Because I’ve transgressed and digressed and regressed and egressed too much lately, I give you (though in an abbreviated version because the ol’ carpal in the tunnel is a not nice, as Borat would say): My Top Five Kafka Works, by Me
5: The Castle (Das Schloss) Semi-sequel to The Trial where K.’s lost his first name, his dignity, his purpose and his mind. Allegedly he’s a “land-surveyor,” an occupation that sounds made-up and fake because it just might be. Turns out he was “summoned” to do work for a mysterious count Westwest but guess what? Nobody seems to be hip to that. There’s a village and it’s squalid and bizarre and everyone in it works for The Castle, which we never reach. And here’s my dirtiest secret ever (shhh, don’t tell anyone): I have never finished The Castle. I am the world’s biggest Kafka fan and I have never finished The Castle. I have a copy of it that is literally dog-eared thirty pages before the end and I just can’t bring myself to do it. Why is that, you ask? Is it because I am a lazy liberal who doesn’t like to work? Is it because I am mildly retarded and can’t really read? Is it because I’m used to not finishing books all the way because that’s how you get through college alive? No, my friends, it’s because I know that Kafka didn’t finish The Castle. It ends mid-sentence. He just gave up on it. And therefore, in deference, so did I.
4: The Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung) I scoff at this novella and its cute wittle Gregor Samsa and call it “beginner Kafka” but that is just becuase I, like most of Kafka’s protagonists, loathe myself (my special friend says I am “really good at loving hating myself” but I say he is “really good at coming up with new Elliott Smith lyrics,” so there), and I loathe things for describing me too well, and The Metamorphosis was the first Kafka I ever read and I loved it and wouldn’t have gotten into Kafka otherwise. Oh, happenstance.
3: “A Hunger-Artist” (“Ein Hungerkuenstler”) Short story that plays out the alleged Artist’s Dilemma: I have to do Unhealthy Thing X or else I will die; if I keep doing Unhealthy Thing X I will die. (I think there is a Shel Silverstein poem to this effect and it deals with eating pie. It’s a funny poem and man, does pie sound good right now or what?). This story gets extra bonus points for an ironic ending.
2: “In the Penal Colony” (“In der Strafkolonie”) If the expression “penal colony” makes you snort, grow up. And also give me a bunch of money to stage my play because I totally make a joke about it. This short story is my favorite of Kafka’s short stories because it is a) really graphic and terrifying, b) really suspenseful and c) can mean anything important w/r/t early-20th century human conditions. Want to study the self-damnation of early parliamentary democracy? This is your story. Industrial revolution? Yep. Magical metaphor for the Holoucost AND Communism, neither of which had happened yet? Sure, why not? I once read this story in a class and this girl in the class said, “This story was SO terrible and gross that if I hadn’t had to read it for class, I would have thrown it across the room.” Kafka once said that a good book “bites” and “stings” and “rouses like a blow to the head,” so by his own logic this story does everything right.
1: The Trial (Der Prozess) Ulysses can kiss my ass. The Trial, though technically “unfinished,” is the greatest novel in the history of the form. Anything I say about it would take away from its grace and riveting impact. Go read it right now! What are you doing wasting time here? Seriously, isn’t “The Ashlee Simpson Show” on or something?
And there you have it. My triumphant return to Kafkatude, Part I. Stay tuned.