In between eating an obscene amount of homemade Christmas cookies, I’ve been reading–a lot. I would have read regardless of my most recent bookish event, but I admit it, probably not as much. Yes, you might remember an earlier post titled, “Fahrenheit 451: What’s the Temperature at Which E-Books Burn?” In that post, I was undecided about which side of the divide I landed on. Because I had no experience with e-readers and am a lover of books and bookstores, I concluded that my interaction with this new book technology would be relegated to my future and not my present.
However, this has all changed. A recent gift from my mother in the form of a Kindle Touch has led me to expand and reinterpret my opinion. I made an evaluation considering both sides and I happen to agree with my original opinion: I love paper books and will always love them. If I want a copy of a book that I am very passionate about (for example, a work by Kafka), I will always purchase the book copy, flip back-and-forth through it, underline great passages and make margin notes. For books that I do not require copies of and have no real attachment to, I have decided to put them on the Kindle.
I first started thinking about it when I read the post, On Papers and Electrons, over at Multo (Ghost). Besides the secret trashy book element to an e-reader, adding classics from the public domain was a real winning aspect. So far, I have added 7 books to the Kindle and my grand total: $0. Instead of lugging around my 600+ page copy of The Woman in White with me, I downloaded it and according to the Kindle, am 80% through the entire book. Another feature which I definitely approve of is providing two dictionaries. You tap on a word and can read the definition, which is particularly handy when you are reading a classic work and the term might be archaic.
So, whether or not I have crossed to the dark side might not actually be a quandary worth contemplating over. The important points to take away are that I think with both my collection of paper books and e-books, I will be reading so much more (finally, my life long dream of reading the collected works of Leo Tolstoy on the subway can now be complete!) and saving money. Those public domain books that booksellers usually charge between $3-$10 have become free to me and I can also access the e-book collection of the New York Public Library.
Regardless of what venue you enjoy your books in, I hope you always have happy readings.
The writer of one of my favorite plays has died: Václav Havel. Unfortunately, it has been a week of several writerly deaths (Christopher Hitchens, Gilbert Adair). Havel was a prominent leader who helped bring down communism in Czechoslovakia. He was both the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic and a playwright. I’ve only read one of his plays, The Garden Party, but it’s truly a favorite. The play is a critique of conformity during communist rule and an enjoyable Kafkaesque work.
The protagonist is Hugo Pludek, who is an average person from a middle-class Czech family. His parents are worried about his future so they arrange an appointment for him with the influential Mr. Kalabis at the garden party of the Liquidation Office. Hugo does not find Kalabis but instead a sequence of absurd encounters starts. All of the functionaries of the Liquidation Office speak in a degenerated, ideological, content-free language, as is expected from their role in the bureaucratic system.Hugo is intelligent and adaptive, therefore is able to adjust his behaviour. He learns to speak platitudinally, using clichés that do not mean anything real and finally becomes the head of the newly created Central Inauguration and Liquidation Committee. As the result, he completely loses his identity.
I tried searching for a copy of the play on Project Gutenberg but no results were found. The play is from the 1960s and probably still retains its copyright. Because of his death, I have pulled Havel’s collection of plays that I own off the shelf and have added it to my winter break reading list. I’m very much looking forward to re-reading The Garden Party and becoming acquainted with his other plays.
The Garden Party also reminds me of a Czech film from around the same time period called A Report on the Party and the Guests. I’ve been searching for this film for almost two years on Netflix and Amazon. I don’t think it’s available in the US but it might be available in the UK. It is fantastic and also offers 71 minutes of the bizarre and absurd. If you’re like me and can’t get your hands on the film, in the very least, pick up or borrow a copy of Havel’s plays.
“If there are any theatres left that base work entirely on the writer’s text, theatres that value the development of poetry in drama, then Havel’s plays will never be out of the repertoire.” –Milan Kundera
A photo I took in Prague of a haunting memorial dedicated to all of the victims of Communism.
Let me be more specific–creating character names. In an earlier post, Contemplating Scrivener-software which I had only recently discovered-I wrote about my find. So far it seems like Scrivener and I could work out (albeit, I’m still only halfway through the tutorial). In part of the aforementioned post, I listed name generator as one of Scrivener’s features. To each his own, but making up character names has always been a chore for me. I am very finicky and quite often over think the whole situation. On the particular project I am working on now, many of the characters are Germans or of German extraction. So of course they need over the top yet authentic names! I contemplate: should the names mean something, should they foreshadow the plot? Get it together! Be like Kafka; he was an expert at character names.
I was curious to try the name generator feature of Scrivener even though I have yet to come across it in the tutorial. You are able to put various restrictions on your generated list but I just put in female | both First and Last name of German origin | 10 names. There are other options like whether the name should start or end with a certain letter, but I kept it simple. Here’s my generated list:
Fantastic, right!? However, I know many others find pleasure in creating names the old fashion way. Any tricks of the trade?
Also, below I have listed some related websites (not specific to name creation but they lean more towards creating characters in general).
Dictionary.com defines Kafkaesque as,
1. of, pertaining to, characteristic of, or resembling the literary work of Franz Kafka: the Kafkaesque terror of the endless interrogations.
2. marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity: Kafkaesque bureaucracies.
Granted, it has been awhile since I’ve heard the misuse of this literary term but it still gets under my skin (don’t even get me started about a former boss who would misuse the term “Catch-22″ constantly in the office!). But instead of this post being all curmudgeon-y
like I originally intended, I will just qualify this by labeling it another Writerly Musing
I am a great lover of Kafka
and cite him as one of my influences, if not the
top influence. From the massive amount of empirical data I have not collected, I conclude that when people misuse this wonderful literary term, they are often describing something that is merely bizarre or weird. Whilst I was thinking about this, I ran upon a course
that was offered at the University of Colorado-Boulder that is constructed around the misuse.
self portrait at Kafka Museum in Prague
The term should be utilized to either describe Kafka’s own work or to describe a situation, art, book, etc. that has a cyclical and never-ending bureaucratic sense about it. Some examples,
Josef K. is rounded up and arrested. He is never told his crime and he keeps running around in circles trying to find some authority figure to make sense of it all. Orson Welles also made a fantastic film
version starring Anthony Perkins. The film is shot in b&w and has spectacular camera angles.
Throughout the entire novel, K. is trying to gain access to the castle and to the mysterious official named, Klamm. He has documents saying he is the new land surveyor for the village but gets shuffled back and forth from different castle bureaucrats.
OTHER NON-KAFKA KAFKAESQUE EXAMPLES
Invitation to a Beheading
by Vladimir Nabokov. This is a great novel; when I read it, I kept forgetting that this wasn’t
a Kafka novel. Nabokov claims that he had not heard of Kafka at that point but I think he’s just a little liar. Cincinnatus C. is in jail awaiting his death after being sentenced for “gnostical turpitude.”
starring Patrick McGoohan. This is a great BBC television show from the 1960s. Number Six is drugged and taken to the Village. Throughout the entire series, Number Six is trying to a) find out who Number One is and b) get out of the Village. This series has a striking resemblance
to The Castle
I am not a number! I’m a free man!
After a really interesting discussion in the comments section of the post, An Evening of Translation, I remembered a short note I recently read about the translation of Kafka’s The Judgement (Das Urteil: Ein Geschichte). It can be found in various places on the internet but here is a brief mention of it: The sentence can be translated as: “At that moment an unending stream of traffic crossed over the bridge.”What gives added weight to the obvious double meaning of ‘Verkehr’ is Kafka’s confession to Max Brod that when he wrote that final line, he was thinking of “a violent ejaculation”. Franz Kafka Writing
The last word of the story in its original German is Verkehr. In true Kafka form, he has a chosen a word with multiple meanings leading to its ambiguity. Below is an excerpt from Kafka: a short introduction (Oxford University Press, 2005):
So my verdict is: Yes! We need literary translators!