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.
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.
Having grown up in Russia, New Republic senior editor Julia Ioffe is in a uniquely good position to cover the Sochi Olympics, which is why she’s writing regular dispatches from this year’s Winter Games. On Saturday, she published a piece about one of the sadder (yet more predictable) developments of the Games: foreign journalists are bombarding gay residents of Sochi with questions and requests for interviews. (She’s also manning the magazine’s Instagram feed.)
Last week, I followed up the news that “because” may now be used as a preposition by noting that the American Dialect Society had named it their Word of the Year. Now, in The New Republic, John McWhorter argues that the new preposition is used to signal empathy and warmth. (Related: Fiona Maazel on the dangers of bad grammar.)
My father is dead; he died two months ago. At the hospital I was given his clothes, his watch, and the book he’d been reading as he ate alone at the restaurant. I searched his pockets for a note to me, first the pants and then the raincoat. Finding none, I read the book, about legal theory and Maimonides. I couldn’t make sense of the words. I had not prepared myself for his death. He had not prepared me. My mother had died when I was three. We had already dealt with death, in our way we’d agreed to be finished with it. Then, without warning, my father broke our agreement.
Sometimes buzzwords become so pervasive they’re almost inaudible, which is when we need to start listening to them. Disruptive is like that. It floats in the ether at ideas festivals and TED talks; it vanishes into the jargon cluttering the pages of Forbes and Harvard Business Review. There’s a quarterly called Disruptive Science and Technology; a Disruptive Health Technology Institute opened this summer. Disruptive doesn’t mean what it used to, of course. It’s no longer the adjective you hope not to hear in parent-teacher conferences. It’s what you want investors to say about your new social-media app. If it’s disruptive, it’s also innovative and transformational.
The problem here was that Erdoğan was behaving like an old-fashioned, 1930s ruler. Doing everything, managing everything. Saying, ‘I have fifty percent, shut up.’ Well, yes, you have fifty percent, but we have seventy-two million people who are not completely like you.
More on the Death of the English Major
At the Missouri Review blog, our own Tess Malone writes about the supposed death of the English major, which has lost a considerable amount of popularity in the last forty years in favor of “practical disciplines.” Among other things, she links to New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier’s Brandeis commencement speech, which I wrote about a few weeks ago.