When I read The Trial for the first time, I was underwhelmed. I’d read all these great writers who’d praised Kafka in interviews–they claimed he was the perfect genius, a standard to aspire to, a truly brilliant writer. But when I read The Trial, pretty much a year ago on the nose, I was left feeling “meh.”
Now, one year later, I’ve decided that I’m getting a Kafka tattoo–well, a drawing of his. A little bit of Kafka permanently inked into my flesh by thousands of little pinpricks. A little bit of Kafka always peeking out from under my rolled up sleeve. A little bit of Kafka dancing subtly on the flesh as the muscles of my forearms twitch at the keyboard or with a pen nestled into my fingers.
Why the sudden change of heart?
First off, I re-read The Trial, The Castle, The Metamorphosis, and plan on reading his entire story collection and Letters to Milena before I pull the trigger at the tattoo parlor. The strongest point of a Kafka novel–to me–is the way it’s unfinished. You reach the last page and it just stops. There’s more power in that to me than any of his words. That might be exaggeration, but the thought of Kafka sitting at a typewriter, so dissatisfied on so many levels, failing to finish his work–it moves me. Knowing how it must have weighed on him. How he must’ve driven himself mad over it.
The urge to re-read Kafka was paralyzing. I saw the bleak covers peeking out from my book-pile and forced myself through anything else I was reading in order to get my Kafka fix. I felt like a junkie. I needed Kafka. I was drawn. I related to him on a level that I’ve only ever related with David Foster Wallace.
I guess I’ve seen a Kafkaesque tint come over the day in and day out of my own life. Or at least, I’ve applied one through my own doing. I am overcome with anxiety about my future–my fears and the potential for failure. Even if my life isn’t necessary Kafkaesque–I think my blooming love for Kafka it has to do with my deepest fears: failure, humiliation, powerlessness.
I have recurring dreams where I must engage in physical battle with opponents that should be easily defeated, yet I find my fists impotent, my body weak–I just bounce off whatever it is I’m meant to beat. I struggle, I wear myself down, I take beatings and I lose–normally in front of spectators. My opponent is unfazed. The ramifications are that I lose not only the battle, but whatever I was battling for. The crowd jeers. I am mocked, shamed, humiliated. I am a disappointment, an embarrassment to my family and friends, disowned and ignored by loved ones.
Summarily: I am not enough.
I have this nightmare at least weekly, and have had it for some time. And the more I analyze what I think it says about me, the more I feel my relation to Kafka’s works. I am powerless. There are forces bigger than me and unknown to me that know more about me than I do. They are in control–I have only the semblance of power over my destiny. Even when I attempt to take action, I will be–as in my dream–impotent. Just as Kafka when he wrote a letter to his abusive father, as the letter was kept from the man by Kafka’s mother. When he finally mustered up the cajones to write to his dad, to pour his heart into it, to let him know what the truth was, a power outside of himself denied him the satisfaction. He gave it all he could, but something bigger than he was shut it down. We are always fighting an omnipotent unknown. We will always lose.
I don’t think any writer captures what it means to be a human being–particularly an unhappy human being, one paralyzed by his own nature. One who fears that his life will transmogrify into nightmare–or even one whose life already has.
*For those of you unfamiliar with Franz Kafka*