Kafka

The Bureaucrat’s Recommended Reading List

The unending and illogical madness of government bureaucracy didn’t truly hit me until I worked for the government. For one year, the term kafkaesque permeated my life and my unfortunately battered psyche. Sure, I had read plenty of Kafka’s works up to that time, but they didn’t resonate in the same way until I found myself running in circles only to ram head first into a wall of slow policies and paperwork covered in absurdity resulting in bad handwriting and 4:30 martinis. But this sort of insanity can be found in other works by other authors as well.

Bureaucrat's Reading List

According to Merriam-Webster, Kafkaesque is defined as :  of, relating to, or suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings; especially :  having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality <Kafkaesque bureaucratic delays>

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Catch-22. “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” One of the great American novels of the 20th Century, Joseph Heller’s World War II-set narrative finds bombardier Yossarian caught in an illogical roundabout that exams the insanity, idiocy, and other problematic facets of war.

Metropole. When a linguist boards the wrong plane in Budapest, he arrives in an unknown city where he can’t seem to understand anything anyone is saying. There is excessive queuing and official information is constantly changing from one day to the next.

The Passion According to G.H. A claustrophobic, ecstatic stream of consciousness begins when the maid quits, leading G.H. to go into the former employee’s room to find it spotless save for a cockroach that she goes on to kill. Language, memories, and philosophies are tangled around the lifeless vermin for inspection.

Invitation to a Beheading. I’ve always maintained that if you covered up Vladimir Nabokov’s name on the front cover and gave it to a new reader, they would immediately assume it was written by Kafka based on the style, tone, and premise. In an unnamed country, Cincinnatus C. is sentenced to death by beheading for being found guilty of “gnostical turpitude,” an undefined crime.

The Joke. This is Milan Kundera’s first novel and written during the brewing Prague Spring. Ludvik is sentenced to hard labor after sending a friend a joke written on a postcard that pokes fun at the communist regime. He is turned in and his trial is nothing more than a kangaroo court. 

The Garden Party.  The young Hugo is sent by his father to a garden party to meet a local bureaucrat who his father is certain will employ Hugo. The party-goers mistake him for a seasoned employee and soon Hugo is put in charge of liquidating the liquidation office. He fools them all by quickly mutating his language to that of the bureaucracy.

The Castle. This list wouldn’t be complete without Kafka, right? There are so many to choose from, but The Trial and The Castle are always cited as the most “kafkaesque” of them all. K. is a land surveyor who has been summoned to an unnamed town. He keeps trying to get into the castle to speak with a mysterious and unseen official. Paperwork and the unknowable are just two blockades to his pursuits.

These are just a few selections. Do you have any further recommendations?

Selected dialogue from The Garden Party,

The Garden Party

Weekly Photo Challenge: Treasure

This week’s photo challenge topic is “treasures.” The questions asked are: What do you treasure? What’s most important to you? What I noticed from other participants is that they are taking a less literal approach than the original challenge creator.

The above photo is of the castle in Karlštejn (located in Central Bohemia), which was originally built “as a place for safekeeping of the royal treasures, especially Charles’s collection of holy relics and the coronation jewels of the Roman Empire.”¹ It towers over the small village of Karlštejn and you can’t help but notice its presence when you disembark from the train platform.

I find myself scrolling though my snapshots now and again, thinking back to my day trip a couple of years back. The castle was recommended to me as a sight to see and then I also found out that it was the castle–Das Schloß. [insert: oh good grief...here she goes again...]. This is the basis of Kafka’s castle–the strongbox that land surveyor K. just can’t penetrate. He’s spends the novel trying to gain access to the castle so he can speak with the mysterious government official known as Klamm.

Like K., I never made it inside the actual castle, but walking around it and the open air interior was still perfect. Unlike K., my inability to gain access to the rooms was due to my lack of entry payment.² The really exceptional moment is when you are standing at the top and can see the whole village below. These photos and memories are what I treasure. Below is a view walking from the train station.³

  1. History of the castle from the official website (English).
  2. Ok, so the admission is 270 koruna (~$13), but I preferred gazing at the steep stairways and looming turrets, and looking at the view from up top. Stuffy treasure rooms were not calling to me that day.
  3. On our train ride, there were 2 young Scottish brothers arguing over who would be the train conductor if the situation arose. Of course, the elder brother won by ending the conversation declaring he would be the train conductor because they’re can only be one.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Selfie

I’ve never participated in the Weekly Photo Challenge before and because of last week’s post–Bookishly Me–I felt motivated for two reasons. 1) No one has ever seen my face in this here land and 2) my undying love for Kafka and Prague. My reflection off the case surrounding a model from a film version of Franz Kafka’s short story, “In the Penal Colony.” The film never came to fruition and the model finds its home at the Franz Kafka Museum in the Lesser Quarter of the city.

I suggest going to this museum. It reminds me of a weird visual art exhibition if curated by David Lynch. Kafka’s writing is already absurd, horrifying, and kafkaesque. To whomever curates this museum–bravo. It can be so uncanny that there is even a warning sign to children at the cashier’s desk and I saw a crying girl brought out by her mother. This museum is so odd, that there is a water statue out front of two men peeing toward each other.

I have a few photos that count as “selfies” that might have been more interesting, but, alas, they showed too much of my face and for the time being, I would rather be obscured by a clay model of a man being tortured.

If you haven’t already, read “In the Penal Colony.” You can read it for free online, both in English and the original German. Enjoy!

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post script While typing this post, I accidentally typed Frank Kafka instead of Franz. I imagine Frank Kafka lives above a laundromat in Queens and enjoys Indian roti take-out. One day, someone will create a Lynchian curated museum to him, as well.

Things I’ve Learned as a Writer: Craft

I am currently knee-deep in my newest manuscript and the process of writing it is reminding me of some points that I’ve always known, but sometimes forget as I tinker away. Last night, as I finished up writing, I thought it would be a good idea to share these small, yet, tantamount points. They are notions we always know, but sometimes ignore or don’t remember. I hope this can be helpful and if anyone else has any others, I am curious to know what they are. These things I’ve learned as a writer are specific examples. Many times we hear writers give advice to write every day or a good writer is a voracious reader. These are valuable bits of advice, but what I present here are targeted toward the application of craft.

+ Character names are important. This means so many different things. Firstly, unless for a purposeful reason, each name should be distinct from one another. Of course, we all know like seven Kevins in our own real life, but within the realms of fiction, the reader needs to be able to distinguish everyone. I recently changed a character’s name, because having Margaret and Martha always together was too much, especially, with both women purposefully being similar in characteristic; I needed their names to be different. Names are important. They tell the reader information about the character which isn’t explicitly said. In The Castle, Kafka just gives his protagonist the single initial K. as the character’s name. He is a mystery visitor in this village. K. seeks the government official Klamm, who he believes will help him find a way into the castle. In German, Klamm’s name is similar to the word for clamp or to fasten. The reader would have doubts about this government official being able to help K. get in to the castle.

Real time is not always essential. I sometimes find myself stuck. Not stuck where I can’t write anything, but a stuckness that comes from not having the action move forward enough. I take a pause and realize that it’s not always essential to have the momentum of the novel move in exact time. Sometimes, you can move to the next day without first going through every hour of the characters’ day. We don’t always need to see every footfall the character takes to get from point A to point B.

Jumping scenes. What I mean by this is sometimes we can’t always write page by page. If you feel like information and words aren’t coming out the way you want them, moving to another scene in the manuscript is a good idea. However, I give warning here as someone who partakes in this often during their writing process: make sure you have a clearly organized chapter outline. By moving forward in to a different point in the manuscript, you yourself could become even more lost. Try it. See if you like it. If it works, congratulations! With a careful outline, writing out of order can be a real boost to getting words on the page.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Everyone will have typos and grammar mistakes. Sometimes focusing on correcting this at the time the mistake was made can be a hindrance to productivity. Everyday, I start with a blank slate in a simple text processor. Once I moved my writing outside of the powerful word processors we’re used to, my words and imagination came flying out. At the end of the day, I take what I’ve written from the simple text processor (which has barely anything–no spell check, etc.; it’s literally a grey background) and copy/paste it into my manuscript, which is in my regular word processor. There are always a few little red lines under words and some of them are under words I know how to spell. It is inevitable when one is caught up in creativity to transpose some letters or hit the wrong key. Stop the fussing over these little mistakes that can easily be fixed at the end of the day or during redraft. I once worked as a research assistant to a novelist, whose manuscript had typos. He worried about them afterward, so he could get the words out now. It’s something most people don’t think about; even the smallest break in your writing groove can be detrimental.

Cities That Inspire Us For All Sorts of Reasons

This weekend marks the second year that I’ve been writing Acid Free Pulp. My first post was titled Prague and it was conceived after I returned back from a trip, which included a visit to the Czech Republic. Prague is one of my favorite cities for various reasons including its ability to inspire me. The hometown of one of my all time favorite writers, Franz Kafka, my mind constantly whirls with ideas when I’m in Prague. Even on a follow-up trip, as I sat on a wall overlooking the Vltava River, the skeleton of an idea came to me, which I was able to flesh out later in our apartment and on my flight back to the US. What came of this visit was a novella concerning a mysterious event in Prague (when I am done with my current project, I hope to return to it and expand on the characters and plot).

As I was contemplating the blog’s 2 year anniversary, I read a profile in New York magazine for their Winter Travel edition, which focused on “lesser-known cities for equally fine wine, just-as-ancient architecture, and even-more-secret warehouse parties.” They profiled Leipzig, a city about an hour away by train from Berlin. While Berlin is also a favorite destination and I’ve spent a good deal of time there, there is Leipzig, a former East German city that had once been grand before the World Wars.

Leipzig, Germany.

Leipzig, Germany.

Leipzig is a city I have mixed feelings about, but it has inspired me exponentially. I have written some of my best stories while living there or now, thinking back to it. It is a strange place where beauty and destruction have been forced together. There are elegant villas lining some streets, with a row of odd Soviet bloc apartments (plattenbauten) still standing and sticking out like sore thumbs. I’ve twice stayed in one of these apartment buildings where all personality is stripped and the shower can only be used when the sink is turned on. A third time in Leipzig, I stayed much longer and lived on a different side of the city with abandoned warehouses that had been turned into businesses or which were normally abandoned save for the midnight parties they hosted. Leipzig is a former city of greatness that is striving to retain that glory. I took the above photo in the neighborhood where I lived the third time. The buildings crumble on one street and empty spaces are being used by students for art and literary readings.

It is a city that inspires me in a different way than Prague. Where Prague is a city filled with rich colors and beautiful buildings, Leipzig crumbles around its own beauty. Part of it is full of life, where a large portion is still a ghost town since the dissolution of the USSR.

Leipzig, Germany.

Leipzig, Germany.

There are many cities that inspire me–Prague, New York, Bratislava, Edinburgh, to name a few–but something still holds me to Leipzig. I do not know if I will ever return; I feel as if my time there is done with. I have soaked up as much as I can and the friends I have there are starting to float away to other places, too. As I walked the streets, the thoughts of its great past always came over me.

Leipzig has been home to many great writers and musicians. Also, the second largest book fair in Germany takes place there–Leipziger Buchmesse. Many of the photos I have of the city are of crumbling buildings and graffiti but the city is quite beautiful in many places. Here are a few.

Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life

By now, most of us know that the new incarnation of the Doctor will be Scottish actor, Peter Capaldi. He’s fantastic and I am extremely curious to see how he’ll be as the new Time Lord.

But…

In 1995, he won an Academy Award for a short film he wrote and directed titled Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life. The film focuses on one night as Herr Kafka is trying to write his famous novella, The Metamorphosis. He can’t seem to get that opening line right. What shall poor Gregor transform into? Kafka is continually interrupted by a strange knife sharpener, a gaggle of girls having a Christmas Eve party, and a costume saleswoman. Below is the video for the entire short film. Enjoy!

“Gregor Samsa, blah, blah, blah.”

Kafka in Persian

فرانتس کافکا

When it comes to the search terms that bring people my way, it’s usually something about Moby Dick, Kafkaesque, or something completely unintelligible (and, maybe, the occasional search for Fritz Leiber, too). But, yesterday, I was looking through the search terms and something came up in a different script. I copy and pasted it into Google Translate and low and behold, it’s Franz Kafka–but in Persian.

I really know nothing of Farsi and other dialects but it was so intriguing to see Kafka’s name transliterated into a different alphabet (I assume it should be read right to left? Please correct me if I’m wrong).

Reading & Chatting at the Bridge Series

bridgeYesterday was all rain and chill in New York City. So what better way to spend a damp evening than to go to The Bridge Series event hosted by Goethe Insitut. The Bridge Series “is the first independent reading and discussion series in New York City devoted to literary translation.”

I was pleasantly surprise. I can be a tough critique when it comes to readings (meaning, normally they are incredibly boring). But these translators chose mighty fine selections and their discussion after the reading was quite interesting. The translators included Ross Benjamin, Isabel Fargo Cole, Tess Lewis, and Tim Mohr. All four are working from German to English.

The standout of this whole event was how exciting all of the selections were. If they are not already released, the novels will be available very soon this year in the US (the UK already has some available in translation). Also, for any Kafka aficionados out there, Ross Benjamin is currently working on a translation of Kafka’s complete Diaries.

There were two questions that most peaked my interest. The first being, what happens if the author includes a blatant error in the original. An example given was an author writing about New York City had listed Gansevoort Street as being down near the World Trade Center (when in reality, it is over west in the Meatpacking District). The original author did this because he liked the sound of the name. It was convenient that he is a contemporary author because the translator was able to discuss this point with him and it was subsequently corrected in the translation. But whether or not such a mistake should be corrected was discussed further with one of the most notorious errors: Frank Kafka putting a sword in the hand of the Statue of Liberty in his work, Amerika. 

The second question was about how contemporary German literature (and foreign lit as a whole) has changed recently and how does that apply to translating. The translators hit upon the fact that many references are no longer solely Germany/Austria/Switzerland based. They also incorporate many North American trends and concepts. The translators didn’t weigh on whether they thought this was a good or bad thing but they did note that they didn’t have to look up as many culture reference anymore.

All in all, I was delighted to go to last night’s Bridge Series. I recommend it. Not only do they cover German literature but other languages as well. You can visit their website for more information.

Have I Gone Over to the Bookish Dark Side?

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.