20070328

Das Urteil

Franz Kafka - Das Urteil

3/5

Jodå - jag läser Kafka på tyska och recenserar honom på engelska! Varför? FÖR ATT JAG KAN!

I'm making my way through a collection of Kafka stories in a leisurely pace - almost by default, since I decided to read him in German (seeing as how people always complain that he loses a lot in translation).

And it's an experience. I've read these stories before, but it was years ago, and one thing that didn't really strike me was Kafka's language; dry, descriptive, but always correct and rarely emotional. I definitely think you can draw parallels between Kafka and Lovecraft in theme (they were contemporaries, they both wrote about a world where the very fabric of reality seems unreliable at best and evil at worst, both seemed highly sceptic of the modern world and its advances, both were quite pessimistic about their abilities to get out of this world alive, so to speak) but where Lovecraft's monsters cause his anti-heroes to go insane and babble in long sentences containing a multitude of adjectives (most of which are about how they are unable to describe their horror, just trust us, it's HORRIFIC) Kafka is bone-dry. It's prose worthy of an insurance clerk; he tells us exactly what's happening, often in words with slight double meanings, but completely objective: Gregor Samsa turns into a vermin, accept it. No one is really surprised - horrified, yes, inconvenienced, yes, but not surprised. No one tries to solve the problem. They are characters adrift in a Wrong world, and Kafka never gives us any hints on how we're supposed to read it. Hell, even Gregor's death comes in the middle of a block of text, blink-and-you'll-miss-it.

He, like, creeps me out, dude.


EDIT:
OK, so I finished my copy last night.

Spontaneous thoughts, in addition to the ones above:

It really was nice to revisit Kafka after a few years of more advanced reading than I had the first time I tried him. Kafka's style is so enigmatic - dry yet bizarre enough to demand some sort of interpretation - that the reader almost needs to bring something of his own to the table to get something out rather than "wow, that's a creepy bug that guy turns into" or "Sucks to be Josef K".

Kafka can read both like deadly serious - the classic outsider description in The Hunger Artist ("I starve because I could never find anything that satisfies me" paraphrased), the existentialist leanings, the feeling of being trapped in something beyond your control. (Hell, if The Metamorphosis came out today, it would probably be interpreted as being about someone who is suffering from clinical depression.) It's almost impossible not to bring whatever you know about Kafka himself into it, too; Kafka had to work a job he hated to support his family - hello Gregor Samsa. Or hell, bring his religious background into In The Penal Colony or Before The Law.

At the same time, he can be really funny. Suddenly I remember why I didn't feel like I was laughing out loud at Kafka last year when I read two short story collections he was obviously a major inspiration for - Lethem&Scholtz's Kafka Americana and Shalom Auslander's Beware Of God (both highly recommended); that element of very bleak humour is there in the original too.

However, it doesn't always pay off. While I'm immensely grateful to Max Brod for saving The Metamorphosis, In The Penal Colony and (if not quite as enthusiastically, they're good but not masterpieces) A Report to an Academy and A Hunger Artist, some of the short stories here probably wouldn't have made it into a collection compiled by Kafka himself. Some (Eleven Sons, for instance) seem hardly more than writing exercises, and the attempt to write gothic horror in A Country Doctor is almost laughable.

But still, it whetted my appetite and I'm going to pick up some more of his stuff. Preferably in the original German; lovely turns of phrase which are deceptively simple.

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