prague

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!

***

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.

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.

The Garden Party by Václav Havel

garden partyIt’s about time I wrote more about The Garden Party. Around the time of Havel’s death over a year ago, I wrote a post detailing my enjoyment of the play. Also, a few months following his death, I found myself in Prague once again and was witness to how influencing he was to the Czech people. There was in memoriam graffiti all throughout the city. 

Czech literature, especially in the 1960s, is filled with humor and satire that came from its rocky political history. I don’t know why lately I’ve been thinking of The Garden Party but I do lament the fact that almost every book I own is sitting sadly in a storage unit–my copy of The Garden Party: and Other Plays included. But as luck would have it, I found a scanned PDF on my computer of just that one play from the collection. I was thrilled and hurriedly took to it.

vaclav havelThe Garden Party concerns itself with the Pludek family. Hugo, one of the sons, is at the age when his father thinks he should be doing something productive with his life. A friend of his father, Kalabis, is invited to the house to meet Hugo and size him up, but, alas, the man cancels at the last minute citing his involvement at a garden party for the liquidation office. Hugo is sent off to the party to meet him.

What ensues is Hugo’s ability to quickly ingrain himself into the bureaucratic environment of the liquidation office. The clerk and secretary often repeat the same words and phrases over and over again leading to a bizarre irrationality to their rationale (or is their bizarre rationale to their irrationality). Specific bureaucratic language is also called upon throughout the dialogue.

havel_garden party

Over the course of the party, Hugo so impresses them that the employees think he is a seasoned worker. The Garden Party ends with Hugo being put in charge of liquidating the liquidation office. His language has changed and he has metamorphosed into one of them. While in costume, Hugo’s parents don’t even recognize him because he has become a bureaucrat.

Havel’s play can be enjoyed simply as an absurdist work but its historical context is an important one. He is satirizing the Communist regime which was devoid of ideals like creativity and culture.

In the earlier mentioned post, I also spoke about a Czech film, A Report on the Party and Guests, which I absolutely love but only saw once because I had a hell of a time trying to find it. Well, good news! It’s on Criterion Collection and is available in the US through Hulu.

And remember,

The garden party is for everyone!

Václav Havel

vaclavhavel.cz

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.

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.