Kafka for Kids

Sylvia Plath believed it was never too early to dip children’s toes in the vast body of literature. But to plunge straight into Franz Kafka? Why not, which is precisely what Brooklyn-based writer and videogame designer Matthue Roth has done in My First Kafka: Runaways, Rodents, and Giant Bugs (public library) — a magnificent adaptation of Kafka for kids. With stunning black-and-white illustrations by London-based fine artist Rohan Daniel Eason, this gem falls — rises, rather — somewhere between Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, and the Graphic Canon series.

 
 

 
 

The idea came to Roth after he accidentally started reading Kafka to his two little girls, who grew enchanted with the stories. As for the choice to adapt Kafka’s characteristically dark sensibility for children, Roth clearly subscribes to the Sendakian belief that grown-ups project their own fears onto kids, who welcome rather than dread the dark. Indeed, it’s hard not to see Sendak’s fatherly echo in Eason’s beautifully haunting black-and-white drawings.

 
 


 
 

Much likeJonathan Safran Foer used Street of Crocodiles to create his brilliant Tree of Codes literary remix and Charles Darwin’s great-granddaughter adapted the legendary naturalist’s biography into verse, Roth scoured public domain texts and various translations of Kafka to find the perfect works for his singsong transformations: the short prose poem Excursion into the Mountains, the novella The Metamorphosis, which endures as Kafka’s best-known masterpiece, and Josefine the Singer, his final story.

 
 

“I don’t know!”
I cried without being heard.

“I do not know.”

If nobody comes,
then nobody comes.

I’ve done nobody any harm.
Nobody’s done me any harm.
But nobody will help me.

A pack of nobodies
would be rather fine,
on the other hand.

I’d love to go on a trip — why not? —
with a pack of nobodies.

Into the mountains, of course.
Where else?

 
 

In a way, the book — like most of Kafka’s writing — also bears the odd mesmerism of literary history’s letters and diaries, the semi-forbidden pleasure of which swells under the awareness that their writers never meant for us to read the very words we’re reading, never sought to invite us into their private worlds. Kafka wished for his entire world to remain private — he never finished any of his novels and burned the majority of his manuscripts; the rest he left with his closest friend and literary executor, Max Brod, whom he instructed to burn the remaining diaries, sketches, manuscripts, and letters. It was out of love that Brod chose not to, possibly displeasing his friend but eternally pleasing the literary public.

 
 

 
 

Though Kafka never wrote for children (in fact, one might argue, he never wrote for anyone but himself), My First Kafka transforms his surviving work into a fine addition to other notable children’s book by famous authors of “adult” literature, including Mark Twain, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, James Joyce, Sylvia Plath, William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein, Anne Sexton, T. S. Eliot, and John Updike.

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Strife of Love in a Dream

“Pourquoi me réveiller, ô souffle du printemps?
Sur mon front je sens tes caresses.
Et pourtant bien proche est le temps
Des orages et des tristesses.
Demain, dans le vallon,
Se souvenant de ma gloire premiere,
Et ses yeux vainement chercheront ma splendeur:
Ils ne trouveront plus que deuil et que misere!
Helas! Pourquoi me reveiller, o souffle du printemps?

(Why do you wake me now, o sweetest breath of spring ?
On my brow I sense your most gentle caress,
Yet how soon creeps on time
Filled with tempests and with distress!
Tomorrow through the vale, the traveler will pass,
Recalling all of the glory of the past.
And in vain he will search for the bloom of my youth,
And nothing will he find but deep pain and endless sorrow.
Alas! Why do you wake me now, o sweetest breath of spring?!)

Werther
Act III

Opera by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Édouard Blau, Paul Milliet and Georges Hartmann, based on the German epistolary novel The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

 
 

Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening (1944)

 
 

In this “hand-painted dream photograph” — as Salvador Dalí generally called his paintings — we find a seascape of distant horizons and calm waters, perhaps Port Lligat, amidst which Gala is the subject of the scene. Next to the naked body of the sleeping woman, which levitates above a flat rock that floats above the sea, Dalí depicts two suspended droplets of water and a pomegranate, a Christian symbol of fertility and resurrection. Above the pomegranate flies a bee, an insect that traditionally symbolizes the Virgin.

In the upper left of the painting a fish bursts out of the pomegranate, and in turn spews out a tiger who then spews out another tiger and a rifle with a bayonet that will sting Gala in the arm. Above them an elephant with long flamingo legs, found in other compositions of the period such as Dalí’s The Temptations of St. Anthony, carries on its back an obelisk.

The elephant is a distorted version of the “Pulcino della Minerva” sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini facing the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome. The smaller pomegranate floating between two droplets of water may symbolize Venus, especially because of the heart-shaped shadow it casts. It may also be used as a Christian symbol of fertility and resurrection. This female symbolism may contrast with the phallic symbolism of the threatening creatures.

 
 

The Pulcino della Minerva, the famous elephant sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Ercole Ferrata, making the base of one of Rome’s eleven Egyptian obelisks

 
 

The inspiration for the unusual composition came from Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (“Poliphilo’s Dream of the Strife of Love“), an unusual 15th century novel probably by Italian Dominic priest and monk Francesco Colonna. Scholars have also attributed the book to Leon Battista Alberti, and earlier, to Lorenzo de Medici. The novel’s main character meets an elephant made of stone carrying an obelisk, and the accompanying woodcut illustration in the book is quite similar to Bernini’s design for the base for the obelisk. The curious placement of the obelisk through the body of the elephant is identical.

 
 

The bayonet, as a symbol of the stinging bee, may thus represent the woman’s abrupt awakening from her otherwise peaceful dream. This is an example of Sigmund Freud’s influence on surrealist art and Dalí’s attempts to explore the world of dreams in a dreamscape.

The bee around the smaller pomegranate is repeated symbolically. The two tigers represent the body of the bee (yellow with black stripes) and the bayonet its stinger. The fish may represent the bee’s eyes, because of similarity of the fish’s scaly skin with the scaly complex eyes of bees.

In 1962, Dalí said his painting was intended “to express for the first time in images Freud’s discovery of the typical dream with a lengthy narrative, the consequence of the instantaneousness of a chance event which causes the sleeper to wake up. Thus, as a bar might fall on the neck of a sleeping person, causing them to wake up and for a long dream to end with the guillotine blade falling on them, the noise of the bee here provokes the sensation of the sting which will awaken Gala.” The guillotine anecdote refers to a dream reported by Alfred Maury in Le sommeil et les rêves and related by Sigmund Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams.

It has also been suggested that the painting is “a surrealist interpretation of the Theory of Evolution”.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Stills from Lisa the Skeptic (Directed by Neil Affleck and written by David X. Cohen)

 
 

Lisa the Skeptic is the eighth episode of The Simpsons‘ ninth season, first aired on November 23, 1997. On an archaeological dig with her class, Lisa discovers a skeleton that resembles an angel. All of the townspeople believe that the skeleton actually came from an angel, but skeptical Lisa attempts to persuade them that there must be a rational scientific explanation. The episode’s writer, David X. Cohen, developed the idea after visiting the American Museum of Natural History, and decided to loosely parallel themes from the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, which dealt with issues of separation of church and state and the debate between creationism and evolution. The episode received generally positive reviews.

It has been discussed in the context of virtual reality, ontology, existentialism, and skepticism; it has also been used in Christian religious education classes to initiate discussion about angels, skepticism, science, and faith.

 
 

Un señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes (A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings), is a short story by author Gabriel García Márquez written in 1955. It was inspired by a young boy named Armand Tait and his life as a farmer.

 
 

A group of The Simpsons enthusiasts at Calvin College have also analyzed the religious and philosophical aspects of the episode, including the issue of faith versus science. The episode has been compared with Gabriel García Márquez’s short story A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings and utilized as a teaching tool in a Saugerties, New York grade school class. In an exam on the subject, students were asked to use details from both  A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings and Lisa the Skeptic, in order to analyze the quotation “Appearances can be deceiving”.

The Tree of Life

Page from Darwin’s notebooks around July 1837 showing his first sketch of an evolutionary tree

 
 

Interpretation of handwriting: “I think case must be that one generation should have as many living as now. To do this and to have as many species in same genus (as is) requires extinction . Thus between A + B the immense gap of relation. C + B the finest gradation. B+D rather greater distinction. Thus genera would be formed. Bearing relation” (next page begins) “to ancient types with several extinct forms”

 
 

The tree of life is a metaphor describing the relationship of all life on Earth in an evolutionary context. Charles Darwin talks about envisioning evolution as a “tangled bank” in On the Origin of Species; however, the book’s sole illustration is of a branched diagram that is very tree-like.

 
 

“From the first growth of the tree, many a limb and branch has decayed and dropped off; and these fallen branches of various sizes may represent those whole orders, families, and genera which have now no living representatives, and which are known to us only in a fossil state. As we here and there see a thin, straggling branch springing from a fork low down in a tree, and which by some chance has been favoured and is still alive on its summit, so we occasionally see an animal like the Ornithorhynchus (Platypus) or Lepidosiren (South American lungfish), which in some small degree connects by its affinities two large branches of life, and which has apparently been saved from fatal competition by having inhabited a protected station. As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever-branching and beautiful ramifications.”

Charles Darwin

On the Origin of Species

 
 

17th-century depiction of the Tree of Life in Palace of Shaki Khans, Azerbaijan

 
 

The concept of a tree of life has been used in science, religion, philosophy, and mythology. A tree of life is a common motif in various world theologies, mythologies, and philosophies. It alludes to the interconnection of all life on our planet and serves as a metaphor for common descent in the evolutionary sense. The term tree of life may also be used as a synonym for sacred tree.

 
 

Depiction of the Norse Yggdrasil as described in the Icelandic Prose Edda by Oluf Olufsen Bagge, 1847

 
 

In George Herbert‘s poem The Sacrifice (part of The Temple, 1633), the Tree of Life is the rood on which Jesus Christ was crucified

 
 

Scenes from the Life of Christ19. Crucifixion, Giotto di Bondone, 1304-06

 
 

 In C. S. LewisChronicles of Narnia, the Tree of Life plays a role, especially in the sixth published book (the first in the in-world chronology) The Magician’s Nephew

 
 

Darren Aronofsky’s 2006 film The Fountain (as well as the 2005 graphic novel based on the screenplay) centers on immortality given by the Tree of Life.

 
 


The Tree of Life is a Terrence Malick film released in May 2011, starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain

Prologue

Written by Luis Xeiroto
English grammar corrections by Paul Klees

 
 

the art criticThe Art Critic“. Norman Rockwell. Illustration for Saturday Evening Post cover. Published April 16, 1956

 
 

” We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”

Henry James.

“The Middle Years”

 
 

What is this blog about? This blog is basically a personal and constant researching about the stylistic origin of some pieces of art and their author’s background; the historical context when such pieces were made; their source of inspiration; the birth of a trend and its developing through its epigones. The etymology of “epigone” is from the Greek word ἐπίγονος, which means “born after”. It refers to the person who follows the style of former generations, someone who follows the steps of a school or an artist they admire. In order that any artistic discipline carries on evolving it takes to have a sense of History and respect to our predecessors.

According to Charles Darwin in his Origin of the Species theory, every living creature acts by means of an “intelligent design”. In other words: nothing comes up spontaneously. The name of this blog in itself alludes to a genealogical tree, not strictly in the filial sense, rather in aesthetic or visual connections though. The idea emerged from an offhand remark that I logged on a sketchbook:

 
 

 Preliminary sketch for Norman Rockwell’s “Family Tree“. Saturday Evening Post cover, published October 24, 1959.

 
 

“Inspiration, to talk for talking’s sake, is naturally promiscuous. At least that’s the way my inspiration rolls since it skips about with a pile of influences. Some of them shoot up deliberately like a graft selected with care, so that they would sprout in accordance with expectations. Other influences come by chance. Anyway, it is always difficult beginning the recherché de la paternité of a style. Every single artist has a distinctly unique genealogical tree with intricate and leafy branches. Searching and thorough contemplation are the most effective tools to discover such lineage from the root and afterward we would see how the fruit beard has been spread around the world.”

 
 

Folio: Big Tree of Elements

 
 

It’s always surprising to me how many people apparently were not attached because the long geographical distances or generation gap between them, likewise there is something that joins them as an unbreakable bond. Would it be that “phenomenon” related to the six grades of separation theory? I’m not sure. But I think that a lot of things in this universe are connected and they will always be. And any human action provokes an ecumenical reaction. Ideally it should be a favorable reaction for the environment.

I enjoy discovering what some artists have in common and their cultural legacy. Seeing how much do they differ from each other or how much their styles are familiar to them, to the others or invent to mine. I also enjoy studying in depth or as they say, going into in details about topics that some consider superficial stuff.

The posts that I’m going to gather and share in this site will be collected under a“coincidental” viewpoint. I endeavor to take a holistic approach to my posts, though,and they are not intended to be comprehensive.