Kafka’s American Novel

Cover designed by Alvin Lustig in 1946

 

Amerika is the incomplete first novel of author Franz Kafka (1883–1924), written between 1911 and 1914 and published posthumously in 1927. The novel originally began as a short story titled The Stoker. The novel incorporates many details of the experiences of his relatives who had emigrated to the United States. In the story, the Statue of Liberty is holding a sword, and some scholars have interpreted this as a “might makes right” philosophy Kafka may have believed the United States holds.

In conversations Kafka used to refer to this book as his “American novel,” later he called it simply The Stoker, after the title of the first chapter, which appeared separately in 1913. Kafka’s working title was Der Verschollene (The Man Who Disappeared or The Missing Person) . The title Amerika was chosen by Kafka’s literary executor, Max Brod, who assembled the uncompleted manuscript and published it after his death. Brod donated the manuscript to the University of Oxford.

Kafka was fond of reading travel books and memoirs. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin was one of his favorite books, from which he liked reading passages aloud. Although he always had a longing for free space and distant lands, it is said that he never travelled farther than France and Upper Italy. Despite this, a rare photo shows Kafka with an unknown man at Marielyst beach, in Denmark.

Kafka, at the time, was also reading, or rereading, several novels by Charles Dickens and made the following remarks in his diary: “My intention was, as I now see, to write a Dickens novel, enriched by the sharper lights which I took from our modern times, and by the pallid ones I would have found in my own interior.”

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16 Poems

© Hereus de Roberto Bolaño. Barcelona (Spain), 1981

 

“…31. Soñé que la tierra se acababa. Y que el único ser humano que contemplaba el final era Franz Kafka. En el cielo los Titanes luchaban a muerte. Desde un asiento de hierro forjado del parque de Nueva York veía arder el mundo.

32. Soñé que estaba soñando y que volvía a mi casa demasiado tarde. En mi cama encontraba a Mario de Sá-Carneiro durmiendo con mi primer amor. Al destaparlos descubría que estaban muertos y mordiéndome los labios hasta hacerme sangre volvía a los caminos vecinales.

33. Soñé que Anacreonte construía su castillo en la cima de una colina pelada y luego lo destruía.

34. Soñé que era un detective latinoamericano muy viejo. Vivía en NuevaYork y Mark Twain me contrataba para salvarle la vida a alguien que no tenía rostro. Va a ser un caso condenadamente difícil, señor Twain, le decía.

35. Soñé que me enamoraba de Alice Sheldon. Ella no me quería. Así que intentaba hacerme matar en tres continentes. Pasaban los años. Por fin, cuando ya era muy viejo, ella aparecía por el otro extremo del Paseo Marítimo de Nueva York y mediante señas (como las que hacían en los portaaviones para que los pilotos aterrizaran) me decía que siempre me había querido.

36. Soñé que hacía un 69 con Anaïs Nin sobre una enorme losa de basalto.

37. Soñé que follaba con Carson McCullers en una habitación en penumbras en la primavera de 1981. Y los dos nos sentíamos irracionalmente felices.

38. Soñé que volvía a mi viejo Liceo y que Alphonse Daudet era mi profesor de francés. Algo imperceptible nos indicaba que estábamos soñando. Daudet miraba a cada rato por la ventana y fumaba la pipa de Tartarín.

39. Soñé que me quedaba dormido mientras mis compañeros de Liceo intentaban liberar a Robert Desnos del campo de concentración de Terezin. Cuando despertaba una voz me ordenaba que me pusiera en movimiento. Rápido, Bolaño, rápido, no hay tiempo que perder. Al llegar sólo encontraba a un vieoj detective escarbando en las ruinas humeantes del asalto.

40. Soñé que una tormenta de números fantasmales era lo único que quedaba de los seres humanos tres mil millones de años después de que la Tierra hubiera dejado de existir.

41. Soñé que estaba soñando y que en los túneles de los sueños encontraba el sueño de Roque Dalton: el sueño de los valientes que murieron por una quimera de mierda.

42. Soñé que tenía dieciocho años y que veía a mi mejor amigo de entonces, que también tenía dieciocho, haciendo el amor con Walt Whitman. Lo hacían en un sillón, contemplando el atardecer borrascoso de Civitavecchia.

43. Soñé que estaba preso y que Boecio era mi compañero de celda. Mira, Bolaño, decía extendiendo la mano y la pluma en la semioscuridad: ¡no tiemblan!, ¡no tiemblan! (Después de un rato, añadía con voz tranquila: pero tamblarán cuando reconozcan al cabrón de Teodorico.)

44. Soñé que traducía al Marqués de Sade a golpes de hacha. Me había vuelto loco y vivía en un bosque.

45. Soñé que Pascal hablaba del miedo con palabras cristalinas en una taberna de Civitavecchia: “Los milagros no sirven para convertir, sino para condenar”, decía.

46. Soñé que era un viejo detective latinoamericano y que una Fundación misteriosa me encargaba encontrar las actas de defunción de los Sudacas Voladores. Viajaba por todo el mundo: hospitales, campos de batalla, pulquerías, escuelas abandonadas…”

Roberto Bolaño

Blanes, 1994

Tres (Fragmento de una colección de poemas)

 

_______________________________________

 

…”31. I dreamt that Earth was finished. And the only
human being to contemplate the end was Franz
Kafka. In heaven, the Titans were fighting to the
death. From a wrought-iron seat in Central Park,
Kafka was watching the world burn.

32. I dreamt I was dreaming and I came home
too late. In my bed I found Mário de Sá-Carneiro
sleeping with my first love. When I uncovered them
I found they were dead and, biting my lips till they
bled, I went back to the streets.

33. I dreamt that Anacreon was building his castle
on the top of a barren hill and then destroying it.

34. I dreamt I was a really old Latin American
detective. I lived in New York and Mark Twain
was hiring me to save the life of someone without
a face. “It’s going to be a damn tough case, Mr.
Twain,” I told him.

35. I dreamt I was falling in love with Alice Sheldon.
She didn’t want me. So I tried getting myself killed
on three continents. Years passed. Finally, when I
was really old, she appeared on the other end of the
promenade in New York and with signals (like the
ones they use on aircraft carriers to help the pilots
land) she told me she’d always loved me.

36. I dreamt I was 69ing with Anaïs Nin on an
enormous basaltic flagstone.

37. I dreamt I was fucking Carson McCullers in a
dim-lit room in the spring of 1981. And we both felt
irrationally happy.

38. I dreamt I was back at my old high school
and Alphonse Daudet was my French teacher.
Something imperceptible made us realize we were
dreaming. Daudet kept looking out the window
and smoking Tartarin’s pipe

39. I dreamt I kept sleeping while my classmates
tried to liberate Robert Desnos from the Terezín
concentration camp. When I woke a voice was
telling me to get moving. “Quick, Bolaño, quick,
there’s no time to lose.” When I got there, all I
found was an old detective picking through the
smoking ruins of the attack.

40. I dreamt that a storm of phantom numbers was
the only thing left of human beings three billion
years after Earth ceased to exist.

41. I dreamt I was dreaming and in the dream
tunnels i found Roque Dalton’s dream: the dream
of the brave ones who died for a fucking chimera.

42. I dreamt I was 18 and saw my best friend at
the time, who was also 18, making love to Walt
Whitman. They did it in an armchair, contemplating
the stormy Civitavecchia sunset.

43. I dreamt I was a prisoner and Boethius was
my cellmate. “look, Bolaño,” he said, extending
his hand and his pen in the shadows:
“they’re not trembling! they’re not
trembling!” (after a while,
he added in a calm voice: “but they’ll tremble when
they recognize that bastard Theodoric.”)

44. I dreamt I was translating the Marquis de Sade
with axe blows. I’d gone crazy and was living in the
woods.

45. I dreamt that Pascal was talking about fear with
crystal clear words at a tavern in Civitavecchia:
Miracles don’t convert, they condemn, he said.

46. I dreamt I was an old Latin American detective
and a mysterious Foundation hired me to find the
death certificates of the Flying Spics. I was traveling
all around the world: hospitals, battlefields, pulque
bars, abandoned schools….”

Excerpt from Tres (a collection of poetry)

English translation by Laura Healy

Kafkaesque Chain of Events

George Harrison on the set of A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, 1964)

 

Among George Harrison‘s biographers, Simon Leng views All Things Must Pass as a “paradox of an album”: as eager as Harrison was to break free from his identity as a Beatle, Leng suggests, many of the songs document the “Kafkaesque chain of events” of life within the band and so added to the “mythologized history” he was looking to escape. Ian Inglis notes 1970’s place in an era marking “the new supremacy of the singer-songwriter”, through such memorable albums as Simon & Garfunkel‘s Bridge Over Troubled Water, Neil Young‘s After the Gold Rush, Van Morrison‘s Moondance and Joni Mitchell‘s Ladies of the Canyon, but that none of these “possessed the startling impact” of All Things Must Pass. Harrison’s triple album, Inglis writes, “[would] elevate ‘the third Beatle’ into a position that, for a time at least, comfortably eclipsed that of his former bandmates”.

Frist Poem

The First Lesson, Carl Larsson, 1903

 
 

“A rainbow comes pouring into my window, I am electrified.
Songs burst from my breast, all my crying stops, mistory fills
the air.
I look for my shues under my bed.
A fat colored woman becomes my mother.
I have no false teeth yet. Suddenly ten children sit on my lap.
I grow a beard in one day.
I drink a hole bottle of wine with my eyes shut.
I draw on paper and I feel I am two again. I want everybody to
talk to me.
I empty the garbage on the tabol.
I invite thousands of bottles into my room, June bugs I call them.
I use the typewritter as my pillow.
A spoon becomes a fork before my eyes.
Bums give all their money to me.
All I need is a mirror for the rest of my life.
My frist five years I lived in chicken coups with not enough
bacon.
My mother showed her witch face in the night and told stories of
blue beards.
My dreams lifted me right out of my bed.
I dreamt I jumped into the nozzle of a gun to fight it out with a
bullet.
I met Kafka and he jumped over a building to get away from me.
My body turned into sugar, poured into tea I found the meaning
of life
All I needed was ink to be a black boy.
I walk on the street looking for eyes that will caress my face.
I sang in the elevators believing I was going to heaven.
I got off at the 86th floor, walked down the corridor looking for
fresh butts.
My comes turns into a silver dollar on the bed.
I look out the window and see nobody, I go down to the street,
look up at my window and see nobody.
So I talk to the fire hydrant, asking “Do you have bigger tears
then I do?”
Nobody around, I piss anywhere.
My Gabriel horns, my Gabriel horns: unfold the cheerfulies,
my gay jubilation.”

Peter Orlovsky

Nov. 24th, 1957, Paris

 
 

A note on spellings:

«I’ve seen “Frist Poem” spelled “First Poem” a couple of times. One web page I’ve come across, which appears to have copied the contents of this page, “corrected” the title of this poem. I didn’t look to see if other “corrections” were made.
Peter couldn’t spell. Or, let’s look at it another way. This is how Peter spelled. I’m assuming that most publishers of his work attempted to keep his own spellings intact. I believe Peter’s spelling rendered his thoughts accurately.
Once, in Peter and Allen’s apartment I was leaving a message for Allen, who was away. Peter was writing down my message which happened to contain the words “two thieves”. Peter wrote down “two thives” and I said, “No, it’s spelled T – H – I – E . . . ” etc. Another visitor who happened to be present almost leapt for my throat saying, in effect, “How dare you correct Peter’s spelling?” This, in my opinion, is going too far.»

Brian Nation

Where the Story Really Starts

The Man Who Sold the World is the third studio album by David Bowie, originally released on Mercury Records in November 1970 in the US, and in April 1971 in the UK. The album was Bowie’s first with the nucleus of what would become the Spiders from Mars, the backing band made famous by The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in 1972. Though author David Buckley has described Bowie’s previous record David Bowie (Space Oddity) as “the first Bowie album proper”, NME critics Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray have said of The Man Who Sold the World, “this is where the story really starts”. Departing from the folk music of Bowie’s debut album, The Man Who Sold the World is a hard rock and heavy metal album. It has been claimed that this album’s release marks the birth of glam rock.

The album was written and rehearsed at David Bowie’s home in Haddon Hall, Beckenham, an Edwardian mansion converted to a block of flats that was described by one visitor as having an ambience “like Dracula‘s living room”. As Bowie was preoccupied with his new wife Angie at the time, the music was largely arranged by guitarist Mick Ronson and bassist/producer Tony Visconti. Although Bowie is officially credited as the composer of all music on the album, biographers such as Peter Doggett have marshaled evidence to the contrary, quoting Visconti saying “the songs were written by all four of us. We’d jam in a basement, and Bowie would just say whether he liked them or not.”

Much of the album had a distinct heavy metal edge that distinguishes it from Bowie’s other releases, and has been compared to contemporary acts such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. The record also provided some unusual musical detours, such as the title track’s use of Latin rhythms to hold the melody. The sonic heaviness of the album was matched by the subject matter, which included insanity (All the Madmen), gun-toting assassins and Vietnam War commentary (Running Gun Blues), an omniscient computer (Saviour Machine), and Lovecraftian Elder Gods (The Supermen). The song She Shook Me Cold was an explanation of a heterosexual encounter. The album has also been seen as reflecting the influence of such figures as Aleister Crowley, Franz Kafka and Friedrich Nietzsche.

 
 

The original 1970 US release of The Man Who Sold the World employed a cartoon-like cover drawing by Bowie’s friend Michael J. Weller, featuring a cowboy in front of the Cane Hill mental asylum

 
 

 
 

The first UK cover, on which Bowie is seen reclining in a Mr Fish “man’s dress”, was an early indication of his interest in exploiting his androgynous appearance. The dress was designed by British fashion designer Michael Fish, and Bowie also used it in February 1971 on his first promotional tour to the United States, where he wore it during interviews despite the fact that the Americans had no knowledge of the as yet unreleased UK cover. It has been said that his “bleached blond locks, falling below shoulder level”, were inspired by a Pre-Raphaelite painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Overcoming Temptations

The Temptation of Saint-Anthony, by Max Ernst

 
 

In 1946 the David L. LoewAlbert Lewin film production company held a contest for a painting on the theme of Saint Anthony’s Temptation, with the winner to be used in the film The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (Albert Lewin, 1947). The movie is in black and white except for the one shot of Max Ernst’s Temptation in color. Various artists produced paintings on this subject, and contest was won by Max Ernst, whose work was duly shown on-screen. However, the most well-known of these paintings is a failed contestant, Salvador Dalí‘s version. This was the only art contest in which Dalí participated during his lifetime.

 
 

The Temptation of St. Anthony, Salvador Dalí, 1946

 
 

Besides Dalí and Ernst, Ivan Albright, Eugene Berman, Leonora Carrington, Paul Delvaux, Dorothea Tanning, Leonor Fini, Louis Guglielmi, Horace Pippin, Abraham Rattner and Stanley Spencer, were also invited to create a work on the theme. Fini did not produce a painting, but the others were paid $500 for their submissions, with an additional $2,500 prize for the winner.

 
 

The Torment of Saint Anthony, attributed to Michelangelo, c. 1487–1488. Giorgio Vasari in his Lives of the Artists noted that Michelangelo had painted St. Anthony after a print by Martin Schongauer

 
 

The Temptation of St. Anthony, Hieronymus Bosch (triptych, c. 1501)

 
 

Throughout history, artists and authors (including Paul Cézanne and Hieronymus Bosch) have used the temptation of St. Anthony as subject matter for creative works. Dalí’s depiction is classical, erotic, and surrealist.

The Temptation of Saint Anthony (French La Tentation de Saint Antoine) is a book which the French author Gustave Flaubert spent practically his whole life fitfully working on, in three versions he completed in 1849, 1856 (extracts published at the same time) and 1872 before publishing the final version in 1874. It takes as its subject the famous temptation faced by Saint Anthony the Great in the Egyptian desert, a theme often repeated in medieval and modern art.

The temptations of Saint Anthony were:

Frailty
The Seven Deadly Sins
The Heresiarchs
The Martyrs
The Magicians
The Gods
Science
Food
Lust and Death
The Monsters
Metamorphosis

In September 1849, Flaubert completed the first version of a novel, The Temptation of Saint Anthony. He read the novel aloud to Louis Bouilhet and Maxime Du Camp over the course of four days, not allowing them to interrupt or give any opinions. At the end of the reading, his friends told him to throw the manuscript in the fire, suggesting instead that he focus on day-to-day life rather than fantastic subjects.

Flaubert exercised an extraordinary influence over Guy de Maupassant, Edmond de Goncourt, Alphonse Daudet,  Émile Zola and Franz Kafka. Even after the decline of the Realist school, Flaubert did not lose prestige in the literary community; he continues to appeal to other writers because of his deep commitment to aesthetic principles, his devotion to style, and his indefatigable pursuit of the perfect expression.

He has been admired or written about by almost every major literary personality of the 20th century, including philosophers and sociologists such as Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Paul Sartre whose partially psychoanalytic portrait of Flaubert in The Family Idiot was published in 1971. The Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa is another great admirer of Flaubert.

The Brazilian Kafka

 
 

The Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector was a riddle-some and strange personality. Strikingly beautiful, with catlike green eyes, she died in Rio de Janeiro in 1977 at the age of only 57. Some said she wrote like Virginia Woolf and resembled Marlene Dietrich. She was ‘very, very sexy’, remembered a friend. Yet she needed a great many cigarettes, painkillers, anti-depressants, as well as anti-psychotics and sleeping pills to get through her final years. Lispector had great fortitude over her illness, it was said, and suffered the ravages of ovarian cancer equably and without complaint. According to her biographer Benjamin Moser, Lispector’s was a life fraught with the shadow of past failures and past sorrows. Born in 1920 in what is now Ukraine, she emerged from the world of East European orthodox Jewry with its side-locks, kaftans and Talmudic mysticism. Dreadfully, her mother had been gang-raped by Russian soldiers during the pogroms that followed the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917; her grandfather had earlier been murdered. Even by the standards of Russian anti-Semitism, the family’s was an unusually wretched story of immigration.
In the winter of 1921, harried by thieving Jew-baiters and other opportunists, the Lispectors fled their home for the New World. On arrival in northeast Brazil, they scraped a pittance through teaching and odd jobs. Clarice (born Chaya) Lispector was barely one year old when she reached Brazil; in her adult years, not surprisingly, she liked to claim the country as her spiritual home and the place where the Portuguese-language writer in her was born.

Her fiction is haunted by her family history of uprooting and exile, says Moser. The atrocities and expulsions suffered by Ukrainian Jewry after the first world war had engendered a thoroughgoing skepticism and distrustfulness in Lispector. In coming to Brazil with her parents and two older sisters she knew she had escaped a great danger. Assimilation into Brazilian society promised an escape from the sorrows and derision of the past, so the Lispectors decided to change their names to sound less Yiddish and more Portuguese. Though Clarice would never again set foot in her native Ukraine, her writing gave covert expression to the displacement and wretchedness felt by emigrés everywhere, Moser suggests.

She published her first novel, Near to the Wildheart in 1943 when she was just twenty-three, and the next year was awarded the Graça Aranha Prize for the best first novel. Many felt she had given Brazilian literature a unique voice in the larger context of Portuguese literature. After living variously in Italy, the UK, Switzerland and the US, in 1959, Lispector with her children returned to Brazil where she wrote her most influential novels including The Passion According to G.H. She died in 1977, shortly after the publication of her final novel, The Hour of the Star.

A paixão segundo G.H. (The Passion According to G.H.) was written in a quick burst at the end of 1963, following a period of difficulty in Lispector’s life. “It’s strange,” she remembered, “because I was in the worst of situations, sentimentally as well as in my family, everything complicated, and I wrote The Passion, which has nothing to do with that.” The novel was published in the following year by Editora do Autor, which was run by Lispector’s friends Rubem Braga and Fernando Sabino.

The work takes the form of a monologue by a woman, identified only as G.H., telling of the crisis that ensued the previous day after she crushed a cockroach in the door of a wardrobe. Its canonical status was recognized in 1988 by its inclusion in the Arquivos Collection, the UNESCO series of critical editions of the greatest works of Latin American literature. It has been translated into English twice, the first time in 1988 by Ronald W. Sousa, and then by Idra Novey in 2012.

G.H., a well-to-do Rio sculptress, enters the room of her maid, which is as clear and white ‘as in an insane asylum from which dangerous objects have been removed’. There she sees a cockroach – black, dusty, prehistoric – crawling out of the wardrobe and, panicking, slams the door on it. Her irresistible fascination with the dying insect provokes a spiritual crisis, in which she questions her place in the universe and her very identity, propelling her towards an act of shocking transgression. Clarice Lispector’s spare, deeply disturbing yet luminous novel transforms language into something otherworldly, and is one of her most unsettling and compelling works. The Passion According to G.H, is brocaded with a range of literary influences from Franz Kafka to the Bible.

The American poet Elizabeth Bishop proclaimed Lispector ‘better’ even than the Argentine fabulist Jorge Luis Borges, and set about translating her into English. Since then, Lispector has been championed by, among others, Edmund White, Orhan Pamuk and Colm Tóibín. Yet she remains unknown to the general reader.

Metamorphosis of My Guardian Angel

Metamorfosis de mi ángel guardian (Metamorphosis of My Guardian Angel), by Cheiro (my former pseudonym or “incarnation”), 1998. This mixed media drawing, made in one night (while I was drinking a bottle of Chilean wine) was inspired by Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Salvador Dalí and Dürer

 
 

Wing of a Blue Roller, Albretch Dürer, 1512

 
 

The Metamorphosis of Narcissus, Salvador Dalí, c.1937

 
 

The Temptation of St. Anthony, Salvador Dalí, 1946

Metamorphosed Obsessions

 
 

Metamorphosis is the sixth album by California rock band Papa Roach. It was released on March 24, 2009. The album was originally planned to be titled Days of War, Nights of Love, which is a lyrical quote from the song No More Secrets on the band’s previous album, The Paramour Sessions. Subsequently, two songs on the album are titled Days of War and Nights of Love. The album was renamed to Metamorphosis to mark the band’s tenth anniversary of signing with DreamWorks Records in 1999 and all of the changes the band had experienced in that time. This is their first album to feature Tony Palermo on drums, after the departure of Dave Buckner.

Papa Roach was formed in 1993, as a funk rock and rap metal band. In 1997, Papa Roach released their first album, Old Friends From Young Years, though the album failed to get the band a record deal. Papa Roach release new demos in 1998, and a demo in 1999 featuring the songs, Last Resort, Broken Home, She Loves Me Not, Infest, and Dead Cell. Papa Roach toured in 1999; the band had an underground fan base in California. Due to the underground success of the 1999 demo that features, amongst other songs, Last Resort, Papa Roach were signed to DreamWorks Records.

 
 

 
 

In late of 1999 Papa Roach went to the studio to record Infest. Though many songs including Last Resort, Broken Home, Revenge, Dead Cell had already recorded, the band re-recorded them and made some changes to the lyrics. Broken Home deals with Jacoby Shaddix broken relationship with his father. Papa Roach decided what songs would appear on the album, though the band only wrote 3 songs for the album, Obsession, which would later renamed Between Angels And Insects, Blood Brothers and Never Enough. Papa Roach got Adam Goldstein to play DJ for some tracks including Snakes. Papa Roach were finally done recording the album by early 2000.

 
 

 
 

The video of Between Angels and Insects was directed by Joseph Kahn and features the band playing in a concrete basement/garage. The camera does several special effects like morph from angle to angle rapidly, show the band moshing in super slow motion and even passing through the band’s body, revealing their insides, effects that are reminiscent of the film version of Fight Club (David Fincher 1999), . Cockroaches appear on several occasions, even coming out of Jacoby Shaddix’s mouth when he screams.

The song’s lyrics feature numerous references to the novel Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. A couple of lines in the song, “…working jobs that you hate for that shit you don’t need…”, “…the things you own, own you now…”, are taken directly from a speech by Tyler Durden in the film adaptation of the book. It also seems critical of consumerism, as the chorus lyrics include, “Take my money, take my possessions, take my obsession, I don’t need that shit…”.

The opening riff is similar to the main riff to the song Prowler, a song by the British heavy metal band Iron Maiden, from their self-titled album.

The band’s name comes from  Shaddix’s step-grandfather, Howard William Roatch, who was nicknamed Papa Roach. Roatch committed suicide in 2006 after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The band pay homage to him with The Paramour Sessions and during live performances of the song Roses On My Grave.

Creative Optic

Illustration by Jiří Slíva

 
 

First row: А. П. Че́хов (Anton Chekhov); J.R.R. Tolkien; Franz Kafka; Betty MacDonald (misspelled McDonald)

Second row: Jack Kerouac; Marcel Proust; Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; R. Kipling

Third row: Marcel Duchamp; Stendhal; Karl May; Karl Marx

Fourth row: Magritte; S. Freud; Louis Pasteur; Günter Grass

Fifth row: Salvador Dalí; E.M. Remarque; Jaroslav Hašek; Isaac B. Singer

Enthralled by Psychoanalytic Theory

“Please — consider me a dream.”
Franz Kafka

 
 

Illustration by Jiří Slíva

 
 

A Dream is a short story by Franz Kafka. In the short piece, the narrator describes a dream, where Joseph K. is walking through a cemetery. There are tombstones around him, and the setting is the typical misty and dim atmosphere. Soon he sees someone carving out a name on a stone, and as he approaches he soon notices it is his own name.
Kafka was known to be enthralled by psychoanalytic theory primarily due to his fascination with dreams. As we already know, one of his most famous stories, The Metamorphosis, starts with the main character waking from a dream. He felt there was great power, both creatively and emotionally, with dreams. The story is also an example of the theme of mortality, lack of power among the living, and the struggle to stay alive while aware of one’s impending death.

 
 

“Josef K. was dreaming:It was a beautiful day and K. wanted to go on a walk. But no sooner had he taken a few steps than he was already at the graveyard.Its paths were highly artificial, impractical in their windings, yet he glided along such a path as if hovering unshakably over raging water. From far away, he spotted a freshly dug burial mound at which he wanted to halt. This burial mound exerted an almost enticing effect on him, and he felt he could not get there fast enough. At times, however, he could barely glimpse the mound, it was covered with flags that twisted and flapped powerfully against one another; the flag bearers could not be seen,but there appeared to be great rejoicing.While his eyes were still riveted in the distance, he abruptly saw the burial mound next to the path – indeed almost behind him by now. He hastily leaped into the grass. Since the path continued rushing along beneath his feet as he leaped off, he staggered and fell to his knees right in front of the mound. Two men were standing behind the grave,holding a headstone between them in the air; the moment K. showed up, they thrust the stone into the earth, and it stood there as if cemented to the ground. Instantly,a third man emerged from the bushes, and K. promptly identified him as an artist. He was wearing only trousers and a misbuttoned shirt; a velvet cap was on his head; in his hand, he clutched an ordinary pencil, drawing figures in the air even as he approached.He now applied this pencil to the top end of the stone;the stone was very high, he did not even have to lean down, but he did have to bend forward,since he did not wish to step on the burial mound, which separated him from the stone. So he stood on tiptoe, steadying himself by propping his left hand against the surface of the stone. Through some extremely skillful manipulation, he succeeded in producing gold letters with that ordinary pencil; he wrote: “Here LIES—” Each letter came out clean and beautiful,deeply incised and in purest gold. After writing words, he looked back at K.; K., who was very eager to see what would come next in the inscription, gazed at the stone, paying little heed to the man. And in fact, the man was about to continue writing, but he could not, something was hindering him, he lowered the pencil and turned to K.again. This time,K. looked back at the artist, who, he noticed, was very embarrassed but unable to indicate the reason for his embarrassment. All his earlier liveliness had vanished. As a result, K. likewise felt embarrassed; they exchanged helpless glances; there was some kind of misunderstanding between them, which neither of them could clear up. To make matters worse, a small chime began tinkling inopportunely from the tomb chapel,but the artist waved his raised hand wildly, and the chime stopped.After a brief pause,it started in again; this time very softly and then promptly breaking off with no special admonition from him; it was as if it merely wanted to test its own sound. K. was inconsolable about the artist’s dilemma, he began to cry, sobbing into his cupped hands for a long time. The artist waited for K. to calm down, and then, finding no other solution, he decided to keep writing all the same. His first small stroke was a deliverance for K., but the artist obviously managed to execute it only with utmost reluctance;moreover, the penmanship was not as lovely — above all,it seemed to lack gold, the stroke moved along pale and unsteady, only the letter became very large. It was a J, it was almost completed; but now the artist furiously stamped one foot into the burial mound, making the dark soil fly up all around. At last, K. understood him; there was no time left to apologize;with all his fingers he dug into the earth, which offered scant resistance;everything seemed prepared; a thin crust of earth had been set up purely for show; right beneath it a huge hole with sheer sides gaped open, and K.,flipped over on his back by a gently current, sank into the hole. But while, with his head still erect on his neck, he was welcomed down below by the impenetrable depth, his name, with tremendous embellishments, rushed across the stone up above.Enraptured by this sight, he woke up.”

The Half Life of Gregor Samsa

 
 

Insect Dreams: The Half Life of Gregor Samsa is a sequel to Franz Kafka‘s short-story The Metamorphosis, written in 2002 by Marc Estrin.

Rather than being thrown away like trash, Gregor Samsa was secretly sold to a Viennese sideshow by the Samsas’ chambermaid. He then met various figures like Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein, Oswald Spengler and Albert Einstein and witnessed American Prohibition, the Scopes trial, was involved in Alice Paul‘s feminist movement, encountered the Ku Klux Klan, and conferred with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Robert Oppenheimer. The novel made allusions to post-World War I Vienna through the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Reciting Rainer Maria Rilke and discoursing on Spengler’s Decline of the West, Gregor attracts the attention of writer Robert Musil, who tells him that although western humanity is finished, that “Society…is in a larval state. What it needs is a larval model to lead it onward, upward, and out of the corral,” and Gregor is that larval model, his ironic task being to teach us what it means to be human.

Estrin was born in Brooklyn, New York. He attended Queens College, studying chemistry and biology, then studied theater directing at UCLA. Estrin came to novel-writing late. In the fall of 1998, he and his wife Donna were on holiday in Prague and decided to visit the grave of Franz Kafka, whose work had always been important to him. His father had challenged him to read Thomas Mann‘s The Magic Mountain during the summer before he attended college. He left a note on the grave, inviting Kafka to drop by if he ever found himself in Burlington. Estrin said that the concept, an outline and the opening episodes of Insect Dreams arrived in Vermont one morning at 3 AM, three weeks after he visited Kafka’s grave. Insect Dreams appeared from BlueHen/Putnam in 2002. Since then it has been re-released (by Unbridled Books). Through the 1960s he worked in various repertory theaters in the United States, including the Pittsburgh Playhouse and the San Francisco Actor’s Workshop. But the Vietnam War and Bertold Brecht inspired him to become politically active.

Kafka for President

kafka for presidentDemonstration against Hubert Humphrey, New York City, October 9th, 1968. Photo by David Fenton

 
 

Vice President of the United States Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota decided to seek the Democratic Party nomination for President of the USA following the announcement by President Lyndon B. Johnson that he would not seek the party’s nomination. Johnson had been stalled by the anti-Vietnam War candidacy of Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, who along with Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York, became the main opponents for Humphrey. The contest between the men featured a battle for control of the Democratic Party, and cast Humphrey’s “old politics”, against the “new politics” of McCarthy and Kennedy. The main cause of the division was the Vietnam War, which intensified during Humphrey’s tenure as Vice President and grew increasingly unpopular.

Humphrey first entered presidential politics in 1952 running as a favorite son candidate in Minnesota. In 1960, he mounted a full-scale run, winning primaries in South Dakota and Washington D.C., but ultimately lost the Democratic nomination to future President John F. Kennedy.

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