If you have read Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’, you would know the pertinence of this question that is posed by the author right at the inception of the book and reappears time and again to haunt the reader until it is finally answered, about midway through the book.
Franz Kafka is the John Galt of literature, a name that would haunt anyone who has read literature, even though you might not have read the works of the maestro himself. His works together constitute a long dark shadow that befalls upon you time and again as you make your way through the works of literature and though you may choose not to trace the shadow to its source and not read his complete works, you will not be able to escape the shadow that may appear sometimes only as a dark obscure reference but sometimes clear enough to illuminate the contours of the main work in intricate detail.
I don’t even remember when and where had I first stumbled upon his name but I am certain that Coetzee and Murakami paved my way to the complete works of the maestro himself. On reading about him, I also established a little personal connection with him, getting solace from the fact that he had worked in an insurance company from 1917 till his retirement in 1922 due to tuberculosis. Whenever I sink deep into the mire of money and corporate life and feel that my writing has become insipid, bound by the scope of official jargon, Kafka appears as a hanging branch of a tree that I can grasp and wriggle my way out of the marsh. His unsuccessful love affairs that never ended in a marriage also make me relate to him in a special way that only two freaks disdained by society can relate with each other. I can also fathom his decree of burning his works post his death, though of course the world would have been deprived of Kafkaesque had the decree been followed.
The most striking feature of his writing is his complete disregard for humanity. He totally shatters the closely held belief of “Cognito Ergo Sum” that thinking and culture makes us- the HomoSapiens the more exalted and supreme species than the other (allegedly lower) animals. In his stories, he uses the characters of humans and other animals interchangeably, for instance, in ‘Metamorphosis’, Gregor Samsa metamorphoses to assume the form of a cockroach, one of the lowest form of animals on earth and in “A Note to Academy’, a monkey, the animal considered to be the predecessor of humans, dons the cultural veneer of humans to tell his story. Each story is unique in its own peculiar way, typical to Kafka.
As a personal ode to him, I have embarked upon a project to all his short stories in the coming blog entries.