Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Statement of Accounts

Samuel Beckett wrote about Kafka (specifically, The Castle, which he stopped reading three-quarters of the way through): I am wary of disasters that let themselves be recorded like a statement of accounts. (I came across this in a footnote to John Banville's review of the second volume of The Letters of Samuel Beckett in The New York Review of Books.) He may have been wary of Kafka, but Beckett nicely captured one feature of Kafka's work: the lack of drama with which its dramas are presented.

I find myself increasingly put off by the way the word "Kafkaesque" is used, and Beckett's formulation makes the reason clear: all too often, the term is used to refer to events that are strange, surreal, and nightmarish — disastrous — but which are also presented as disasters, as oddities, surrealities, nightmares. But what makes Kafka's work so singular and striking is precisely its cool presentation of what others would present as dramas, or perhaps more precisely, as melodramas or tragedies. References to the Kafkaesque ought to include what they never do: the absence of the affect of disaster.


Dominic Rivron said...

Having once attempted The Unreadable (sorry, I mean The Unnamable*) I'm gratified to discover that I finished at least one book that Samuel Beckett didn't.

(*Come to think of it, perhaps I should give it another go!)ducai

Andrew Shields said...

An extra twist to your remark: you finished a Kafka novel, but Kafka didn't. :-)