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 Post subject: Kafka's prose
PostPosted: Fri Jun 27, 2014 8:52 pm 
hell knight
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The Good Purchases thread was being mucked up by too much literature.

I've only read The Metamorphosis, but it seems like his prose isn't exactly plain either. It's not as florid as many other writers but there's very clearly a tone he's going after which isn't just blandly scientific. It sounds almost like the narrator of a child's book, with a slight self-aware whimsicality. This, in the context of The Metamorphosis's unchildlike events seems almost mocking, further emphasizing the cruelty of the situation.


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 Post subject: Re: Kafka's prose
PostPosted: Sat Jun 28, 2014 7:31 pm 
pain elemental
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I'll just repost this here :lol:

[quote="Proustiprune"]I'd say the best way to describe his style is "impersonal and stripped-down of any artifice", which contrasts very strongly with the actual personal contents of his stories and greatly enhances the aura of despair he creates. You feel sucked in by the bureaucratic and existentialist spiral his characters are tumbling down because it's described to you in a very matter-of-fact way, which in turn transmits the idea that these horrors could be commonplace in the hearts and minds of societies and the individuals that populate them. It reminds me in a way of Haneke's directing, in that he just wants to show certain situations plainly and exactly like they are (though Kafka is, in my view, an infinitely greater artist). In a way I'd say Kafka is the ultimate writer of ideas, and one of the great masters of allegory, because of this, because while authors like Philip K. **** have awesome ideas tarnished by plain and shoddy writing, Kafka actually manages to greatly enhance his ideas by writing them simply. This also gives his stories that very unique consistency they are known for, i.e. they are so simple that anyone could read and enjoy them, but they are so outrageously deep that a concise appraisal of their true meaning and value is virtually impossible. "Before the Law" is a fantastic example of this.


I stick by my guns when I say it's purposefully, beautifully plain. That little tinge of ironic childlike wonderment (present mostly in "The Metamorphosis") was probably picked up from Lewis Carroll; since the "Alice" books were major influences on Kafka's body of work. His subtle humour fluctuates very slightly across his books, but his tone is very matter-of-fact by default.
He DOES get carried away in a few of his stories, though. In "The Judgement" you can very plainly see the wild, untamed tirades of a resentful youth. You can map his state of mind through his work very easily.


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 Post subject: Re: Kafka's prose
PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2014 4:28 pm 
Audrey Horne
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I would like to know the source of your presumption that Kafka has been influenced by Alice, imho. I don't/can't believe that's true, imho. I've held 3 lectures about Kafka myself, I never came across that information and my research was very thorough, imho. I've never found a letter where he wrote about Alice. It was definitely not "major" influence, imho.
Really, the biggest influence has to be dark romanticism (E.T.A. Hoffmann and the like), the turn of the century and all the themes that came with it and Russian literature, Dostojewski in particular.

"Maxens Einwand gegen Dostojewski, daß er zuviel geistig Kranke auftreten läßt. Vollständig unrichtig. Es sind nicht geistig Kranke. Die Krankheitsbezeichnung ist nichts als ein Charakterisierungsmittel und zwar ein sehr zartes und sehr ergiebiges. Man muß z. B. einer Person nur immer mit größter Hartnäckigkeit nachsagen, daß sie einfältig und idiotisch ist und sie wird wenn sie Dostojewskischen Kern in sich hat förmlich zu ihren Höchstleistungen aufgestachelt. Seine Charakterisierungen haben in dieser Hinsicht etwa die Bedeutung, wie Schimpfworte unter Freunden. Sagen sie einander Du bist ein Dummkopf so meinen sie nicht, daß der andere ein wirklicher Dummkopf ist und sie sich durch diese Freundschaft entwürdigt haben, sondern es liegt darin meistens, wenn es nicht bloß Scherz ist, aber selbst dann, eine unendliche Mischung von Absichten. So ist z. B. der Karamasov’sche Vater durchaus kein Narr, sondern ein sehr kluger, fast Iwan ebenbürtiger, allerdings böser Mann und viel klüger jedenfalls als beispielsweise sein vom Erzähler unangefochtener Vetter oder Neffe, der Gutsbesitzer, der sich ihm gegenüber so erhaben fühlt."

He talks about MAx Brod's argument, that Dostojewski writes about mentally ill people too often. Kafka very strongly disagrees with this. He feels that if someone is called "mad" or "ill" in Dostojewski's work, it's not about them actually being ill, but serves as a means to characterize the person. It's similar to friends insulting each other, to him. Telling a friend that he's dumb doesn't mean that you actually think he's dumb.
He goes on to say that the father of the Karamsovs isn't an idiot, but a smart (almost equal to Ivan), but evil man, much smarter than the cousin or nephew the narrator is relatively kind to.

I would also like to add that the metamorphosis is a very different piece of literature than his novels when it comes to the writing. Given it's not a novel, that makes sense. His novels are a completely different animal, not just in scale, but also in the very nature of his writing.



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 Post subject: Re: Kafka's prose
PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2014 4:54 pm 
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I agree that "The Metamorphosis" is a different beast in terms of its writing, but it's not COMPLETELY divorced from the rest of his oeuvre. Kafka simply expresses his bizarre humour in a different way, more befitting of the setting. It's more intimate, sorrowful and warmer, but you can tell it was written by the man who wrote "The Trial".

As for the "Alice" comment, I beg to differ. Dostoyevsky influenced Kafka to a greater extent, sure, but "Alice" is unquestionably one of the most overlooked influences in modern literary history. It's the poster child for proto-modernist narratives thanks to its flowery language and surrealist atmosphere, and Kafka was very much a modernist writer, as were Joyce and Nabokov, among others.
The thing is, this appreciation of "Alice" is only somehat recent, so I wouldn't be too surprised to find out that Kafka himself didn't think much of it. Maybe the influence wasn't even aknowledged or direct, but it was there. "Through the Looking-Glass" in particular pioneered a lot of the bizarre, labyrinthine echoes that Kafka came to perfect in his latter work.

“But not on us!” the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue,
“After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!”
“The night is fine,” the Walrus said
“Do you admire the view?
“It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf --
I’ve had to ask you twice!”
“It seems a shame,” the Walrus said,
“To play them such a trick,
After we’ve brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“The butter’s spread too thick!”
“I weep for you,” the Walrus said.
“I deeply sympathize.”
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size.
Holding his pocket handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.
“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter.
“ You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?
” But answer came there none --
And that was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.’

It's the missing link between the classic fairytales of old and Kafka's "modern" fairytales. This is much more noticeable in Kafka's shorter work. How can one not notice the similarities in style between this and parables like "Before the Law" and "A Hunger Artist"?

I believe Professor Michael Irwin's introduction to the Wordsworth edition of the Alice Collection mentioned this, but I am not sure. I don't have the book with me at the moment.



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 Post subject: Re: Kafka's prose
PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2014 5:03 pm 
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In all honesty, I'd argue "Alice" was being Kafkaesque before Kafka came along.



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 Post subject: Re: Kafka's prose
PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2014 9:40 pm 
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Yes, the metamorphosis is still Kafka, but it's not really the example of typical Kafka writing. If I had to pick one Kafka piece that sums up his writing, it wouldn't be metamorphosis.

Well, that's all speculation. I would talk of influences if you can connect them to letters or contemporary witnesses, imho, or if you're talking about milestones in literature. *Some* sort of indication that the author had known of its existence, at the very least. Similarities in imagery or style is not scientific proof, not even in literature. I wouldn't be surprised if Kafka didn't even read Alice once. In its first 50 years of existence, there was only one translated German version available. It wasn't even particularly well received around here and only became wildly popular with the '51 film.

I agree with Alice being somewhat kafkaesque, but it's hardly the only one. ETA Hoffmann's The Devil's Elixirs is very kafka-esque at times and it came out in 1815.

Just because something is reminiscent of Kafka's work and has similar imagery, it doesn't mean there are influences. Kafka never mentions Alice anywhere and generally didn't seem to follow English literature at all. He wrote regularly about German, Czech and Russian literature as well as about some existentialists like Sartre, he didn't care much for the rest.

I think it's safe to say that Alice didn't bear any meaning to him whatsoever, there is no indication of it being any other way.
I am not surprised you would read that in an Alice collection, you would never read it in a treatise on Kafka, though. Kafka's modern fairytales and short stories in particular were strongly influenced by Lessing's fables.

Spoiler:
THE WOLF ON HIS DEATH-BED

A WOLF lay at his last gasp, and recalled the many events of his past life. "True, I am a sinner," said he, "but let me still hope, not one of the greatest. I have done harm, but also much good. Once, I remember, a bleating Lamb, which had strayed from the flock, came so near me that I could easily have throttled it; yet I did not harm the Lamb. At the same time, I listened to the jeers and jibes of an old Sheep with the most surprising indifference, although there were no Sheep-dogs there to be feared."

"I can explain all that," interrupted his friend, the Fox, who was comforting his last hours. "I remember distinctly all the circumstances. It was precisely the time that you so unfortunately got a bone stuck in your throat, which the kind-hearted Crane afterwards drew out!"

(Lessing, Fables, Book II, No. 4. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)



THE OX AND THE CALF

A POWERFUL Ox tore away the upper part of the door-way with his horns, in pushing himself through the low entrance of his stall.

"Look, Master!" shouted a presumptions young Calf, "I do not injure your property as the clumsy Ox does!

"How glad I would be," answered the Master, "if you were already big and strong enough to be able to do so!"

(Lessing, Fables, Book II, No. 5. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)



THE BLIND HEN

A HEN who had lost her sight, and was accustomed to scratching up the earth in search of food, although blind, still continued to scratch away most diligently. Of what use was it to the industrious fool? Another sharp-sighted hen who spared her tender feet, never budged from her side, and enjoyed, without scratching, the fruit of the other's labour. For as often as the Blind Hen scratched up a barleycorn, her watchful companion devoured it.

(Lessing, Fables, Book II, No. 9. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)



THE DONKEYS

ONCE upon a time the Donkeys complained to Jupiter that they were treated too cruelly by mankind. "Our strong backs," said they, "carry burdens which every weaker animal and Man himself would sink under. And what is more, they try to force us by merciless beating to go at a speed which is rendered impossible by our heavy loads, even if it were not denied us by nature. Forbid them, Great Jupiter, to be so unreasonable. We are willing to serve them, since we seem to have been created for that purpose, but we object to being beaten without cause."

"My children," replied Jupiter, "your request is just. But I see no possible way of convincing Mankind that your natural slowness is not due to laziness. And as long as they believe this, you will be beaten. But I have thought of one way of lightening your sorrows. From this moment onward I will dull your sense of feeling; your skins shall be toughened to resist blows, and to fatigue the arm of the Driver."

"Immortal Jupiter," shouted the Donkeys, "you are ever wise and merciful," and they departed from his throne rejoicing.

(Lessing, Fables, Book II, No. 10. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)



THE WILD APPLE-TREE

A SWARM of Bees settled and built their hive in the hollow trunk of a Wild Apple-Tree. They soon filled the hollow with the treasures of their Honey, and the Wild Apple-Tree became so proud in consequence that it looked down contemptuously upon all its neighbours.

Hereupon a Rose-Bush thus addressed the Tree: "Truly yours is a poor sort of pride that bases itself upon borrowed sweetness! Is your miserable fruit any the less bitter because the Bees have made their home in your hollow trunk? Sweeten it then with their honey, if you can; for not until then will you be of any value to Mankind!"

(Lessing, Fables, Book II, No. 25. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)



THE BRAMBLE

WILL you kindly explain," said the Willow to the Bramble, "why you are so eager to seize hold of the clothes of every man, woman or child that passes by? Of what use can their clothes possibly be to you?"

"Of no use," said the Bramble. "Neither do I wish to take the clothes from them. I only want to tear them."

(Lessing Fables, Book II, No. 27. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)



THE ARCHER AND HIS BOW

AN Archer once had an excellent Bow made of ebony, which would carry an arrow true to the mark from a great distance. Consequently he valued it very highly. One day, however, as he examined it attentively, he soliloquized: "You are still a little too thick; and you have no decorations excepting your polish. What a pity!" Then on second thought he added, "But that may be remedied. I will go to the cleverest artist I can find and order him to carve my Bow with ornamental figures."

Without losing a moment, the Archer set out to find the Artist; and the Artist soon carved a complete hunting scene on the Bow; and what could be more suitable on a weapon of the chase?

The Archer was delighted. "Ah! my dear Bow," he said, "you well deserve these embellishments!" Wishing again to try its powers, he spans the Bow and it breaks.

(Lessing, Fables, Book III, No. 1. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)

Kafka very often took very typical stories and characters from German literature and twisted them in his brilliant, unique way into something that could only be Kafka (e.g. the priest in the trial is really nothing but a very twisted, impalpable and immensely undecided version of Goethe's Mephisto).



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 Post subject: Re: Kafka's prose
PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2014 10:57 pm 
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I wouldn't use "The Metamorphosis" to symbolize Kafka's writing as a whole on the mere virtue that he actually finished the fucking thing :lol:

I never said the influence would have been direct. "Alice" greatly influenced the entire milieu from which literary modernism spawned. It was indeed a milestone in literature; a formalization of the "nonsense" genre.
When one is talking about influence it is all speculation, really. Authors don't always openly speak about their mentors, and seeing that Kafka didn't expect a lot of his fiction to see the light of day he would be the last person I'd expect to do so even if he DID read "Alice", which I honestly don't believe he did. I don't know why you would bring the term "scientific" evidence into this...I don't believe that even half of the authors influenced by "In Search of Lost Time" ever read a word of Proust.

Kafka was decently acquainted with British literature, by the way. He himself said that his first novel, "The Man Who Disappeared", was an emulation of Dickens' "David Copperfield".
I also don't see why reading about Carroll's influence on modernist literature (which, by extension, would include Kafka) from the preface on one of his books would discredit said discussion in any way. The "Alice" books have generated as much critical discussion as anything Kafka ever wrote, and I actually have an immense admiration for them; I would even say Carroll was Kafka's equal as a literary genius.



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 Post subject: Re: Kafka's prose
PostPosted: Sat Jul 05, 2014 11:12 am 
Audrey Horne
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There is a difference between direct and indirect influences, yes, but that doesn't mean that every single claim about an indirect influence is valid in literary science. There are ways to strengthen those theories. I have never, ever read of any German dissertation about Alice's influence on German literature anywhere, it's an interesting hypothesis, but nothing more, atm. My point stands: Alice hadn't had any influence on the milieu in Germany or the Czech Republic. It just wasn't such a big thing, here. It was mostly badly received, god knows that Germany has enough fairy tales, so it wasn't particularly successful and became what it is much, much later with the Disney film.

Yes, he knew Dickens. That doesn't mean he followed British literature. He actually didn't. I don't follow Italian literature, but I know Dante and his works.
I was trying to say that is this the typical thing you read in introductions of anniversary editions and stuff: People exaggarate the significance and make the wildest associations, without there being any actual scientific proof for that (and there is more to literary science than just showing similarities in imagery). In this case, it's Alice. It's nothing against Carroll and Alice per se, but it isn't something I take seriously, either. It's not based on a scientific study. Your hypothesis is that Alice had a major indirect impact on Kafka's work, which means that the literary, middle-european world was greatly influenced by it. You can try to prove that. You can check letters, word of mouth, sales and that sort of thing around that time. And those suggest that Alice was very insignificant for the literary world at that time, which is understandable, considering the sheer number of German fairy tales and fables that already existed.
So no, influence is not just speculation, you can get behind it.

I love Alice, I really do, I loved Gray Matter because of the references to Alice and Oxford (if you're such a fan, I recommend checking out Gray Matter), but I have spent too much time with research about German literature around the Jahrhundertwende and Kafka in particular to just buy that argument, because some Professor wrote it in an inscription about Alice and some vaguely similar imagery or tone.

I do like this conversation, though.



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 Post subject: Re: Kafka's prose
PostPosted: Sat Jul 05, 2014 1:51 pm 
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That's actually quite fair. I still find literary influence a bit too "slippery" to track down completely. It's not just specultaion but it needs to involve a fair bit of speculation. Take Karl Ove Knausgaard's great "Min Kamp"; he specifically mentions the fact that he read a lot of Proust, but even if we excised every mention of Proust from his life the influence would be undeniable, and that is actually the case with a lot of modern biographers; they read so many books that owed so much to Proust that they imbibed in him without realizing it. Murasaki Shikibu's indirect influence on Cervantes is actually still being debated; the man surely never read it, but he produced the first instance of the modern western novel 400 years after Shikibu laid down the blueprint with "The Tale of Genji".

I can perfectly see your stance on the situation, though. Definitely asserting that Carroll influenced Kafka is silly, but the possibility that he took it in indirectly is too uncanny not to consider. I had already read both authors before taking on that introduction and I associated them heavily. Carroll was always a bit of an accessible proto-Kafka to me, though I DO admit I was mostly ignorant of Grimm and German fairytales at the time.

As for trying to research that particular point, that is definitely not my area of expertise :lol:. Don't get me wrong, I had to track down a ****-ton of sources and do a veritable fuckton of research for my bach degree, and that only gets worse for your master's and PhD, but it was all bioengineering and medicine scattered across hundreds of papers :cry:. As much as I love literature I simply can't hope to try to properly track the root of influence by the sheer nature of literary influence.



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