The 12+12 Books of Christmas #12


Kafka was the great discovery of my early teens. The first thing I noticed when I read Finnish translations of his works was the semicolon. There were a lot of them. This, I thought, was a sign that the language of his short stories was clever and complicated. Now when I read him in the original German it seems simple and elegant. He is not difficult to read and we should have kids read him from an early age so they could more easily grasp the lunacy that is modern life in modern societies.

I read everything by Kafka at an early age and will continue to read him until I can’t read anymore. Every time I read him he is enchanting, but it is pretty pointless to explain him to others. You need the experience of reading Kafka combined with the experience of our bureaucratic existence in the modern world. Like most people around me, I was institutionalized at an early age, going through school after school, the army, jobs, whatever. All of them were institutions filled with bureaucracy and, worst of all, bureaucrats who seemed appalled that I didn’t know the proper procedure for filling Form 1A2X-11 which allows you to apply for level-3 clearance which will allow you to take a leak at the office toilet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, provided you are wearing the proper footwear and have recently completed a two-part course in sanitation.

Kafka was an alien who came on earth to shove our collective madness in our faces. People don’t need much convincing to come to the conclusion that their lives are filled with useless rubbish and busy-work. None of it matters, really. Having said that, it is easy to have someone agree that our lives are meaningless. Back down a little and say that most of your life, not absolutely all, is just silly rubbish, and the task becomes more difficult. We have parodies of this kind of thinking in the Tyler Durden’s of the world, because the thought is so challenging to fully accept. The numbers you move in and out of bank accounts, birth certificates, marriage or driving licenses, Form 1A2X-11, none of it has any intrinsic value. They are presented to us as permits to perform certain actions in society, but they really are in themselves the obstacle they claim to overcome. And we have to wade through this bullshit every day of our lives, withholding our complaints. There’s a form for complaining as well, but should you reach for one the pointlessness of the exercise would condense bureaucratic absurdity into a singularity and swallow the universe whole.

When I was a child I used to want to be a professor, but now I’m not so sure. Many of them seem to have been transformed into glorified bureaucrats who do what little research and teaching they can in the midst of administrative paper-pushing. There are better ways to spend your time. In order to avoid all this, many learned people have dreamed of far away places where they could escape the bureaucratizing influence of society and focus on learning, an island of the blessed. Were there such a place, my desert island book would still be Kafka’s collected works. Reading and re-reading it for years would be enough to mourn my isolation from society while feeling infinitely grateful about it at the same time.

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