Friday, December 16, 2011

Book #13: The Complete Stories of Franz Kafka

It took about four months of reading it and sixteen months from the time I bought it, but I have finally finished the complete works of Kafka. I thought it would be a lot better than it was, but I had to admit that Kafka's writing, in greater exposure, tends to be either riveting or impenetrable. Kafka's strengths is a jarring prose with the tone of dull bureaucratic pomp, often using run-on sentences or paragraphs. However, when the premise is dull, as is the case with some of the stories, the result is excruciating.

Nevertheless, it was my first time reading the Metamorphosis, which is perhaps Kafka's most famous work, though I've been partial to The Trial, if only for my familiarity with consular pomp over my travels. Many of the short stories amount to little more than a paragraph, while others appear not quite complete, though given Kafka's style, there's not much lost in reading an unfinished story.

Broadly speaking, the stories might be divided into ones with a political theme or setting, and those in a more natural setting. I enjoyed most of the ones that had a political component, such as In the Penal Colony, The Warden of the Tomb, and A Hunger Artist. Others were set in nature or discussed the ordinary lives of ordinary people in alarming detail, though my not enjoying them is probably a matter of personal preferences.

A few of the stories that Kafka wrote are written from the perspective of an animal. I was so struck by the transformation in The Metamorphosis that I didn't realize it was all written from the perspective of an insect. It is, of course, along with A Report to an Academy and Investigations of a Dog.

When I struggled to finish some of the stories, I did consider just what it is I like about Kafka's writing. I suppose it's easy when the writing is masterful and the idea is novel, as is the case with The Metamorphosis, but I struggled to put my finger on what it is that I find so appealing about the other works. At least some of my fondness for Kafka is for his excoriation of minor officialdom, the sort of which insists on rules for the sake of rules, as well as for the power that comes from enforcing those rules.

A Kafkan story today might well be about a mundane, absurd event in our lives where minor, unimportant people exert a great deal of influence in our lives. A perfect example might be the airport, where the insignificant, unimportant nonsense of our lives is elevated to life-or-death consequences, in part, as a giant make-work program for the individuals, agencies and companies that enjoy a stake in the elevation. I'm not sure how much I'd like Kafka if I hadn't traveled and produced reams of redundant paperwork for the privilege of doing so, though I imagine that I would regardless.

No comments: