Sympathists

Posts Tagged ‘Kafka’

An Overdue Response to the Ownership Question

In 20th c. Literature, Questions for the Panel on February 8, 2009 at 10:00 pm

Editor’s Note: This is the first post by industrial midwest exile and Sympathist extraordinaire, Brian Hill.  Clocking at at a relatively brief (by Sympathies standards) 860 words, Mr. Hill’s modest and wryly self-knowing style is a nice fit for the blog.

Brian Hill, Kyoto Japan

tower_3Happy for any dead or broken branch from any type of tree to prod at what appears, at first appraisal, to be the carcass of my literary consciousness, then cause it to stir, eventually to stand on numb legs with maw gaped in a yawn complete with fingernails scratching ass; happy as I am, I will try to pull something out of…well…I shall scribble down some thoughts.

I admit that I have no thesis but only the errant desire to own some authors.  I also admit that I have become very undisciplined with my reading, favoring collections of essays, short stories, poetry over any longer form; over any novel.  And then, I only pick and choose and then let it drop again.  Fortunately for me there exists Borges and Calvino.

Borges is someone that I would like to own.  Remembering my time in Toledo reading through Cognitive Psychology journals, a geology textbook, a biology textbook, Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, etc. I would find myself distracted from my studies and begin furiously trying to capture some idea that had occurred to me.  So, that when I first started reading Borges I thought: “Here is a guy who took my idea and expanded it in ways I never dreamed.”  I would like to own him, but am too often intimidated by his erudition.

A lesser known author who I do own is Albert Goldbarth, a poet and essayist who I discovered some 16 f years ago.  A Sympathy of Souls, is a collection of creative essays touching on Jewish stories and parables, family, personal experience, humor and the Goldbarth wit.  His, Heaven and Earth, A Cosmology was my first introduction to him and remains a solid sample of his poetry that combines modern scientific ideas with…poetry.  He captivated me early on and has achieved ‘Can Do No Wrong’ status.  As a sample here is “One Continuous Substance”:

Continue Reading

The Swing is the Thing

In 20th c. Literature, Questions for the Panel on January 30, 2009 at 2:12 pm

st-dupont-fountain-pen-usb-keyDean Williams, Kyoto

This man, who was graced with light,
who was chosen by the dread God,
who approached the dark clouds of Terror—

anon. Hebrew poem (The Death of Moses)

What is the son of Adam, that you should trouble over him?
Yet you made him only a little less than a god,
You have crowned his head with glory and honour,
You have made him govern the works of your hands,
You have put everything under his feet…

Psalm (8, Penguin Classics Ed., p 11)

A Thicket-like Beginning

Readers of my earlier post on Kafka will remember my hypothesis that the works of Kafka and Dickinson owe something of their peculiar power to the spiritual pendulum swing their lives described. As they alternately struggled with, defied, and rushed toward God, they forged their odd, oddly compelling little stories and poems:

I felt a Cleaving in my Mind–/ As if my Brain had split–/
I tried to match it—Seam by Seam–/But could not make them fit.
But also
Distance—is not the Realm of Fox/ Nor by Relay of Bird/
Abated—Distance is/Until thyself, Beloved.

Dickinson

More than once I have been tempted to call their writings afterthoughts to a life in truth dedicated to immanence, but that would be going too far. It seems clear that both took the craft of writing extremely seriously.  In the very short list of thoughts I believe I can guarantee fired off in their respective crania, one is, “I want to get better at this writing business.” They would not have worked year in and year out if it had not been important to them.  (We have more than 1700 poems by Dickinson!)

But I would distinguish their fundamental stance, what they thought they were doing when they put pen to paper, not only from all the poetasters, journeymen writers, hacks, pamphleteers and amateur scribblers like yours truly, but also from other major writers. Continue Reading

A Claim of Sorts on Kafka

In 20th c. Literature on January 10, 2009 at 3:58 pm

imagesDean Williams, Kyoto

I must say a lot of the modern/postmodern commentary on Kafka leaves me cold. The reason: to use an Arendtian term, we have “instrumentalized” this thinker/writer. We have made him a useful construct for our psycho/historico-social complex. We see him through the prism of post-communism, or our enduring fears of Big Brother–he was the canary in the coal mine warning of the encroaching bureacratism, corporatism, cold disembodied legalism to come–he has even entered our language, Kafkan/Kafkaesque. Now, this is certainly part of the Kafkan universe, and what makes him so achingly funny, so cruel, so important. And yet, it’s also profoundly untrue and misleading.

Kafka was not a pamphleteer, a polemicist, a theorizer, a philosopher. I think he wasn’t even a writer in the traditional sense, although he was of course marvelously sensitive to language.

Matthew mentioned Augustine, and I agree that Kakfa can more profitably be put into that select group of seers religious and/or spiritual seekers (other examples being Dickinson and Kierkegaard) who used language in a more or less public way (i.e., they wrote down what they thought and published the texts, or at least fitfully sought publication) in order to explore…what?

And here’s the key point for me: we stand on the other side of a great divide; Continue reading

Two Essays on Kakfa

In 20th c. Literature on January 6, 2009 at 5:50 pm

Matthew Thomas, Kyoto

This post discusses two essays on Kafka, a decade apart. The first, from the recently departedkafka4 David Foster Wallace is called “Laughing With Kafka,” and appeared in Harper’s from 1998; the second, “F. Kafka, Everyman,” comes from Zadie Smith in the New York Review of Books, written in the fall of 2008.

One of the striking things about Kafka is the degree to which people are interested in the way he lived his life; his relationship with Felice, for instance, has attracted about as much attention as the love life of deceased author can. Smith reviews Louis Begley‘s biography of Kafka, “The Tremendous World I Have Inside My Head: Franz Kakfa: A Biographical Essay,” from which we learn that in many respects Kafka was more normal than he has sometimes been cast; he kept a 9-5 job (actually 8:30-2:30, but more on that later), worked hard, lived with his parents, liked swimming. Kafka was not a very prolific writer, but this is perhaps because he kept a full time job throughout his life, an insurance job that was surely more prosaic than it is presented in Steven Soderberg’s overlooked Kafka, in which Kafka is shadowed at the office by two malevolent and miniature “assistants.” Smith says that his writing day was oddly organized–work from 8:30 to 2:30, nap, dinner, and writing from around 11 until late. We learn that Felice tried to rationalize his schedule, but that this approach worked best for him. As a would-be writer with a full-time job myself, I find nothing strange about this schedule–in fact the late nights here seem seems like a perfectly rational solution to the problem of carving out a block in time to devote to work. Continue Reading