PART TWO. The Castrating Shadow of Saint Garta
The image of Kafka that is widely held these days comes originally from a novel. Max Brod wrote it immediately after Kafka's death and published it in 1926. Savor the title: The Enchanted Kingdom of Love (Zauberreich der Liebe). This key-novel is a roman à cléf, a novel with a key.
…This novel would have been forgotten before it was written if not for the character Garta. Because Garta, Nowy's close friend, is a portrait of Kafka. Without this key, the character would be the most uninteresting in the entire history of literature.
What a marvelous paradox: the whole image of Kafka and the whole posthumous fate of his work were first conceived and laid out in this simpleminded novel, this garbage, this cartoon-novel concoction, which, aesthetically, stands at exactly the opposite pole from Kafka's art.
Garta is presented as someone who writes. Nowy "had agreed to be Garta's literary executor - Garta had asked him to do this, but with the unusual condition that everything be destroyed." Nowy "sensed the reason for that last wish. Garta was not announcing a new religion; he wanted only to live his faith. … He required the ultimate effort of himself; as he had not succeeded, his writings (mere rungs to help him climb to the heights) had no value for him."
Still, Nowy/Brod did not want to obey his friend's wish, because in his view, Garta's writings, "even as attempts, as mere sketches, bring to wandering humanity a presentiment of something irreplaceable."
Yes, it's all there.
Were it not for Brod, we would not even know Kafka's name today. Right after his friend's death, Brod saw to the publication of his three novels. No reaction. So he realized that, to establish Kafka's work, he would have to undertake a real and long war. Establishing a body of work means presenting it, interpreting it Brod opened a veritable artillery attack: prefaces: for The Trial (1925), for The Castle (1926), for Amerika (1927), for "Description of a Struggle" (1936), for the diaries and letters (1937), for the stories (1946); for the Conversations by Gustav Janouch (1952); then the dramatizations: of The Castle (1953) and Amerika (1957); but above all, four important books of interpretation (take good note of the titles!):
Franz Kafka: A Biography (1937),
The Faith and Teachings of Franz Kafka (1946),
Franz Kafka, He Who Shows the Way (1951), and
Despair and Salvation in the Work of Franz Kafka (1959).
Brod was a brilliant intellectual with exceptional energy; a generous man willing to do battle for others; his attachment to Kafka was warm and disinterested. The only problem was his artistic orientation: a man of ideas, he knew nothing of the passion for form; his novels (he wrote twenty of them) are sadly conventional; and above all: he understood nothing at all about modern art.
Why, despite all this, was Kafka so fond of him? What about you-do you stop being fond of your best friend because he has a compulsion to write bad verse?
But the man who writes bad verse turns dangerous once he starts to publish the work of his poet friend. Suppose the most influential commentator on Picasso were a painter who could not even manage to understand the impressionists. What would he say about Picasso's paintings? Probably the same thing Brod said about Kafka's novels: that they describe "the horrible punishments in store for those who… do not follow the path of righteousness."
Not everything written on Kafka is Kafkology. How then to define Kafkology? By a tautology: Kafkology is discourse for Kafkologizing Kafka. For replacing Kafka with the Kafkologized Kafka.
His private writings are treated the same way as his novels, but with a marked preference for the former: taking at random the Kafka essay Roger Garaudy wrote while he was still a Marxist: fifty-four times he quotes Kafka's letters, Kafka's diaries forty-five times; the Janouch Conversations thirty-five times; the stories twenty times; The Trial five times, The Castle four times, Amerika not once.
"Garta was a saint of our time, a veritable saint." But can a saint go to brothels? When Brod published Kafka's diaries he censored them somewhat; he deleted not only the allusions to whores but anything else touching on sex.
Biographers know nothing about the intimate sex lives of their own wives, but they think they know all about Stendhal’s or Faulkner’s.
Post coitum omne animal triste. Kafka was the first to describe the comic side of that sadness.
Kafka managed to solve this enormous puzzle. He cut a breach in the wall of plausibility; the breach through which many others followed him, each in his own way: Fellini, Marquez, Fuentes, Rushdie. And others, others.
To hell with Saint Garta! His castrating shadow has blocked our view of one of the novel’s greatest poets of all time.
Testaments Betrayed (1993) - An Essay in Nine Parts By Milan Kundera
Translated by Linda Asher
Monday, July 04, 2016
PART TWO. The Castrating Shadow of Saint Garta