Kafka’s America

March 1, 2007 § Leave a comment

Published posthumously in 1927 by a not so scrupulous testament executioner.
Most of the book is spent in explaining the surrounding logic to the hapless character, who seems to always be asking the same questions: “why…?” or “and what would happen if…?”, much like a child trying to grasp the logic of the world. It’s sometimes fun in a keatonesque, burlesque sort of way (the opening scene in the boat, fighting for the “rights” of a self-centered stoker, or the catching match in the girl’s room), when Karll Grossman is lost but it all somehow ends up OK. And then, for a long middle portion, the logic is dark, humiliating, as the characters floats from characters who use and abuse him in one way or another (taking his money, his personal photographs, pinching his arm, having him throw out, or all-out beating him to turn him into an obedient servant (Mme Brunelda).
And all throughout, Karl is gently lost, drifting uncomprehending in a world that ought to be much more gentle, but turns out to be based on exploiting boobs like him. Kafka made him just shy of 16, but even without this justification, there are so many rules, points of view, and ceremonies around him that just making some sense (let alone understanding their true meaning) is hard enough. Consider the scenes at his uncle, or the nightly street demonstration for a local judge’s election, or the movements of lift-boy and secondary porters at the Hotel Continental, or the last scene at the circus. The world, says Kafka, is a strange place where events must follow their logic, though to reconstruct this logic is near-impossiblle — one can be content to have one possible meaning in mind, even though this is naive.
In the end, and though the book is unfinished Kafka seemed to have a happy ending in mind, all this exploitation, enslavement, humiliation, violence, a dizzying dance where Karl is tossed around mercilessly, comes to an end in a very American leap of faith: the beauty of the landscape. For a writer who’d only known America through guide books, that’s quite a moving tribute indeed.


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