It is nice to find, among the abundant and varied offerings of literature, some singular writers whose work most captures ones own feelings or outlook. Such kindred spirits as these should be cherished and revered; to recognize their rarity and power is a correct, and non-diminishing, form of worship.
I first read Kafka as a late teenager, being given a copy of Metamorphosis by a friend. It is this kind of generosity that I most prize; the intuitive paring up of friend to book that many have done for me and which I try my best to pay forward.
As already mentioned – in former posts – I have a naturally dark turn of mind; one that craves the pleasure and camaraderie of artistic dark-fellowship. I can trace my psychic-creative cognitive genealogy back from Bukowski to Baudelaire, from Rimbaud to William Blake, from Lustmord to Stravinsky, from Rothko to Caravaggio. Their works are important to me – they have helped me survive the trials and darkness of modernity and social terror.
Kafka wrote a large body of short stories which are all imbued with sinister energy and fearful wonder; his fascination with spiritual and mental torment always bubbling below the surface. There is the slow-horror of reality being pulled out from under his characters, of a twisting sense of the supernatural bursting through the material. I always feel an overwhelming hopelessness in his stories, the realization that, for his characters, nothing will ever be good again. To read Kafka is to touch and experience the sensation of calamity and horror, it is to discover how it feels to perish at the hands of cruel fate and supernatural terrors.
All of his stories are an experience as much as they are literary pieces. There are so few writers who could create such dark and mesmerizing worlds – especially in so few words – and to so immensely redefine the way we read short fiction. Perhaps Poe is the only other parallel, though an argument could be made for such people as HG Wells, Conan Doyle and Somerset Maugham. With Kafka and Poe, we can track and view how hugely influential their bodies of work have been to other writers, thus leaving a lasting effect on literature as a whole.
To read Kafka is to be changed forever. It is to know true horror and true human futility and frailty; the dark majestic wonders of terror and suffering. In this sense, I suppose he is an acquired taste. I would imagine that for some, reading Kafka would be akin to watching Lars von Trier’s films – unsettling at best and frightfully disturbing at worst.
But for those of us with a dark turn of mind – the poison – he is a wonderland of twisted dimensions; a true hero of the psychically disturbed.
Kafka image source: commons.wikimedia.org