Tuesday, May 10, 2016

On Postmodernist Bullying: If You Don’t Like Kafka, You Are a Philistine

Google doodle on July 3, 2013
One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin. He lay on his armour-like back, and if he lifted his head a little he could see his brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches into stiff sections. The bedding was hardly able to cover it and seemed ready to slide off any moment. His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, waved about helplessly as he looked.

~ These are the opening lines of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.

On July 3, 2013, the 130th birthday of Franz Kafka, there was a Google doodle to celebrate Kafka’s book, The Metamorphosis. The doodle shows a man-sized cockroach stepping out of a door, clutching a briefcase in one of its six hands — maybe one of its six legs, which is what any cockroach would have.

The man-sized cockroach depicted in the Google doodle was inspired by Gregor Samsa, the protagonist of The Metamorphosis. The story opens with a scene that shows Samsa waking up one morning to find himself transformed into an insect. Kafka doesn't provide any reasons for the bizarre transformation. The whys and the hows are of no concern to Kafka.

In the first line of the story we are informed that Samsa is now a horrible insect and the next few lines describe his new insect body. Then the story hurtles onward to dwell on Samsa’s thoughts. Samsa frets about being late for work. He agonizes over the callous and unforgiving nature of his boss. He worries about losing his job and his life crumbling around him. Surely anyone who faced Samsa’s predicament would have much more to worry about.

Kafka’s abhorrence of capitalism is the reason behind Samsa's bizarre characterization. The accounts of many of Kafka’s contemporaries show that Kafka was a strident supporter of anarchism, libertarian socialism, and anarcho-syndicalism.

In The Metamorphosis, Kafka attempted to show that for a workingman it is impossible to get over the feelings of capitalist subservience. Even when someone is transformed into a cockroach, he will, like Samsa, prefer to fret about issues such as his job. Kafka blames capitalism for Samsa’s ordeal. He believed that capitalism turns people into vermin.

As the story progresses, Samsa becomes comfortable with his cockroach body. He begins to enjoy his insect-like skills, which allow him to scale walls and walk on the ceiling. But his family disowns him — his sister tells him that he has become a burden to them. His father hits him with, of all things, an apple. There is no allusion to the apple of knowledge in the primordial Garden of Eden; it seems that it is just an ordinary apple. Finally, Samsa crawls back to his room and willingly dies.

There is no logic, no artistic quality, and no moral in The Metamorphosis, and yet this story was enshrined in a Google doodle.

Kafka’s other stories are also built around anti-capitalist motifs and are quite absurd. The absurdity of Kafka reaches an entirely new level in his diaries, which consist of a series of random sentences that do not connect with each other. The diaries, which run to 450 pages, are completely meaningless. No one has ever found what Kafka wanted to convey through the random sentences that he jotted in those pages.

Here is an excerpt from a conversation that I recently had with a Kafka devotee:

“The diaries of Franz Kafka are really deep. They are beyond the powers of comprehension of ordinary people. You need a deep literary sense to read Kafka’s diaries.” 

“Were you able to make sense of Kafka’s diaries?” I asked. 

“It is not easy to discover the meaning of Kafka’s diaries. This is because there is a nuanced meaning in each line that he has written. You must spend hours contemplating every line that Kafka has written in order appreciate the depth of his thought.” 

“After hours of contemplation you managed to find the meaning?” I persisted. 

“You see, it is not for finding the meaning that you read Kafka’s diaries. You read Kafka because meanings are meaningless, life is absurd and truth does not exist. A sentence can have multiple meanings, some of which can be unknown even to the author.”

A literature whose leitmotif is to portray the idea that meanings are meaningless, life is absurd and truth does not exist is an absurdity, and it is surprising that Kafka devotees regard such literature as deep. They smugly state that they can’t find any meaning in Kafka’s dairies and accept that even Kafka may not have known what he was writing. Yet they like the diaries anyway. If you can’t find any meaning, then what are you liking?

Kafka’s works were published in the early part of the 20th century, but he became popular only in the post-World War II period. That’s when the philosophical movement known as existentialism arose, led by Heidegger, Sartre and Camus. Existentialists advocate nihilistic ideas. They believe that the world has no identity, consciousness is a kind of nothingness, and absurdity is the quintessence of the human condition. There is lot of common ground between Kafka and the existentialist writers, and it is believed that Camus was inspired by Kafka.

The reign of existentialism ended by the late 1960s, when this ideology became so discredited that leftists with a long record of being existentialists started rejecting that label. Instead, they began calling themselves postmodernists. Postmodernism was led by the likes of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Richard Rorty and few others. With respect to literature, there is hardly any difference between the philosophy of the postmodernists and the existentialists.

In the era of postmodernism, which continues to this day, Kafka’s literature received unprecedented hype. This is because promoting skepticism and relativism in art and culture is a key goal for the postmodernists. They believe that the purpose of literature is to express ideas of nothingness, meaninglessness and ambiguity. They dismiss as naive realism, the idea that reality is independent of consciousness. They believe that reality is a conceptual construct and there is no such thing as truth. They reject reason and logic.

George Orwell, in his essay Politics and the English Language, said: “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” By hailing Kafka and his ilk as great writers, the postmodernists and the existentialists have corrupted language and they have corrupted thought. With thought corrupted, people can’t tell good political ideas from bad ones. That way it’s easier for intellectuals to get their political ideas accepted, even though the ideas are based on false premises.

The postmodernist agenda of destroying politics by corrupting literature has succeeded. It has created political confusion and made the rise of progressivism and leftism possible.

In Kafka’s literature (if you insist on calling it literature) there is no merit. The existentialists and the postmodernists are the main culprits behind Kafka’s literary fame. The absurdity that we find in his writing is an expression of the essential absurdity of existentialism and postmodernism.

This article was also published in Savvy Street with some changes.

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