The Kafka’s way

Franz Kafka

How much of our (storytellers, screenwriters, directors) primary concern should be transparent in our narratives? Should our intent or obsessions be fully disclosed in the tales we spin?

The audience may not necessarily want to be led by hand, which is the case when a screen or a page turns into medium to primarily transfer information or diagnosis. The audience wants an experience (not knowledge). For that it needs space for (emotional) movement, a necessary element of any experience.

That Kafka is a genius we all know. Encounter with his works shatters our souls and minds. Only the passage of time, pressures of our daily lives and the barrage of sometimes petty, sometimes not so petty human dramas eases the inner turmoil caused by Franz.

So what does “The process” mean? Why is it so disquieting, so devastating, so shocking? A tint of metaphysics, a hefty dose of surreal, a social satire, a psychological vivisection - it’s all there. But what’s the primary engine that drives the narrative?

Milan Kundera in his awesome “Testaments Betrayed” warns against attempts to figure out the meaning in Franz’s Kafka works. For Kundera asking questions like “what does it mean” or “what does Kafka want to say” is plain ridiculous. Such efforts miss the point, flatten his artistic scope and cheapen the Kafka’s experience.

On the other hand Karl Erich Grozinger in his “Kafka und die Kabbala” convincingly shows the ties between “The process” and the cabala tradition of seeing our existence as the subject of the ongoing metaphysical judgment. Grozinger amply quotes chassidic scholars whose images and structures have striking similarities to the scenes and events used by Kafka in “The process”.

After reading Grozinger there is no doubt that Kafka, intensely participating in the life of Jewish Prague, was enveloped in the chassidic metaphysics. Yet his writing does not immediately reflect that. The scholars place the eternal process in the majestic and imposing “heavens”. Kafka locates the same in the everyday, the gray, the cheap and the dirty. He removes all transparently ethnic and religious indications but keeps a bare bone assumption central to the cabala - that all our deeds are constantly evaluated and judged by the Higher Court. That our existence is in fact the subject for an ongoing judgment. That our faulty souls are eternally judged in the process. That all of us are guilty.

Perhaps the Kafka’s storytelling lesson is to keep the transcendental core of a story hidden. Or to stripe one of our inner torments of its religious and cultural “clothes” and present it raw. Or to mix the metaphysical with the mundane.

Now that I know what Kafka wanted to say in “The process” his prose remains as intriguing and inspiring as before. Luckily no amount of analysis can destroy meeting a masterpiece.

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