Another handicap, even for gifted students, is that-unlike, say, Joyce's or Pound's-the exformative associations Kafka's work creates are not intertextual or even historical. Kafka's evocations are, rather, unconscious and almost sub-archetypal, the little-kid stuff from which myths derive; this is why we tend to call even his weirdest stories nightmarish rather than surreal. Not to mention that the particular sort of funniness Kafka deploys is deeply alien to kids whose neural resonances are American. The fact is that Kafka's humor has almost none of the particular forms and codes of contemporary U.S. amusement. There's no recursive wordplay or verbal stunt-pilotrv, little in the way of wisecracks or mordant lampoon. There is no body-function humor in Kafka, nor sexual entendre, nor stylized attempts to rebel by offending convention. No Pynchonian slapstick with banana peels or rapacious adenoids. No Rothish satyriasis or Barthish meta parody or arch Woody-Allen ish kvetching. There are none of the ba-bing ba-bang reversals of modern sitcoms; nor are there precocious children or profane grandparents or cynically insurgent coworkers. Perhaps most alien of all, Kafka's authority figures are never just hollow buffoons to be ridiculed, but are always absurd and scary and sad all at once, like "In the Penal Colony's Lieutenant.

HarpersMagazine-1998-07-0059612.pdf Tuesday, July 22, 2014 @ 8:13pm | Modified