What Kafka Knew
by Christy Rodgers
Lately I have found myself drawn to reading Franz Kafka again. Kafka, almost unrecognized in his own short lifetime, has obtained iconic status by now, at least among writers, so I donâ€™t know how much anybody really reads him any more. Itâ€™s a difficult and discomforting task; thereâ€™s very little actual enjoyment involved--and I say this as someone who has appreciated darker visions in everything from punk music to Expressionist art. For me, there is no one who so completely creates the atmosphere of nightmare in his or her work, or really the lived experience of nightmare, without garish excess of any kind, without sensationalism. You can have your Stephen King, you can even have your Edgar Allan Poe or Mary Shelley or Bram Stoker. The only writer whose stories really horrify me is Franz Kafka. And perhaps this is because the horror he describes most vividly is the banal horror of everyday life in the modern world.
Writing at the very beginning of the twentieth century, Kafka had already seen beyond its end. Even the form of his narratives--fragmentary, shapeless, some as short as a couple of paragraphs, most of his few novels unfinished--was indicative of the times to come, the postmodern Zeitgeist. It was Kafka who gave the modern Western world, so enamored with the idea of eternal progress, a parallel symbolic world in which no progress was possible, through which humans moved with the languid or frenzied illogic of a dream, where no one was innocent, all were complicit, where time effectively ground to a halt and yet constant, ambiguous activity continued.
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"What Kafka Knew" is roughly 2775 words.
Christy Rodgers lives in San Francisco, and writes speculative nonfiction. Her work has appeared in Dissident Voice, LiP Magazine, and WHAT IF? Journal of Radical Possibilities, which she also published. WHAT IF? still has a ghostly web presence: whatifjournal.org">whatifjournal.org.