Friday, June 26, 2020
While thumbing through the June 29 “New Yorker Magazine”, I ran across a retro-fiction short piece written by Franz Kafka. Remember him? His story, “The Rescue Will Begin In Its Own Time, written sometime between 1917 and 1924 (previously unpublished), feels strikingly-current. Even in today’s very complex terms it’s compelling and thought provoking.
There’s also an essay by a 70-something-year-old journalist who describes offsetting his “self-isolation blahs” by enrolling in a Zoom-based literature course. That required re-reading and discussing “Crime and Punishment”, which re-awakening him to that great work. What a timely and interesting course during these long months of indoors–time to focus on interpreting Dostoevsky’s character, Raskolnikov, one of the most brilliant mental-sufferers in literary history.
As a young reader, I frightened easily. Kafka’s reputation for fusing realism and the fantastic made me avoid his work. An example, this quote from his story “Metamorphosis” scared me terribly: As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. I couldn’t handle it. In fact, the common literary term, Kafkaesque, was inspired by his nightmarishly complex, bizarre, absurd, and impersonal stories. For me now, after reading his “New Yorker” story is intrigue and a desire for more. A new book about to become available, The Lost Writings,will carry some of Kafka’s previously unpublished fragments and stories.
As for Raskolnikov, I could never get enough, and in fact, the entire of Crime and Punishment enthralled me for years. It does even today. I’d love to participate in a course that re-reads and weighs the elements in this huge, complex philosophical-psychological novel. Thinking through this has me thinking that attempts to interpret elements of sociology-politics-cultures is easier with ideas set against historical settings rather than our contemporary world.
All this is to say, thank you, “New Yorker Magazine”, for reawakening me. I’ll get my hands on some Kafka and will search for a reading group that’ll work on Dostoevsky.
Dear Friends: More of how we evolve, finally and full-circle, toward our beginnings. Diana