Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Kafka's Slime

In a previous post I was trying to suggest that metaphor is not necessarily a ‘trope of resemblance’, at least not in the obvious way. 

I thought of this again, reading this description of Kafka’s composition of “The Judgement” by Eric Santner:

In a diary entry of September 23, 1912, Kafka registered the miraculous composition of “The Judgement” in the course of a single night’s labour, one he would, the following year, characterize as a kind of couvade in which his story emerged covered with the “filth and mucus” of birth.

(Kafka’s Diary entry reads as follows: “the story came out of me like a real birth, covered with filth and slime.”)

A ‘couvade’ or sympathetic pregnancy, when a man experiences some of the symptoms of an expectant mother, is a curious metaphor to use here. It plunges us right back into psychoanalytical territory, and in a text about a judgment by a father suggests some kind of ‘identification’ with a mother. 

But before regressing down such a route (or even root), is not Kafka’s image less about the whole process of labour and gestation as about the experience of delivery – of being delivered of an alien, incipient being which is ultimately not-you, an Other, an experience that is minimally ‘miraculous’ in the sense that every conception is miraculous – there is this gap, this unaccountable interval between cause and effect (the effect being this faintly repulsive yet beautiful creature). The resultant shock, puzzlement, horror, joy: It seems to me that the image is about such a constellation of reactions as it is about any identification with a mother (which is what couvades seems to imply). It is about affects more than objects.

Between the manuscript in front of Kafka and the delivered infant a glance is exchanged - in order to capture something otherwise ephemeral  - the impression of an alien, fascinating thing, the repulsion, perhaps, or sudden rush of love, a compound of all these things, a compound that melts language into metaphor. No mother is involved, no reassurring (for the psychoanalyst) identification with the mother or recoil from the judgement of the father, only an effervescent compound of perception and affects.

It seems, furthermore, an example of Kafka taking a conventional metaphor (the conceiving and gestation of a story) and radically shifting it in a different direction. In Kafka’s image, there is now no sense of the ‘organic’ development of a piece of writing, but of shock, disgust, of something rather unexpected..These things also of course concern his relation to the object, to what he's written, rather then the object itself, for relations are detachable from objects.

And it seems to me that metaphors are often about affects and relations rather than the objects that incite or constitute them.Relations and affects are not glued to objects, nor do they serve simply as signs of those objects with which they were originally associated.

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