Letter to Franz Kafka

By | 1 May 2019
Given your output, I’m sorry to write only a letter, but I have these Annual Reports to type, so time’s an insect, attention spans and shelf-times shorter, and the Digital Age makes burning manuscripts impossible. What would you say to Brod now? Dismantle my hard drive? No, you’d have lived – medical science, etc. – and made a career decision: no interviews, no Writers’ Festivals, just the dip and scrape of fountain pen in place of celebrity soundbytes. But we can’t work on Annual Reports every year of our lives: Brod would have drafted you a Grant Application. Yet I’d love to read your Annual Reports for what they wouldn’t have said so clearly.

Anyway, a letter. So some news: we fade, hair and pixels from photographs of photographs, held in trembling hands by a kindly Old Man, his fingertips yellowing. But this is not news for you. And what of the yellowing? All fingertips are dark and so, according to what the light from every open doorway told you, is the future.

Did Diamant read you a Yiddish version of the man whose barn and soul burnt the night he praised himself for his fortune? Sent to hell, that man asked for a drink of water from a saint. I’m sure you’d have told him, That gate, my friend, was open, but I’m now about to close it . . . Like that man, after I read The Trial I thought I knew everything. But I couldn’t explain it to anyone; The Trial or everything. So I write and write, dismantling myself, the Other, significance and sense.

Am I an insect or just a person of no consequence? Continual questioning makes me think I have consequence, but the consequence of that, you might have said, is this: Who are you to say what I might have said? But while I’m questioning, here’s another: did you imagine a life without living?

We sweat, we die, we make ourselves eat our meals, we work, we die, we write and die and cough and forget our manuscripts. Seagulls bay for blood, insects smile in beds, and both dream of albatrosses, carrying stones to lands where no one writes Annual Reports, chips are spat on and children munch bugs for fun and don’t exist, where even existence does not exist. And I, the I you left me with, takes strange comfort in the blank eyes of servants and maids in gold-plated suits and ties, insured against future losses, stock market crash test dummies, they’re safe in the idea they’re here, not in the Otherworld that both refuses them and to be.

Here, where money buys them, they scrap their souls, secure in the knowledge bargain bins are taken to the curb, but rubbish trucks won’t arrive; they’re driven by ghosts of ghosts who give each other respectful nods, who read and write burning manuscripts, while the idea of heaven persists, which surely must be hell for them.

Look, it’s been a longer letter than I expected. I thought I’d stand a moment at your gate, ajar as always, light creeping through, as only light can, your voice tunneling from the past: It’s cold, I’ll close the gate . . . But you’re telling lies. I’m going in, but now my finger’s stuck. You’ll have to tear it off to shut me out. Go on, do it: I know it’s better to go through life without a finger than for my tongue to go up in flames.


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