Sunday, May 9, 2010

Oh man, not Kafka again

I ran out of stuff that I wanted to read, so I picked up my copy of Kafka short stories.  I opened it up almost, but not quite, at random to a story called "Investigations of a Dog".  I stared at the title for a long time, with some trepidation.   I checked to see how long it was, just to see what I was in for.  38 pages of small print.   38 pages of challenging reading.  I was tired, I was looking at this while in bed, and I wondered if I really wanted to do this to myself.  Did I want to put myself through this? 

I figured why not.

So I started reading.  By the second page I found myself going back and re-reading portions of the first page, just to double check my understanding, to make sure I hadn't missed something.  It is not light reading.

I don't know what it is with my run-ins with Kafka through the years.  I'm not sure why I've kept that book.  Part of the reason is I take it as a personal challenge, I think.  I will not admit that I cannot get thru, and understand, any piece of literature that is written in English, no matter how difficult.  I don't have this problem with people like Faulkner.  Heck, I don't even have it with Hermann Hesse, I've read both Siddhartha & Steppenwolf and maybe a few other things he's written.   Just Kafka.  Why is that?

Of course I'm reading translations.    I'm not sure if Kafka wrote in German or Czech (I should find that out), but what ever it was, it was the 19th century version of the language.   To do it justice, the translation should reflect that, and it sort of does.  There are long sentences, lots of clauses, lots of passive voice writing, not lending itself to any kind of college Freshman Composition class.   So it's hard to read from that perspective. 

Also, its difficult to read because it's just so weird. You have to discover what is going on, and I find myself going back and re-reading because I either have trouble believing what I'm reading, or I lost the flow of the story somehow.  This story, for example, is being told from the point of view of an apparently alienated, decidedly bohemian dog.  And as the reader, I know nothing more than what the dog knows, nothing more than what the dog sees or experiences with his other senses.   I know what the dog thinks, I know his opinions, and it is not easy to follow.  The dog describes things in a way most humans wouldn't.  Kafka is a very, very good writer.  But at the moment, I have no idea where the story is going.

Everything Kafka has ever written is like that, at least to me.  I've had this book for years.  I guess I'll keep it and force my way thru a story every now and then.

He wrote a story about a man who woke up and found that he was a huge insect - his most famous, probably.  He wrote another about a man sitting at the gates of heaven for years, afraid to ask permission from St. Peter to enter (I think).  That one was a parable, and I'm still shaking my head.  He wrote one about building the Great Wall of China, and after reading that I remember thinking, yep, that's pretty much what it was like being in the Army.

I'll read some more tonight.  But I suspect I'll spend a week at least on those 38 pages.


Patti Anne said...

I tried, I tried. I read part of that bug story. I cannot read anymore Kafka. Perhaps it is too late in life to take on that big a challenge. Good luck, and be sure to update your "books read in 2010" with that other one you just finished.

linlah said...

I tried to fake my way through Metamorphisis in a speech class in college. It did not go well.

Sheila @ A Postcard a Day said...

I've never made any real attempt to read Kafka, but by coincidence I was in Prague recently and went to see his house. The guide told us he wrote in German because Prague was in Bohmeia, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at that time. I don't know how reliable the guide was because he also told us Kafka was much easier to read in English. Right.

A Valdese Blogger said...

PA: I don't know. I keep trying. It's like bouncing my head against a wall tho.

linlah: Metamorphisis - I remember at some point I just had to let go and realize, our protagonist isn't dreaming, isn't delusional, isn't having a psychotic episode, he has actually turned into a good sized bug, and everybody knows it. That did not make the story less weird.

Sheila: Hello, thanks for commenting! And thanks for the info. I knew he lived in Prague and for some reason I thought he wrote in German, but didn't know why I thought that. If he's more difficult to read in German, then heaven help them.

j said...

I remember reading -- and enjoying, if I can use that word, The Hunger Artist. But that's the extent of my Kafka experience.

A Valdese Blogger said...

Jennifer: I have never read the hunger artist. In a way I do "enjoy" Kafka, but it's definitely in quotes.