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 CastleThis 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


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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.

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).

For Franz Kafka, on his 130th

kafka

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”

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.

The Misuse of Kafkaesque

Dictionary.com defines Kafkaesque as,

KAF·KA·ESQUE

[kahf-kuh-esk]

adjective

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.

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,

The Trial 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.
The Castle 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.”
“The Prisoner” 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. Hmm.

I am not a number! I’m a free man!

Prague

On a recent trip to the Czech Republic, like all good book lovers and especially Czech literature enthusiasts, I had a Kafka nerd-out. Besides scooping up a copy of The Trial translated into English with illustrations by Karel Hruška, I also weighed myself down with a beautiful poster of Gregor Samsa looking into a mirror with the image of a giant vermin staring back at him, Das Schloss in the original German (yes, that’s the title for The Castle), and other little nick-nacks that I couldn’t resist despite my tourist meter reaching its max. Prague was beautiful and I couldn’t help but feel motivated and inspired in my own writing (perhaps cheesy, but I got a kick out of all of the restaurant signs featuring Švejk). Also, a personal favorite, was the bust of Bohumil Hrabal that reigns over one of the walls of At the Golden Tiger. Once I returned to the States, I felt a renewed sense in my ability as a writer and once again excited about the line of work I have chosen.

On a day trip out of the city, I visited the castle in the small town of Karlštejn. It was built by Charles IV to keep his royal jewels and whatnot, but some scholars believe it to be the model for Kafka’s castle that so torments K.