brothers in arms: miles from nowhere

Ironic. Kafka’s writing was centered around the concept of non-belonging and by extension, about belonging too much. Almost an adversarial relationship with Maimonides golden mean, the elusive middle. Better to poke emotional catastrophe in the groin and hear he roar of the beast. Then sit back and watch if the anguish can distort life until it becomes all but unrecognizable, extremely meaningless in a meaningful way and subsequently devitalized  into the Kafka narrative, the poetics of non-arrival. The non-belonging of nameless guilt to apportioned to the competing national and religious factions each seeking to repatriate Kafka into their fold. It’s all a bit comic, and implies Kafka’s own sense of futility in art, self-perceived as aborted figures of language living in a wasteland of its own as well as the world’s making.

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Kafka looked at existential vicissitude  with some uncanny humor and daring, revealing in the process a broken humanity, including, quite honestly, his own.  Some writers claim a betrayal of Kafka’s jewish self in his work, others, an affirmation of jewish literature, the surviving kernels of the heritage despite some attempts to peel away and destroy part and part of the ritual, leaving a literature that is both haunting an enigmatic, that swears no allegiance with an on again/off again claim to a special relationship with the sacred which makes a kind of sacred, an ambivalence to jewish messianism. patience he always counseled. Come but long after I’m gone. But why does Germany want his manuscripts so badly. Like Anselm Kiefer’s kabbalah jewish art, it needs jews. It needs yids, dead hebes to do their mourning for them. To let them crap out melancholy for eternity while the jews still get the bum’s rush and crank out the prayers. Make kafka a tourist attraction like Dachau. monuments to bourgeois values. Who knows. Maybe there is some empathy among the good burghers, like giving the nigger on the woodpile brackish water on a hot August afternoon. It’s Germany’s sense of self-loss that makes Kafka’s works at least memorable, if not immortal to the world at large.

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Judith Butler:In focusing on just how perfectly German his language is, the archive joins in a long and curious tradition of praise for Kafka’s ‘pure’ German. George Steiner lauded ‘the translucency of Kafka’s German, its stainless quiet’, remarking that his ‘vocabulary and syntax are those of utmost abstention from waste’. John Updike referred to ‘the stirring purity’ of Kafka’s prose. Hannah Arendt, as well, wrote that his work ‘speaks the purest German prose of the century’. So although Kafka was certainly Czech, it seems that fact is superseded by his written German, which is apparently the most pure – or, shall we say, purified? Given the history of the valuation of ‘purity’ within German nationalism, including National Socialism, it is curious that Kafka should be made to stand for this rigorous and exclusionary norm. In what ways must Kafka’s multilingualism and his Czech origins be ‘purified’ in order to have him stand for a pure German? Is what is most remarkable or admirable about him that he seems to have purified himself, exemplifying the self-purifying capacities of the Ausländer? …

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But Kafka does evoke the  Jewish sense of pathos and persecution; the Kafka parable is often akin to the Biblical Jacob’s ladder; instead of angels of god, its the demons of guilt, Jacob the founding father pitted against the dead-end failed jew, a laboriously devastated victim of a sometimes perverse history reflected in his self-perception as a ruined body, no substance, stuck in a zone of the cross breed, maybe a metaphor for Jewish historical attempts as assimilation. But, if literature was an avenue of assimilation, it is to Kafka’s credit that he rejected the smugness of assimilation, its seductive comforts in favor of anguish, the self doubt of the then modern jew stuck between two cultures without membership in either, though emotionally, he may have belonged to both. His jewish self-doubt only added to the hovering self-doubt as a writer, but it did give rise to a singular vision of the human condition.

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…We find in Kafka’s correspondence with his lover Felice Bauer, who was from Berlin, that she is constantly correcting his German, suggesting that he is not fully at home in this second language. And his later lover, Milena Jesenská, who was also the translator of his works into Czech, is constantly teaching him Czech phrases he neither knows how to spell nor to pronounce, suggesting that Czech, too, is also something of a second language. In 1911, he is going to the Yiddish theatre and understanding what is said, but Yiddish is not a language he encounters very often in his family or his daily life; it remains an import from the east that is compelling and strange. So is there a first language here? And can it be argued that even the formal German in which Kafka writes – what Arendt called ‘purest’ German – bears the signs of someone entering the language from its outside? This was the argument in Deleuze and Guattari’s essay ‘Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature’….

It is plausible that Kafka acted out, or wrote out, a repudiation of Jewish tradition in his repudiation of traditional literary convention at the time. Their is a certain intentional collapsing of  what was considered  high literary style. Its possible he was aware of Melville and Poe interweaving themes of futile Jewish self return into Caravaggio-esque vignettes with new suffering same as the old. Like Freud’s jokes of the hunchback, Kafka’s been screwed, he’s pregnant, but instead of flying into the sky like Chagall

s jews, he’s going to lay down and take it, even if its in the form of depression.

Kafka was a remarkably discontented writer, and was so until his wheezed out,  bitter end.A living death. A black world bleeding with the color of blood, the same color as the Nazi flag, a heraldry that implies identification, if ironic and posthumous, with a the nihilistic aggressor. A strange symbiosis indeed.

…Indeed, this quarrel seems to be an old one, one that Kafka himself invokes in a letter to Felice in October 1916 with reference to Max Brod’s essay on Jewish writers, ‘Our Writers and the Community’, published in Der Jude.

And incidentally, won’t you tell me what I really am; in the last Neue Rundschau, ‘Metamorphosis’ is mentioned and rejected on sensible grounds, and then the writer says: ‘There is something fundamentally German about K’s narrative art.’ In Max’s article on the other hand: ‘K’s stories are among the most typically Jewish documents of our time.’

‘A difficult case,’ Kafka writes. ‘Am I a circus rider on two horses? Alas, I am no rider, but lie prostrate on the ground.’ Read More:

As Kafka convincingly conveyed, determination and frustration are hard to tell apart as if fleshed out in the same hand, with a pointing finger, both warning and witness, threatening, but also inspiring and consciousness raising. Not bad for a writer at wit’s end, but still the hand of doom seemed predominant, sweeping aside the writer’s sense of mythic divinity, the repudiation of identifying with god’s creativity, but whatever fatalistic images arose or were repressed, perhaps mastered, get lost in the agony, the struggle to hold onto creative power in the face of an almost calculated awkwardness that would like to believe that the writer, the artist is another of society’s victims.

So, the German argument goes, Kafka was a Jew, but one wandering, – a flaneur?-  between non-Jewish styles, faceless but aggressive, Kafka knew that no identity is a safe identity in a society that is threatening. But faceless, one can become victim and aggressor in equal parts.

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