tone, something I go on about at length when I rhapsodize about Flaubert.  (Is it a surprise that Nabokov, not a generous critic, had tremendous admiration for Kafka?  He too was a master of tone.)  The book manages to tread the line between a precise, believable, concrete description of things and a world that is totally fearsome, inexplicable, and unexpected.  It is not surreal, but its situations certainly have the feel of dreams, but dreams become absolutely concrete! 

The characters in this book speak a farrago of nonsense about everything, but always with great confidence in what they have to relate, and with tremendous precision, as if they are scholars (talmudic, some have commented) of the structures they analyse.  None of it makes any sense from the point of view of our world, but it makes total sense to them.  The beauty of the writing is that it makes us see it from their point of view, against our will!  That’s the terrible frisson it creates.

There is philosophy here, and satire, and satire of philosophy.  There is commentary here on the nature of human beings and their tragic, fallen state.  And there is fatalistic resignation, not much hope, but laughter that, maybe, makes it bearable.  It is not a happy work, but it is uplifting in a way.

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