Sunday, 1 December 2013

Kafka: the Beam of Fiction

“The onlookers go rigid as the train goes past”.

The sheer speed of the train steals their movement. As if it were a sudden metaphor for the collective force of the crowd. And their space - a determinate ‘scene’ - is sliced open for an instant, by this emissary of technology. Then:

“’If he should forever ahsk me.’ The ah, released from the sentence, flew off like a ball on the meadow."

These two sentences are at the opening of the published Diaries.

I sometimes wonder: Suppose you were to read Kafka’s Diaries, or his letters to Felice, under the impression that it was a work of fiction. How would such an assumption, what we might call the fictioanl beam, light up the pages in front of you? The two sentences above, for example, might appear as two perspectives on the 'theme' of movement and escape. Something breaks free from its frame. A word escapes from a sentence; a sound breaks free from a word. The body asserts its separateness and won’t be reigned in. These occasional moments of rude freedom punctuate the Kafka world. There is a brief flash of analogy between apparently disparate sentences.

Near the very beginning, there are several versions of the same passage concerning the narrator’s education – I must say that my education has done me great harm in some respects.

One of these passages alone would doubtless stand as a firm testament. Here, each version is jettisoned in favour of the next. Each reconfiguration of words and punctuation describes and constructs a new picture. Potentially, it is endless. No version quite ‘grips’ reality- each is 'revealed' as maddeningly provisional, the contours of one fade with and into its succesor. But the effect of this is that reality itself seems to dissolve into the kaleidoscope of language. Reality can only be restored by the arbitrary imposition of a ‘final version’. Again, the postponement of such a Word, and the consequent sense of suspended reality is hereby identified as a Kafka 'motif'.

By ‘education’ Kafka isn’t just meaning the schoolroom. He includes all educators, transmitters of law and language, a ‘multitude’ of people, an adversarial world, the Symbolic itself, we might now say. They have ‘done him great harm’ because they ‘tried to make another person of me’: they barred the self from emerging. And yet this bar was what let the self emerge and become conscious. This duality, too, is a theme, a herald of things to come. Read as fiction, it is no accident that the Diaries start this way. The repeated passages are the barred self stuttering, trying to reach the intimacies of diaristic writing.

The fiction of reading the Diaries as fiction produces identifiable ‘motifs’, signs, metaphors, correspondences. Particular sentences are suddenly antecedents or echoes of others. In fact, if you do this, if you bracket off the knowledge that this is a diary, or that the letters are to a real person, a whole new book is produced. From which we might conclude various things: that fiction is, in any case, perhaps always an act of such bracketing, or that reading fiction involves to some extent the ‘fiction’ that what you’re reading is indeed fiction. But also, and I think this might well be true of the letters to Felice, that writing was itself only an escape from events into their fictional equivalent.. Thus, the meeting with Felice and her Mother in the Hotel is simultaneously, a fictional meeting that any of us can step into. Writing is an extraction of the fictional template implicit in 'real'  facts and events.