ethics and idle fancy: in the attic

Kafka was as much about non-arrival at destinations as he was about non-belonging. In any event there are problems of destination and leaving, coming and going often resemble each other. But as Kafka seems to figure, the pull of Jews to Judaism and by extension, surrogates like Palestine, this reclamation project for identity, cannot be underestimated in its force to hem in within the relentless, Kafka’s chronic fears of suffocation and breathing in the ghetto, with Zionism proffered as a solution to assuage a profound ambivalence. Perhaps the band aid solution of the banal “kicking the can down the road.”

Philip Guston. Read More:

Palestine as a flirtation for Kafka, an obsessive one, but a dalliance, a way to breathe a little invidious comparison, perhaps constructing Palestine as an object of some pity that bears the heavy stale air of European orientalism. I think Kafka saw Zionism as part of the problem of destination, the ostensible firm footing and poetic dream, ambivalent in itself muddied further muddied further by a profound restlessness and intensity of relation between the intangible and tangible, part of  Chaim Weitzmann’s alleged remark of “jews are like other people, only more so,” a kind of volatile quality that stubbornly refuses categorization and entrapment; like Kafka’s metaphors of the individual as hybrid- animal, and its attraction/repulsion to secular law and the equal Jack London style “call of the wild”. Think of Israel as an attic; unpack the old valises of their anxiety, each a metaphor for an ark of the covenant:

What corruption is in the law, anxiety is in their thinking. It messes a situation up, yet it is the only hopeful thing about it. On his creatures:
Odradek stays alternately in the attic, on the staircase, in the corridors,and in the hall. So it prefers the same places as the court of law which investigates guilt. Attics are the places of discarded, forgotten objects. Perhaps having to appear before a court of justice gives rise to a feeling similar to that with which one approaches trunks in the attic which have been locked up for years. Odradek is the form which things assume in oblivion. They are distorted. The cares of a family man, which no one can identify, are distorted; the bug, which we know all to well represents Gregor Samsa, is distorted; the big animal, half lamb, half kitten, for which the butcher’s knife might be a release, is distorted. These Kafka figures are connected by a long series of figures with the prototype of distortion: a hunched back. Read More:

---Is this logic cruel to the victims of the Holocaust and to other survivors who did not become like their oppressors? Perhaps, but isn't it just as cruel to depict the Holocaust's victims as nothing but victims, eternally destroyed again and again? "For it would, after all," writes Elsaesser, "be too easy for a German to love a Jew, on condition that he is a nice, upright one" . The taboo against representing Jewish people humanly, with human faults and weaknesses like everyone, is yet another form of anti-Semitism, continuing to treat the Jew as Other. --- Read More: image:

…In separate fashion, some distinguished Gentiles lauded Judaism’s influence upon modernity triumphant. While expressing sympathy for the Hebrew renaissance and condemning Russian antisemitism in unequivocal terms, Maxim Gorki acknowledged the contribution of Jewish “heroic idealism.” Jews, declared this acclaimed author of social realism, “saved the world from submissiveness and self-satisfaction,” and would help establish “the Law of Socialism” in a re-made order to be governed by “the new principles of equality and justice.” For the American economist Thorstein Veblen, on the other hand, the current intellectual prominence of the Jew in Europe lay in the fact that “he is the most unattached, the most marginalized, and the most skeptical and unconventional of all scientists.” By curing the Jews of their homelessness, he averred in early 1919, Zionism would spell the end of the preeminence of this “disturber of the intellectual peace.”

Philip Guston. ---It is no accident that Guston admired the fables of Isaac Babel and Franz Kafka and became friends with Philip Roth, all profoundly Jewish writers -- writers who evoked the Jewish sense of pathos and persecution. Ladder (1978) is Jacob's Ladder, but where Jacob wrestled with the angels of God, Guston wrestles with the devils of guilt, and where Jacob was one of the founding fathers of Jewishness Guston is a dead-end failed Jew, the devastated victim of the perverse history reflected in his ruined body -- all head and legs but no torso, that is, no substance. It includes the history of Jewish attempts at assimilation. --- Read More:

Other Jews, taking a particularistic stance, argued that in an amoral world, the reality of power transcended lofty appeals to spirituality, justice, and reason. Lethal Jew-hatred did not allow for much retreat into the assimilated Franz Kafka’s prose universe, where modern man makes a futile search for personal salvation. Youngsters in Russia and Palestine began to arm themselves, deeming the call of western co-religionists to radicalize humanity through the example of prophetic ethics an idle fancy.Read More:

---Philip Guston. The Line. 1979. ---Holding a piece of charcoal between two fingers -- the same ones he uses to hold a cigarette in other works -- the artist-God draws a simple black line on a desert-like red plane. (Guston's last colors, already evident in some of the last Abstract Expressionist paintings, are the eschatological colors of blood and death. They are the same colors as the Nazi and anarchistic flags, suggesting an ironic identification with the nihilistic aggressor.) ---Read More:

Judith Butler:In Kafka Goes to the Movies, Hanns Zischler makes the case that filmic images provided Kafka with a primary means of access to the space of Palestine, and that Palestine was a film image for him, a projected field of fantasy. Zischler writes that Kafka saw the beloved land in film, as film. Indeed, Palestine was imagined as unpopulated, which has been ably confirmed by Ilan Pappe’s work on early Zionist photography, in which Palestinian dwellings are quickly renamed as part of the natural landscape. Zischler’s is an interesting thesis, but is probably not quite true, since the first of those films were not seen until 1921 according to the records we have, and Kafka was avidly attending meetings and reading journals, gaining a sense of Palestine as much from stories written and told as from public debates. In the course of those debates and reports, Kafka understood that there were conflicts emerging in the region. Indeed, his short story ‘Jackals and Arabs’, published in Der Jude in 1917, registers an impasse at the heart of Zionism. In that story, the narrator, who has wandered unknowingly into the desert, is greeted by the Jackals (die Schakale) a thinly disguised reference to the Jews….

---‘The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary. He will come only on the day after his arrival; he will come, not on the last day, but on the very last.’ It would seem that the Messiah comes precisely when there is no one there to suffer the destruction of the world as we know it, when there is no one left who can destroy his coming. That Messiah arrives not as an individual, and surely not within any temporal sequence that we take to organise the world of living beings. If he comes on the very last day, but not the last, he comes on a ‘day’ – now hyperfigurative – that is beyond any calendar of days, and beyond chronology itself. The

able posits a temporality in which no one will survive. Arrival is a concept that belongs to the calendar of days, but coming (das Kommen) apparently not. It does not happen at a moment in time, but only after the sequence of all moments is completed.--- Read More: image:

…After treating him as a Messianic figure for whom they have been waiting for generations, they explain that his task is to kill the Arabs with a pair of scissors (perhaps a joke about how Jewish tailors from Eastern Europe are ill equipped for conflict). They don’t want to do it themselves, since it would not be ‘clean’, but the Messiah is himself apparently unbound by kosher constraints. The narrator then speaks with the Arab leader, who explains that ‘it’s common knowledge; so long as Arabs exist, that pair of scissors goes wandering through the desert and will wander with us to the end of our days. Every European is offered it for the great work; every European is just the Man that Fate has chosen for them.’ Read More:

---Haaretz:Last Friday, a group of Jewish public figures and intellectuals paid a visit to the leadership of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem with one simple goal in mind, asking for forgiveness. The group took the step following a report in Haaretz about two weeks ago describing the practice of some ultra-Orthodox Jewish young people of spitting when passing church clergy on the street. image:


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