1. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Kafka

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by 123456789, Aug 13, 2013.

    I think he is an absolutely terrible writer. Am I the only one who thinks this? For those who like him, please explain why, especially in regards to the actual writing. Or, am I just running into the wrong translator?
     
  2. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I really like The Trial, 'The Metamorphosis' and 'The Country Doctor', though I can't claim to be a fan of Kafka. I'll give it a try anyway.

    Kafka is weird, and can be funny if you read him in the right way, but I think the main problem is that artsy-intellectual types keep praising him - praising him so much that when you eventually get around to reading Kafka it can seem underwhelming. I can definitely say I found this to be the case, and I'm really still trying to shake years of saccharine praise from off of the Kafka I have in my head.

    Also, the translation, which one have you used? Because often in a story like 'The Metamorphosis' the translation can be not only inaccurate but actually misleading, I've read so many translations that have Gregor Samsa turn into some sort of cockroach, but this isn't what the original German word means at all, I think it means 'beetle' and when you read the rest of the story Gregor displays almost none of the qualities of a cockroach beside the very very obvious.

    I recommend that you view the YouTube video, recreating one of Nabokov's lectures on 'The Metamorphosis', and at least give it a good viewing. If you don't find yourself appreciating Kafka more then maybe he just isn't to your taste. I personally really like the story because I find it a very clever recreation of a nightmare, but one from which he can't wake up from. Everything unfolds at this rather lucid pace until the end that is actually rather horrible in it's sweetness, and I find that dynamic very interesting. It's also a very grim, bleak story - it's the kind of thing I imagine David Lynch would have wrote if he was a writer, and was very depressed.

    But, saying that, I often find people overstate Kafka's weirdness, and vastly understate Kafka's humor. Most people don't, or even can't think of Kafka as a writer who tried to make you laugh, but he did. He has a very weird sense of humor of things being exaggerated, and characters not matching their surroundings. This has actually colored people's idea of Kafka so much that even when they understand the humor they just don't find it funny.

    If it is that story that is the problem. A lot of the time I have trouble deciding how to take a story. Kafka's very earliest works are very obviously prose-poems, being highly intricate and thought out, but also being too well thought out too in a way as the veiled meanings start to lose their subtlety and bubble up to the surface. This practice colored the rest of his output for better and for worse.

    I think most people have these preconceptions about Kafka that really really hurt their readings of him. I hope that if you try and reread him as if you had never heard of him before you find him more enjoyable. If not, he just might not be for you.
     
  3. IronPalm
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    IronPalm Banned

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    I will second Lemex's recommendation for reading Nabokov's excellent lecture on "The Metamorphosis".

    Personally, I consider Kafka's work very hit-or-miss. I love "The Metamorphosis" and "In the Penal Colony", but many of his other short stories fall terribly flat. To me, there is one very remarkable aspect to Kafka's writing, which I believe he is the first author to use.

    Namely, he introduces a typical, logical situation and cast of characters. And then, during the course of the story, things become increasingly deranged, until one realizes that the story and all its characters are completely mad.

    It's a powerful technique, though I have always felt it would be even more effective in the medium of film moreso than in literature. One of my favorite directors, Shion Sono, appears to use this approach in many of his pictures.

    But yes, I can understand stumbling into several Kafka stories that miss the mark, and concluding his reputation is undeserved.
     
  4. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    'In the Penal Colony' is a a story I respect more than I actually enjoy, but I do think that some of Kafka's stories just don't work. The ones I like are vastly outnumbered by the ones I didn't like, but the ones I like shine all the more because of that I guess.
     
  5. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm reading Breon Mitchell's new translation of the Trial. You're right, I do find the story a little underwhelming, but worse, the characters are 1 d, and even worse, the language is extremely simple, and the sentences are not only repetitive, but exhaustive in what I would consider bland description and unnecessary explanation. I love prose, too, but this is just rote and boring.

    Can you suggest a better translator maybe?

    Thanks for good replys, btw,guys.
     
  6. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I have the Idris Parry translation of The Trial and I really enjoyed it. If anything I'd suggest that one. If there is a better one I don't know it anyway, but I'm not amazingly familiar with the book. I have wrote about Kafka's short stories for university - that's why I'm more confident talking about them, and not completely sure when talking about the novels.

    If you want to try more than just The Trial, Stanley Corngold's translation of 'The Metamorphosis' is easily the best and most accurate I've found.
     
  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I read the Edwin Muir translation of his works. This translation of his short stories (including The Metamorphosis) is probably the most popular. The problem is that Muir interpreted the text as he translated, though I thought his translation of The Metamorphosis was very good.

    With regards to his simple, straightforward language, Kafka was trained as a lawyer, and the way he writes reminds me a bit of how a businessman would write. So his vocabulary and sentence structure can come off as being fairly uninspired. This is not a translation issue but something that's simply inherent to the way Kafka wrote. Still, each of the translations has its faults. My girlfriend has read a few of Kafka's stories in German, so maybe I'll ask her what she thinks.
     
  8. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    This is also very true. A lot of Kafka's stories seem to be about people who are tired, in a rut, uninspired. It fits perfectly the tone he was going for that Kafka wouldn't have this rich, beautiful, sophisticated style when his characters are almost never - if never rich, beautiful or sophisticated. Gregor Samsa is a very depressed man whose metamorphosis into the beetle is in a very weird but very real way a blessing, Josoph K - I don't even remember what he worked as but I seem to think he was, like Kafka, a legal clerk.
     
  9. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    A blessing!? I guess we have very different interpretations of the text then. :p
     
  10. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    That's what I thought at first, but after re-reading the text a number of times trying to argue a Marxist interpretation of the text (don't ask, long story - lead to a university paper) the Samsa family is entirely dependent on Gregor in order to survive. The father left his job, there is a reason given but the distinct impression is that that reason is fallacious, the father just felt secure with his son as a travelling salesman and the money he was making. Gregor even found the flat they live in and is the only one suggesting his younger sister go to music school, the only form of true beauty in the story until Gregor dies at the end (it's a story almost 100 years old, I believe there is a sell-by date on spoilers. :p) so Gregor has became by the start of the story, literally the only productive member of the family in terms of contributing to the greater society.

    When the story starts he has already been turned into the giant beetle, and the Samsa family is now forced to learn how to live with him as the burden, which they do, very slowly. Set free of his responsibilities Gregor spends the rest of the story experiencing what little joy he can have left in the world, his younger sister's music, and having people look after him. But this joy for Gregor is rather shallow, it always was. And also, Nabokov's lecture pointed this out and now I can't help but think of it, Gregor never learns that he has wings.

    It's weird to think of it this way, I know, but there is something liberating in finding out how much you have been trapped, either by circumstance or by self-inflicted. It's rather existentialist actually, this reading. :D It can obviously be argued that I'm imposing a rather existentialist interpretation onto the text, and you wouldn't exactly be wrong I suppose. I'm sure, though, that Sartre once said of the French people they they were never freer than under German occupation, the same can be said of Gregor in a weird, 'Kafkaesque' sort of way.
     
  11. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    So the way I interpreted it was that Gregor felt tremendous guilt because he was a burden to his family. They had to look after him, give him food, etc. I think Kafka drew heavily from his own life when writing The Metamorphosis. He suffered from insomnia and may have suffered from a few other disorders (anorexia, schizoid personality disorder). He was also very self-conscious and not comfortable in his own body. So I get the impression he felt out of place and out of touch with his family and friends. It's been a while since I read Kafka's diaries, but I do remember him talking about some of these problems. I saw evidence of some of these problems in Gregor as well.
     
  12. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I've not read his diaries I must admit, but I picked up on his feeling of guilt - I took it as the thing he needed to be liberated from the most. I think this sets 'The Metamorphosis' out, that it can be interpreted in a number of ways.
     
  13. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I highly recommend his diaries. I think the collection is simply called Diaries. He talks a lot about his frustrations about becoming a writer. There are also some weird entries in there. All in all I get the impression that he was a strange individual (but then again, aren't all writers?).
     
  14. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I think I shall. This actually made me feel bad, me not reading them as I was writing about the short stories seems now like academic laziness. But, I am an idiot. :p
     
  15. IronPalm
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    IronPalm Banned

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    You didn't gather that impression from simply reading his stories?
     
  16. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think your impression of Kafka is probably based on a very poor translation.
     
  17. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    No. Just because a writer's stories are strange doesn't automatically make the writer strange.
     
  18. IronPalm
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    IronPalm Banned

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    Was that directed at me?

    Depends on the strangeness. Occasionally, when I read a writer's work, I come to the conclusion that no sane person could possibly have written this.

    This is most evident with Kafka. You cannot tell me that any sane person could have written something like "In the Penal Colony" or "A Country Doctor". Their mind just couldn't make such associations, and think of such ideas.
     
  19. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I agree in theory, but not in practice. Lewis Carrol, the guy who wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, was a math nerd and Anglican deacon, and the biggest square I've ever read about.
     
  20. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    This all comes down to the issue of separating the artist from his work. There are lots of writers who write strange and absurd works (Borges, Julio Cortazar, Witold Gombrowicz), and as far as I know, none of these guys had any mental/health issues nor were they "strange" in any way.
     
  21. IronPalm
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    Being a math nerd myself, I can tell you that we are all a slightly crazy bunch! Also, how are you so certain that he was perfectly sane and normal? Every biography I have read of Carroll mentions him being eccentric and even disturbed. He had a mania for young girls (possibly even wanting to marry 11-year old Alice Liddell as an adult), and suffered from migraines and epilepsy, which would probably drive anyone slightly mad.

    Just because they didn't have mental issues that required treatment doesn't mean they were sane and normal. I'm not familiar with any of those authors' works, unfortunately.

    Writers whose works impressed upon me that they were insane are Kafka, Dostoevsky, Faulkner, and to a slightly lesser extent, Oscar Wilde.
     
  22. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Haha, fair enough. The biography I read of him was pretty defensive of all those things I must admit, laying most of them down to essentially the phrase 'It was a different time'.
     
  23. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    What's your definition of sane and normal? I feel like if you look hard enough, you can find traces of insanity in anyone.

    Faulkner and Dostoevsky insane? I guess our definitions of insane are just very, very different.
     
  24. IronPalm
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    I'm not even looking, let alone particularly hard. I simply read something like "Sanctuary" or "In the Penal Colony", and think to myself; 'this is absolutely brilliant, as well as completely nuts!'

    In certain regards, the work does reveal a fair amount about its author. Especially when that work is really good.

    Definitely. The character of Svidrigailov in "Crime and Punishment"? His dreams about the nature of reality? Even Raskolnikov himself? Would any sane person think that way?

    Or the aforementioned "Sanctuary" by Faulkner?
     
  25. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I honestly feel like you're reaching here. Also, I don't think it's fair to say that an author's unusual or unorthodox characters/beliefs are the result of insanity.
     

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