"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Saturday, September 6, 2008

He's Just Not That Into Writing

Kafka, that is, er, was. Review of new bio at Powell's.

The book: It is rare that writers of fiction sit behind their desks, actually writing, for more than a few hours a day. Had Kafka been able to use his time efficiently, the work schedule at the Institute would have left him with enough free time for writing. As he recognized, the truth was that he wasted time.

The review: The truth was that he wasted time! The writer's equivalent of the dater's revelation: He's just not that into you. "Having the Institute and the conditions at his parents' apartment to blame for the long fallow periods when he couldn't write gave Kafka cover: it enabled him to preserve some of his self-esteem."

It's a lighthearted review. The book is The Tremendous World I Have Inside My Head: Franz Kafka: A Biographical Essay by Louis Begley. The book also addresses Kafka's contradictions and neuroses, about writing, about women, about being Jewish.

How interesting that the man who wrote The Metamorphosis also wrote:

Life is merely terrible; I feel it as few others do. Often -- and in my inmost self perhaps all the time -- I doubt that I am a human being.

Isn't it natural to leave a place where one is so hated?... The heroism of staying is nonetheless merely the heroism of cockroaches which cannot be exterminated, even from the bathroom.

Or maybe the title of this post should have been The Cockroach and the Jewish Question. When I read The Metamorphosis in high school, as a shiksa, it didn't occur to me that the metaphor of turning into a bug had anything to do with Jewishness -- it was never even brought up that Kafka was a Jew living in an anti-Semitic culture. Obviously, he had a little self-image problem, but quite a lot of pimply, late adolescent males of my acquaintance had that, and could be expected to mine it for their literary ambitions, if any.

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