Franz and the Kafkaesque – Arsenal

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For. Miguel Angel Sanchez de Armas

A surveyor who must reach a castle to which he has supposedly been called to work. An unattainable castle and a small-town life that is filled with the existence of a castle and its inhabitants, spiced with the arrival of the foreign surveyor, who never manages to enter the castle.

This is, in short, the argument of the castle from Franz Kafka, who has been considered the quintessential repository of an imagination close to the absurd, to the extent that it has resulted in an adjective to describe incoherent situations, nonsense or extravagance, as well as one or another work or decision from the world of politics.

The members of the Zona Rosa in the mid-1970s invariably used a chocarrero cliché to crown their analyzes of political events: “If Kafka were alive, he would be a Mexican costumbrista writer.”

I maintain that all authors, to a greater or lesser extent, write for someone, never exclusively for themselves. I hold it particularly in the case of Kafka, since his own literary executor left us enough evidence of it.

Indeed, Max Brod refers to a conversation with his dear friend in which he gives him precise instructions about the destination of his texts. One or two can be published, he tells her, but others (the majority) must be burned the instant after their death.

Brod replies that he loves him dearly, but that he definitely does not intend to carry out such an instruction. As I suppose that Franz would not have been so ill that he had not put his papers himself that night in the fireplace, I deduce that his true and deep purpose was to clear his conscience and transfer to his friend the responsibility of publicizing the work.

The symbolism in Kafka’s work has been extensively studied. It has been said that the castle represents the futility of human effort or man’s efforts to know divinity.

However, the perception of a literary work like Kafka’s, from this point of view, is diminished because it considerably reduces the value of the creation of a work both in terms of technique and content.

It is true that there are passages that look like fabled paintings, such as when in one passage the character “Olga” explains that the phrase “may you do well as a servant” is a blessing among officials, because it refers to the good living of lackeys of the castle, who seem to be the real masters.

The remoteness acquired by the castle and everything that lives in it, strips it of its human character. The presence of the servants of the castle only makes us think of the virtues and defects of men: the former must be cultivated and the latter dominated.

Many passages in the novel give rise to this type of reflection. However, it seems somewhat idle to give free rein to symbolic analysis. Because beyond literary theory, I believe that all reading must go through the sieve of the individual and social context of the reader. It is then that the symbolic part of a literary work acquires meaning.

Much more important seems to me the sense that imagination, madness, dreams, the absurd or the surreal acquire in Kafka’s work, under a cloak of reality. I consider that it reflects the type of creation that the Europe that transits between the 19th and 20th centuries was prepared to assume, even with the novelty that this work meant.

This statement is valid if we contrast this literature with the Latin American production that is part of the current of the wonderful real. García Márquez, Alejo Carpentier or Cortázar do not justify the context of the absurd, they simply present it to the reader.

A character that spits rabbits in the Bestiary of Cortázar, does not require presentation, justification or framework: the raw proposal is simply made to the reader.

And in “House Taken Over”, the house goes towards its inhabitants, who must corner themselves to give in to the threatening dwelling. Symbolism or exercise of imagination, it does not matter: the way of presenting it to the reader is different.

The boast of the absurdity that life in Macondo means is simply there. Perhaps one of the best lessons that the irruption of this type of successful literature gave us is that Latin American societies had the appropriate level of maturation to receive and appreciate this evolution of the narrative.

Latin American writers confess to being children of European and American literature, but they knew how to give their places of origin local works of universal value. Surely in this point lies the value of Kafka himself, Joyce, Guide or Proust, who made excellent literature for their societies, which at the same time meant a revolution on the universal plane.

I reinforce this appreciation with the multiple remarks I find about Kafka as a tortured, sick, lonely, depressed being with an anxious personality who, as a consequence, produced distressing and oppressive works.

However, the reading and rereading of Kafka’s work does not seem to support such characteristics in an anguished individuality. I even dare to suppose that seclusion due to illness generates a forced image of loneliness and torture, but it must not have been so much, if he knew how to enjoy female company so widely, a pleasure that even his illness did not cancel.

It is more consistent to consider that Kafka’s literature was received by a gloomy and anguished society, by a Europe that was struggling in multiple wars, internal and external, until it acquired the dimensions it reached in 1915 with the start of the First World War.

While Kafka directs his exercise of imagination towards a society that can dream of castles in which the services of a land surveyor are required, fifty years later the imaginative Latin American writers address themselves to a society that struggles against poverty, with its condition of political dependency and economical, but which allows itself a great deal of space for laughter and hallucination, even for laughing at itself.

I think that as in journalism, literature flourishes better in conflict. There is no news space in the world dedicated to reporting that everything is going in order, of the absence of news or of the positive in life.

In the same way, we have gained our literary heritage thanks to the conflict, both in the stories that the narrative offers us and thanks to the personality of the authors who have produced it.

Kafka an average man, measured, calm and good citizen? Surely he would not be the author of the work we know. Lonely sick, maybe. Creative genius heir to European disenchantment, with all certainty. Long live the problems!

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