Whoever utters ‘Kafkaesque’ has neither fathomed nor intuited nor felt the impress of Kafka’s devisings. If there is one imperative that ought to accompany any biographical or critical approach, it is that Kafka is not to be mistaken for the Kafkaesque. The Kafkaesque is what Kafka presumably “stands for”—an unearned, even a usurping, explication. And from the very start, serious criticism has been overrun by the Kafkaesque, the lock that portends the key: homoeroticism for one maven, the father-son entanglement for another, the theological uncanny for yet another. Or else it is the slippery commotion of time; or of messianism; or of Thanatos as deliverance. The Kafkaesque, finally, is reductiveness posing as revelation.
I don’t know where I write. Couldn’t begin to tell you. I’m not being coy, I’m serious. I look at my books, the piles of uncollected work, and they just seem to have appeared. I can’t create any images to go with my sense of ownership. When it comes to where I write, my memory is completely unreliable. All I know for sure is where I am now, which of course, won’t be true when you read this.
When Damien Searls first read W.G. Sebald, he thought the German writer was uniquely good at factoring historical circumstance into his thinking. Sebald’s unyielding reminders of the horrors of the past were a nice corrective to the feel-good pablums of the ‘90s. But reading Sebald now, Searls thinks something has changed. What happened? The world went online. (Related:Greg Walklin on Sebald’s A Place in the Country.)
But what if some of us want to take our scars seriously? Maybe some of us haven’t gotten the highbrow-girl memo—haven’t gotten the text message from our boyfriends—about what counts as bathos. One man’s joke is another girl’s diary entry. One woman’s heartbreak is another woman’s essay. Maybe this bleeding ad nauseum is mass-produced and sounds ridiculous—Plug it up! Plug it up!—but maybe its business isn’t done. Woman is a pain that never goes away.
As much as I wring my hands about writing, I also can’t deny the small satisfactions it offers me. Be it a turn of phrase, an image, a moment between characters — these are tiny but distinct pleasures that I can revisit anytime I flip through my work. It’s miraculous that these little darlings didn’t get killed in the rewriting process. My work never lives up to the dream I have of it in my head and that’s the way it should be; Martha Graham calls this “a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” It’s the tension between this “queer divine dissatisfaction” and the fulfillment of writing something that pleases me, however minor, that makes me want to write at all. The flaws of my novel, California, are in conversation with its strengths.
Edan Lepucki, “Hug Your Darlings, Give the Moon the Finger: Writers On Delight”
Patton Oswalt, who you may know for his eight-minute filibuster on the subject of Star Wars, is a lifelong fan of Stephen King. As a way of marking the 40th anniversary of the publication of Carrie, he reflects on the roots of his fandom, which trace back to a grade-school reading of The Stand. (Our own Janet Potter reviewed Oswalt’s last book.)
A hundred years after the First World War began, many people are looking anew at the conflict, among them Thomas Laquer, who wrote a lengthy reflection of its causes in an LRB review of Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers. In The New Yorker, George Packer uses the war as a jumping-off point for an essayon a broader topic: the evolution of war literature in the modern world.
After working on his novel Family Life for seven years, Akhil Sharma began to lose his mind. Whenever he sat down to write, he began having panic attacks, the kind that left his chest feeling “constantly bruised” for months on end. Eventually, he hit on a solution: he learned to take his mind off his novel by praying for other people.
A serious, non-circular opposition case has been made, if not against reading, then against the idea that the western canon is morally improving or good for the soul. Shakespeare, most canonical of all, became a magnet for 1980s iconoclasts, who disparaged him as an imperial stooge (post-colonial theory), a tool of national power (cultural materialism) and a product of the same social/ideological energies as such putatively non-literary texts as James I’s Counterblaste to Tobacco (new historicism). Conducted for the most part in postgraduate seminar rooms and the pages of academic texts (the collection Political Shakespeare being perhaps the best-known English example), the debate was finally settled in the public sphere, where the cultural warriors, keen to alter reputations and revise the agenda, were greeted with indifference or derision.