Friday, August 14, 2009

Franz Kafka, Still A Turn On

Writers whose names have been turned into adjectives are guaranteed to be name checked more often than read, none more so than Kafka. Yes, yes, we all know that the world becomes increasingly "Kafkaesque" with every minute. But just how little Kafka, or maybe how carelessly, becomes obvious when you suggest that Kafka is, well, an erotic writer. A grim, screwed up erotic writer, sure, but a writer who is explicit about sex, which is in the background everywhere and in the foreground every few pages.

Open to any chapter of The Trial (you can get it online here, though in what seems to be a dated translation), and you're likelu to hit an erotic scene/ The book begins with an uncomfortable discussion in K.'s neighbor's bedroom, and continues with K. watching out for the attractive neighbor, Fraulein Bustner and then realizing that she will think he is spying on her. His first appearance in court is interrupted by what seems to be an attempted rape (a common theme--and the centerpiece of "A Country Doctor", one of Kafka's best stories) right in the courtroom. And his visit to the lawyer is stymied when K. leaves the room to have sex with the maid (yes, another common Kafka theme) who's called him by smashing a plate against the wall, a setup that would not be out of place in a late night softcore movie. In a good way, I think.

I'm not going to try to do a close reading of Kafka here. Close readings of this sort are harder than they might seem, in part because whenever with Kafka you think you know what's going on, there's sex interrupting. It's worth mentioning, though, how beautifully the reception of Kafka falls into the classic Austro-Hungarian theme of repression. Freud is supposed to be all about sex, even when he's not. And Kafka is supposed to be all about the conflict of man and society and all that jazz, even when he most obviously is not. In this way Kafka--who an old professor of mine tried to prove was a "comic" writer (I admit, I don't really see it)--does have the last laugh.