19 February 2005


An incisive post by Spurious leads to more thoughts (via The Reading Experience)...

Suffering becomes literature. Yet literature, too, is suffering. Kafka says to Janouch, ‘Art for the artist is only suffering, through which he releases himself for further suffering’. But why this new suffering? Is it because the changes one must ring upon suffering cannot be sustained from now until eternity - because, soon, the writer will fall from the surplus of strength and become once more incapable of writing, left in the same suffering with which he began? It is the gaps of non-writing within writing that are frightening. The second suffering, the suffering of art, arises from the sense that the literary work must be endless if it is to prevent the return of the suffering from which the writer began.

Write to escape suffering. Suffer because you can never write enough. This aporia, if it sums up the relationship between Kafka and writing, is dependent on the fact that neither the empirical self nor the surplus self is ever satisfied with what has been written. Writing itself does not aleviate suffering; this is clear enough from the pages of Kafka's diaries where one finds over and again remarks like ‘wrote nothing today’.

Back before I started this blog, I posted about this in The Orchard:

For Kafka, there was an inherent disconnect between the internal/real self and the external, busy, surrounding world. In one of his early short stories, "Wedding Preparations in the Country," he delves into this idea. (It's a forerunner of sorts to The Metamorphosis.) A man goes out to the wedding preparations, but his real self--the "I"--stays home in bed...as a little beetle quietly curled up under the covers. It is the public self--the "one"--that is out in the world.

So he delineates this compelling dichotomy:

"oneself" vs. "I"
the self as immanent vs. transcendent...
thus, his self as body vs. beetle (the tiny core essence that is so foreign to the outside, heedless world).

He privately writes, "One works so feverishly at the office that afterwards one is too tired even to enjoy one's holiday properly. But even all that work does not give one a claim to be treated lovingly by everyone; on the contrary, one is alone, a total stranger and only an object of curiosity. And so long as you say 'one' instead of 'I', there's nothing in it and one can easily tell the story; but as soon as you admit to yourself that it is you yourself, you feel as though transfixed and are horrified... But if I myself distinguish between 'one' and 'I', how then dare I complain about the others? Probably they're not unjust, but I am too tired to take it all in..."

The aporia doesn't end. But maybe as the act of writing can keep suffering at bay, so can the act of reading. In these gaps of the silent void, I pull Walker Percy's The Message in the Bottle off the shelf and read of "The Man on the Train":

...the reading commuter rejoices in the speakability of his alienation and in the new triple alliance of himself, the alienated character, and the author. His mood is affirmatory and glad: Yes! that is how it is!--which is an aesthetic reversal of alienation. It is related that when Kafka read his work aloud to his friends, they would all roar with laughter until tears came to their eyes. Neither Kafka nor his reader is alienated in the movement of art, for each achieves a reversal through its re-presenting. To picture a truly alienated man, picture a Kafka to whom it had never occurred to write a word.


Dan Green said...

Nice follow-up to the Spurious post.

taliendo said...

Great post!

Kafka is one of my favorite writers, and I think it is evident - this struggle of alienation - in much of his work.

And, thanks for keeping this space up. I read your blog daily although I don't take the time to comment nearly enough. oh, and congrats again on the new job!