15 October 2012

About that other Trial: Judith Butler asks "Who Owns Kafka"?

I walk to work. Today's experience of 'nature' led me to reflect on yesterday's experience of Nietzschean "naturalism" in the lay-press. I concluded that a naturalism was the philosophy of "might makes right", which means of course that ad hominem, Straw Man motifs, etc. are completely appropriate because the goal is to win and not to reason.  I then encountered anthropologist Mark Schuller, who gave a talk on Haiti, International Non-Governmental Organizations, and the realities of rebuilding Haiti, which was, in a word, distressing (see here to find out more). I then walked home and thought along the way "what Kafka novel am I living in?" and found waiting for me this essay in the London Review of Books by Judith Butler:-    
Had the works been destroyed, perhaps the ghosts would not be fed – though Kafka could not have anticipated how limitlessly parasitic the forces of nationalism and profit would be, even as he knew those spectral forces were waiting. So in the act of dying, Kafka writes that he wants the work destroyed after his death. Is this to say that the writing is tied to his living, and that with his own demise, so too should come the demise of his work? As I die, so too should my work cease to exist. A fantasy, to be sure, that it will not outlive him, something that he finds too painful. It reminds me of the parable ‘The Cares of a Family Man’, which claimed the attention of Adorno for its ‘salvational’ promise. There is Odradek, some creature, a spool, a star, whose laugh sounds like the rustling of leaves, hovering in or beneath or near the stairwell of a house. Perhaps he is a son, or the remnant of a son; in any case, he is part object and part echo of a human presence. It is only at the end of the parable that it seems the rigorously neutral voice who describes this Odradek has a generational relation to him. This Odradek does not quite live in time, since he is described as falling down the steps perpetually, that is, in perpetuity. Thus the narrator who seems to be in the position of a father remarks: ‘It almost pains me to think that he might outlive me.’ Can we read this as an allegory not just for Kafka in his father’s house, but for Kafka’s writing, the rustling pages, the ways in which Kafka himself became part human and part object, without progeny, or rather with a literary progeny he found nearly too painful to imagine surviving him? The great value of Odradek for Adorno was that he was absolutely useless in a capitalist world that sought to instrumentalise all objects for its gain. It was however not just the spectres of technology that would eagerly feed on Kafka’s work, but those forms of profit-making that exploit even the most anti-instrumental forms of art, and those forms of nationalism that seek to appropriate even the modes of writing that most rigorously resist them. An irony then, to be sure, that Kafka’s writings finally became someone else’s stuff, packed into a closet or a vault, transmogrified into exchange value, awaiting their afterlife as an icon of national belonging or, quite simply, as money.

And then I remembered - actually I live in Kafka's world.

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