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leakybucket
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Re: First Time Kafka

ELee, I think you have made a good point here. This may be a lot of my problem. I am trying to make Kafka fit into my customary way of seeing things. I also tend to be very logical in my approach. He does require a totally different way of looking at the world and that is a good thing and worth investing the effort.

Bucky



ELee wrote:
"I think part of Kafka's point is to write puzzles that seems like they can be "solved" but really can't be solved.
In this sense, he's saying that life is like that: We keep itching to fully "solve" something, but the thing doesn't have one answer."

I couldn't have said this better...I felt initial frustration reading Kafka, but I'm getting into it now. At first I was rereading passages to try to "make the puzzle fit", but I think a more relaxed approach is in order. One of the things that makes his puzzles so effective is his simple, direct and detailed way of telling the story. He presents it like a fairy tale or a fable; you keep expecting a resolution at the end or to learn a lesson, and it leaves you unsatisfied (itchy).

"His puzzles are supposed to be slightly annoying in that way!
The "Hunger Artist" is a good example of this, and a lighter read than some of his stuff."

You're right! I read this first and almost didn't continue, but now I am enjoying Metamorphosis and plan to read HA again after. Can't wait to discuss it!

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leakybucket
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Re: First Time Kafka

More very good comments ELee. For those who would like to read the Wallace article:

http://www.ptwi.com/~bobkat/kafka.html



ELee wrote:
LizzieAnn wrote:
"These stories do make me feel, hmmm - I guess I'll say not very bright. It's quite frustrating, especially as I consider myself reasonably intelligent."

I'm sure you're very intelligent, and you should not allow Kafka to sink you to his depths! I read an article "Laughing with Kafka" by David Foster Wallace. He was talking about wit, but I'm sure his ideas could/would extend to other components of Kafka's writing. He said that even for gifted [U.S.] students, Kafka's wit was too subtle. His point was that we are taught metaphorical truths, while K presents literal ones. We have built-in associations that may have little to do with the literal meaning of a word or grouping of words. Consider in your everyday life what "starved for attention" or "love-starved" means to you. Then read The Hunger Artist and think about what they meant in Kafka-terms (literal starvation). Wallace goes on to say that we've been taught "to see humor as something you get--the same way we've [been taught] that a self is something you just have." We base a lot of our understanding on a foundation of knowledge that someone else built. Kafka ignores that foundation and "starts from scratch". One other thing that I think affects an interpretation of Kafka is the fact that it was written in German and we are reading it in English. Even with the finest of translators, there are still circumstances were a German word may have multiple meanings or implications (possible double entendre?) that comes out as a "flat" word in English. I have been doing some reading of critic's interpretations on Kafka, which is all well and good, but I have decided to try to apply his stories to my own truths and see what they mean to me personally. There is something "raw" in them that strikes a cord - it just takes a little work to find the proper place to put them.


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Laurel
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Re: First Time Kafka

I wonder whether Kafka is in some places giving us an autistic view of the world?



ELee wrote:
LizzieAnn wrote:
"These stories do make me feel, hmmm - I guess I'll say not very bright. It's quite frustrating, especially as I consider myself reasonably intelligent."

I'm sure you're very intelligent, and you should not allow Kafka to sink you to his depths! I read an article "Laughing with Kafka" by David Foster Wallace. He was talking about wit, but I'm sure his ideas could/would extend to other components of Kafka's writing. He said that even for gifted [U.S.] students, Kafka's wit was too subtle. His point was that we are taught metaphorical truths, while K presents literal ones. We have built-in associations that may have little to do with the literal meaning of a word or grouping of words. Consider in your everyday life what "starved for attention" or "love-starved" means to you. Then read The Hunger Artist and think about what they meant in Kafka-terms (literal starvation). Wallace goes on to say that we've been taught "to see humor as something you get--the same way we've [been taught] that a self is something you just have." We base a lot of our understanding on a foundation of knowledge that someone else built. Kafka ignores that foundation and "starts from scratch". One other thing that I think affects an interpretation of Kafka is the fact that it was written in German and we are reading it in English. Even with the finest of translators, there are still circumstances were a German word may have multiple meanings or implications (possible double entendre?) that comes out as a "flat" word in English. I have been doing some reading of critic's interpretations on Kafka, which is all well and good, but I have decided to try to apply his stories to my own truths and see what they mean to me personally. There is something "raw" in them that strikes a cord - it just takes a little work to find the proper place to put them.


"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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IlanaSimons
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Re: First Time Kafka



Laurel wrote:
I wonder whether Kafka is in some places giving us an autistic view of the world?




Interesting!
Autism is an inability to connect in normal or social ways with others. Some people say that the autistic person lacks the "mirror gene"--the (recently discovered) gene that allows us to feel someone else's pain.
Some of Kafka's characters (Gergor in the Metamorphosis?) seem to suffer from the reverse: a double dose of empathy. It's the people around Gregor who lack the ability to empathize with _him_.


Certainly, the theme of human disconnect is central in these works.
I think Kafka would say his protagonists themselves are anti-autistic: swimming in a pool of empathy; others just don't understand them at all.



Ilana
Check out my book, here and visit my website, here.


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IlanaSimons
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Re: First Time Kafka



IlanaSimons wrote:


Laurel wrote:
I wonder whether Kafka is in some places giving us an autistic view of the world?




Interesting!
Autism is an inability to connect in normal or social ways with others. Some people say that the autistic person lacks the "mirror gene"--the (recently discovered) gene that allows us to feel someone else's pain.
Some of Kafka's characters (Gergor in the Metamorphosis?) seem to suffer from the reverse: a double dose of empathy. It's the people around Gregor who lack the ability to empathize with _him_.


Certainly, the theme of human disconnect is central in these works.
I think Kafka would say his protagonists themselves are anti-autistic: swimming in a pool of empathy; others just don't understand them at all.






that said, the Hunger Artist is a protagonist who can't understand anyone else....



Ilana
Check out my book, here and visit my website, here.


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Katelyn
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Re: First Time Kafka

Bucky,
Thanks much for the article link...I am very much interested in reading it...
Kate
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Katelyn
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Re: First Time Kafka

[ Edited ]
Liz,
I think you are getting the meaning of the stories more than you think. The stories *are* a little bit like Hotel California; they *do* have that surreal character that you describe where you feel like you have been transported to the twilight zone.
If you weren't getting the stories to some degree, you wouldn't be able to say that.

I think ELee's post hit the nail on the head when she described how certain aspects of
the foundation of our reality are constructed (through our own personal experience but perhaps to a greater extent through a large stock of inherited knowledge and sensibility), but Kafka tries to scrape that away and "start from scratch". In any culture and in any era there are certain implicit assumptions we all make. The philosopher Alfred Whitehead once said "There will be some fundamental assumptions which adherents of all the variant systems within the epoch unconsciously presuppose. Such assumptions appear so obvious that people do not know what they are ssuming because no other way of putting things has ever ocurred to them". Kafka tries to get behind all of these assumptions and unmask reality itself (or atleast approach it by going back to his own intense individual perception).


In the Judgement, for example, Georg's actions seem really extreme. It is hard to imagine someone in our family, in our circle of friends, or the people we know at work
acting like that -- that is jumping off a bridge out of a compulsion introduced by
someone else's comments. Yet the truth is most people think and do a lot of strange things. Maybe not as dramatic as jumping off a bridge, but we are often surprised
at our selves and others. Sometimes something small someone says strikes a nerve and
we go ballistic. Similarly there may be people who call us on the phone and after we are done we always feel faintly disturbed, but not knowing why. Why do we love who we do? Why do we sometimes take a dislike to someone. We may have our "reasons", but ththese things are deeper than reason. As that Blaise Pascal said, The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of."

Most of the time we "edit out" those aspects of our lives and act as if we simplistic people such as you might find on TV; we say "we were off that day" when we find ourselves confronted by aspects of ourselves or others we do not understand. We try to domesticate the darker aspects of ourselves and the night
that we find in our world. I think what Kafka does is
amplify those types of experiences. His world is probably darker than ours, but I think he does reflect certain realities, the complexity, irrationality, intensity that bubbles beneath the surface. We are used to the "house cat" of reality, he gives us the real animal, such as we might find at the zoo. It is a captive animal (not free), but we are still glad that there are bars on the cage.

This may not be making sense, but that probably is ok too. Don't feel stupid
for not immediately getting Kafka. When I was younger, I had issues with Salinger -- not everyone's beloved Catcher and the Rye which is easy to understand but his more obscure pieces such as Frannie and Zooey as well as his short stories ("To Esme with Love and Squalor); more recently I couldn't get into a Pynchon book; I vaguely remember throwing it against a wall-- I mean I wanted to like the book, but I just didn't. When we have trouble understanding a book it might be perhaps in part because we our particular sensibility may be very diferent than the author's. Maybe you are just very well adjusted. Kafka was a little bent, but he was a genius at describing that bent reality, and I think that bent reality shows aspects of a shared reality, only amplified. I admire you for hanging in there.

Kate


01-06-2007 10:26 AM


LizzieAnn wrote:
This is the first time I've ever read Kafka, and I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around his writing. I've read "The Metamorphosis" and "Before the Law" so far, as well as "A Message from the Emperor," and I just keep shaking my head. I just don't get it. Not to be facetious, but "The Metamorphosis" reminds me of an episode of the The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. And the Eagles's song "Hotel California" came to mind after reading "Before the Law." The line "...you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave." Actually, that line probable fits the 3 stories I've read.

I'm not giving up, yet. I'm going to read "The Judgment" and see how that compares. Maybe Kafka is a writer I have to read several times to understand - or maybe I'll never get him at all. But I'll try.


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LizzieAnn
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Re: First Time Kafka

Thanks Katelyn, for both the encouragement and for the further explanation. You, Ilana, ELee, and everyone on this board have been very good in both trying to explain Kafka to me, understanding my frustration, and putting up with me.

I've never really read anything like Kafka before; and its been disturbing at times. The symbolism and trying to decipher what he's saying is confusing. I really don't think I'm interpreting his the way he intended to be understood. But I'm trying.

Thanks again, everyone, for the encouragement!
Liz ♥ ♥


Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested. ~ Francis Bacon
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Choisya
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Re: First Time Kafka

I doubt there are many people who 'get' Kafka upon first reading and I put down my understanding of him when I first read him to the fact that I was in hospital with chronic depression and his writing about alienation struck a chord with me. I now find him more difficult than I did then! Another book I read at that time which had the same effect was Catch 22 - I really identified with Yossarian and the Catch 22.
I am having difficulties at the moment seeing a feminist perspective in his writing (as suggested by Ilana) which is not something I usually have difficulties with, as some of you will know:smileyhappy:




LizzieAnn wrote:
Thanks Katelyn, for both the encouragement and for the further explanation. You, Ilana, ELee, and everyone on this board have been very good in both trying to explain Kafka to me, understanding my frustration, and putting up with me.

I've never really read anything like Kafka before; and its been disturbing at times. The symbolism and trying to decipher what he's saying is confusing. I really don't think I'm interpreting his the way he intended to be understood. But I'm trying.

Thanks again, everyone, for the encouragement!


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IlanaSimons
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Re: First Time Kafka



Choisya wrote:
I doubt there are many people who 'get' Kafka upon first reading and I put down my understanding of him when I first read him to the fact that I was in hospital with chronic depression and his writing about alienation struck a chord with me. I now find him more difficult than I did then! Another book I read at that time which had the same effect was Catch 22 - I really identified with Yossarian and the Catch 22.
I am having difficulties at the moment seeing a feminist perspective in his writing (as suggested by Ilana) which is not something I usually have difficulties with, as some of you will know:smileyhappy:




LizzieAnn wrote:
Thanks Katelyn, for both the encouragement and for the further explanation. You, Ilana, ELee, and everyone on this board have been very good in both trying to explain Kafka to me, understanding my frustration, and putting up with me.

I've never really read anything like Kafka before; and its been disturbing at times. The symbolism and trying to decipher what he's saying is confusing. I really don't think I'm interpreting his the way he intended to be understood. But I'm trying.

Thanks again, everyone, for the encouragement!







Good point Choisya. Kafka certainly isn't a traditional feminist. He ran away from women in life, too. But the division he draws between the genders in The Metamorphosis does seem meaningful.
In that story, the men are so caught up with efficiency--with catching the train, getting to work, earning good salaries--that (even unwillingly) they perpetuate an unfeeling society. (The boss and the father are prototypically male: yelling at Gregor to WORK!) It's perhaps simply because they're considered less useful in the world that the women have more access to empathy, what Kafka lovingly stages as an inefficient passion. In his story, the sister and mother are the people who at least try to help and understand Gregor. If you allow for Kafka's divide (efficient vs. useless or masculine vs feminine), and for his critique of that divide, he becomes something like a spokesman for the traditionally feminine.

And it’s an awful shame that the sister becomes “useful” in the end—rushing off to marry and make money with a family.



Ilana
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For Ilana: Styles and Contexts

Which styles and contexts did you grow up with?


IlanaSimons wrote:
The Moby Dick, North and South, and Cranford discussions make me feel slow. ... I think after growing up with specific styles/contexts, trying on new ones is frustratingly disorienting.
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IlanaSimons
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Re: For Ilana: Styles and Contexts



pmath wrote:
Which styles and contexts did you grow up with?


IlanaSimons wrote:
The Moby Dick, North and South, and Cranford discussions make me feel slow. ... I think after growing up with specific styles/contexts, trying on new ones is frustratingly disorienting.





"Grow up" might have been the wrong word. Whether it's from a biological thing or experience, people (I think) gravitate to different styles and find a home there. I'd call my home the dark philosophical stuff, as opposed to historically detailed stuff. I get excited about fables and psychological dramas without, as a friend said (making fun), "the burden of fact." Murakami, who lives in undetailed, emotionally ripe places, is my favorite. I sometimes find myself in a zone-out when reading books that go into a nettle of factual or historical details.
This is not a statement of extremes: We all like a range!



Ilana
Check out my book, here and visit my website, here.


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Factual and Historical Details

Ah, I see. I like details as long as they're relevant, so Moby-Dick is exactly my type of book!


IlanaSimons wrote:
Whether it's from a biological thing or experience, people (I think) gravitate to different styles and find a home there. I'd call my home the dark philosophical stuff, as opposed to historically detailed stuff. ... I sometimes find myself in a zone-out when reading books that go into a nettle of factual or historical details.
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