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We saw The Babadook. Thorough spoilers of it and some spoiling of other things, esp. Take Shelter and It Follows, follow. Maybe I should get back to tagging as a way to cross index what I spoil?

It makes you think it will be in the King in Yellow/Heart of Darkness/Zahir/Ringu/It Follows genre but a tiny, almost muttered clue (she used to write some sort of stuff for kids) marks that it will instead be going the Take Shelter route, but within the horror rather than nuclear panic genre, blending aspects of Nightmare on Elm Street, Repulsion and (what seems like the most pervasive influence on the recent spate of retro-minded horror stuff) The Shining. The conclusion is a sort of ad for mindfulness, and not at all a bad one (and also another homage to that of also still-kicking Blue Velvet). It's a very effective film all through, in fact. A few flourishes didn't work so well, but they only stood out because everything else that was happening was so successful at immersing you. Execution-wise it's a touch more perfect than It Follows, even, though a bit less inspired and just half as ambitious. Nothing in the supernatural terror content hit my buttons, but the plausible stuff sure did. We delayed watching because it would clearly be an especially hard movie for parents; one can see it being nearly as hard, though, on anyone who was once a child. My habit of explaining to myself why what's happening is happening has its protective side, but I wonder if everyone was being forced in that direction. One of my theories about effective fiction in general is that it shakes you awake till you'll hear what you wouldn't if simply told, and I guess this may be a variant of that it: making subtext the only way out. (Definitely fits recent Walking Dead developments. How do non-subtexters even handle those?)

It's not the children's book version of the King in Yellow because it's just about her - whereas with these traps that either wander or are wandered into the implication is that they'll get everyone eventually. The woman's terrible luck stands in for terrible luck in general, though it gets anchored to causality and plausibility where Shannon's luck in Take Shelter does not. They're equally effective decisions, though maybe consigning each to acute relevance to a different section of the DSM-V. Personality disorders, here. Maybe a fundamental split in these horror/thriller/whatever sorts of films is whether knowledge or departures from knowledge are the problem? I mean, you could say that the knowledge that knowledge can be departed from makes the first a subgenre of the second, but I think pure knowledge-horror is made distinct (and, ironically, gnostic) by its implication of the whole tenor of the world. That the irrational can invade at any time does bring up the possibility that nothing seeming rational can be trusted - hence that maybe the universe isn't coherent - but that's not the same as rationality itself turning out to be an invasion. I guess there must be stories where these meet, but The Babdook isn't one: the boy's caresses and Mrs. Roach's appearance mark a boundary, and finding out there even is one is enough to confine the irrational to certain parts of certains heads, without of course eliminating it. Whereas the worry in the other sort is that there will be no irrationality left to hide in, unless one paltry loop of denial hardly preferable to what it's shutting out.

I tried writing about It Follows but there was too much to say - seriously, my fingers got tired - and I left most of it private. Based on my last entry stopping didn't stop me, though. It's the Synecdoche NY of horror movies, one of those occasional attempt to overcome influence by direct confrontation with all sources at once. Some sources get forgotten, when that happens, but it's srill very interesting. For me It Follows is more successful because more alive, but I think there's still some of the coldness, maybe deadness, of the overly thought-through - what people sometimes accuse of maiming Stevens and (in the narrative category) Borges. Having everything spontaneous seem immediately strangely familiar helps It Follows where it hurts Synecdoche, though, because it fits the situation of the characters, who'd had endless hints about all of this all along but couldn't yet assemble them. Whereas with PHS we're supposed to understand he's in denial, so the hints are about how his efforts of escape must have always failed. In It Follows what's known and unknown come together as a zipper: can I do THIS? no, because of this fact you already knew about! but what about THIS? no, because of that other one (etc.). There's an innocence to not knowing that you already know. Creating new worlds in order to hide in them is a bit different, mostly because it's very difficult to present creative acts as happening rather than having happened. I guess one could imagine a movie combining the two approaches, a version of Kaufman's conception nonetheless able to stay so-fresh feeling, where an artist tries THIS? no, that can't work because X! oh, then THAT? no (etc.). Tries them all in the moment, in a way where we're right there with them in those hope-decisions. Maybe there's been one? The Circular Ruins of film, that would be.

(Could that be what makes influence so killing, that it tempts us to present too much as having already happened, as granted - perhaps because, unlike our influencers, we didn't think out for ourselves why it happened (to the extent THEY weren't influence-fragmented)? Interesting how independent this is of the present tense vs past tense decision, if so - there's a "present" and "past" version of each, no? The present present is no better than the present past, or the past oresent worse than the past past. Though I wonder if it was always true? Maybe it makes sense that Shakespeare, viewed as Bloom views him, was able to do what he did in the most prsent-bound genre. That genre was part of this seems truly plausible to me because of his development, as more or less anyone could have written Henry 6-1, twiddling with available models, and you can see him wade right before your eyes from doing that to doing Falstaff, just by reading the history plays in written order.)

Probably to its credit, given the immense difficulties that that Circular Ruins route presents for film and for non-Borgeses, It Follows doesn't address writing/filmmaking, aside from some Shrike-like swipes in the attic apartment and the indoor pool scenes - not much past naming those doors that also, by the way, don't lead anywhere. There's inevitably a lot of implied, or anyway eminently importable, youth-artist equation, of course. The Trial and The Castle are models for this sort of conflation; magical realism of the dry sort is usually about conflating the details of disparate situations to get at the truth of all, which can't look quite like the truth of any until some tailoring is done on the world itself. But not all that much is needed - the trick with this sort of thing is to stress the "home" in unhomely. I half suspect the use of sex in the two Kafka novels is the direct template for the It Follows conceit, in fact - esp. the Frieda arc in The Castle. It's just one of the things the two Ks try, of course, and doesn't work for one of them (it perhaps sort of does for The Castle's). At the very least Kafka's not at last on a different track - just look at the last page of The Metamorphosis. Perhaps with track-bundling we shouldn't be surprised if the same locations are reached, regardless of techniques or twine employed.

Seriously, I run out of time and my fingertips hurt.
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"Shakespeare's Memory" is a lot more moving when you take it as being about Borges. That is, that he still had at 80 the memories of whoever it was that could write like he did c. 40, but was not that writer.

I don't mean to sell the story short. Borges at 80 is an excellent writer. But at 40! His self-deprecation about this period in interviews is fascinating - a few confusing stories derived fom Kafka - as is how easily it's flipped once an incredulous interlocutor says but what about this, what of that. Then he says yeah, that was pretty good, wasn't it? Not quite the tone of Faulkner looking back on As I Lay Dying, but not quite not.

"The Congress" affects me for similar reasons - he'd clearly worked out much of what was essential to the story back when he was amazing. But wrote it so long after, an attempted comeback after all those knife fighter tales. And it is one in its fashion. Helped, if anything, by how the disconnect between subject matter and handling reflects that subject matter, which is about the partial giving up of a dream, or rather the desperate need to retain it in a world that had moved on from believing in such things. How the belief makes it true - not because belief can do that to just anything, but because some parts of the truth require being somehow already believed in to become true (e.g. democracy, we're all sure finding out). One last Garden era story, but only if you let it be, need it to be. He did.

And one he probably couldn't have written at 40. His style was too cruel, paradoxically. It wrung out the human, hence was perfect only for the story of humanity's having been wrung out. For "The Garden of Forking Paths," where he doesn't even let us know that Stephen Albert is Goethe, and Goethe, to him, the anti-Nazi. The one believer in people for what they are in themselves. In "Congress" we're allowed to know such things.

Not that he's wrong about the Kafka part. "The Gospel of Mark" is his "Penal Colony," "Funes" his "Hunger Artist" or "Hunter Gracchus," the minotaur piece surely self-consciously his "Burrow." The desecration of the temple becoming part of the ceremony is pretty much his "Lottery," no?

Calvino and Borges got some kind of special pass for continuing Kafka. Maybe Abe did too. His premises, anyway - Beckett and others took over his essence, his white noise self. I kind of prefer the premises. Funny how his ideas can persist in both. I guess because Kafka read his own stories: read too many Kafka stories and you become Beckett. It's like the Italian and Argentine had heard and repeated without listening. Or perhaps it's merely their firm secularity? Maybe Kafka himself couldn't listen to what he was saying for being too close to the roar of religion.

I also think, and say this as a true lover of Kafka, that Borges and Calvino manage to keep Kafka's stories from spilling in a way Kafka almost never could. In very different ways - Borges by turning them into batteries, energies conserved through infinite repetitions. Because they describe endlessly repeated mistakes, sure, but that's like solar power for a narrative. Calvino comes more out of late Kafka, and stops the loss of energy the way late Kafka did, by making the channels of uncertainty out which it ebbs part of the story. Rephrasing uncertainties as possibilities, variations. Repurposing fragments as flowcharts.

I do love Borges best of all, of these. Calvino's perfections are his Baron's, mostly - he is perfectly amazing at finding ways to go on when who could? in that line. Which is heartening, and sustains many a Borgesian whorl in its everlasting unspooling. All love and honor to Calvino, really, really. But Borges, peak Borges! Those dozen-ish stories, maybe eighty pages tops. Not at all heartless when understood, and never unsympathizing - just seeming so because of what's being analyzed, and how broadly: those ten to twelve ways we can't take it, since who could? but thus ruin what could have been. Which "could've" never quite gets described until The Congress. No, it is in "Garden." I feel about "Garden" how I feel about Shelley, I think. And little else - the astronomer's dying gestures, Turgenev's letter to Tolstoy, Crane's ball of gold. Maybe something in Chekhov, some essence instead of event.

I miss reading in the craziest way. Like all the vitamin deficiencies at once.
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I don't really have time to delve into Kafka criticism right now, but wish I could. Coming to them after Eleven Sons it's very hard not to read The Burrow and The Great Wall of China as referring to Kafka's literary works to date, with special references to the three novels: the mole-thing's Castle Keep being The Castle, its flashier abandoned earlier labyrinth The Trial, the abortive entrance The Stoker/Amerika; the two big sections of the Wall that don't quite meet being Castle and Trial, Amerika as the one the schoolmaster bashes to bits with his head (also the way the mole builds, no?). Plus both "wall" and "burrow" seem translated from "bau," which I guess means something vaguely like "earthworks." "We are digging the pit of Babel" fits the distinction between the two stories as well as the Wall fragments converging on one another from different directions fits the two novels (each of which embodies one interpretation of the Duck/Rabbit "assault" that Kafka holds we must see the collision of bodily and transcendental as, since something about us mandates we must pick a side).

All this seems obvious to me but a cursory search renders it non-obvious. So once again I'm left wondering which few share my sense of the obvious.
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General inability to see how things truly are, rendering life horrible.

Ability to see enough associated with ability to leave, go elsewhere.

Some of those able to see nevertheless at least initially unable or unwilling to leave.

Leaving them deciding whether or how to help the others see - or stop them from ever seeing.

This scheme connects Plato's Cave, The Triumph of Life, Walden, The Grand Inquisitor, its sequel In the Penal Colony, The Man-Moth. Probably Directive. Not far from Song of Myself, IIRC Snow in The Magic Mountain, the Border Trilogy Epilogue, Dream of a Ridiculous Man.

And in their fashion The Trial and The Castle, though there it is only those born outside who can see enough. When we wish to leave they seem to look away or actively stop us, when it doesn't occur to us that we could or should they seem to bother us incessantly but inarticulately, since there is a sort of language barrier, while at neither point quite betraying effort. It seems we do not deserve to leave, and yet have been coaxed to. Among other ambiguities created here is whether this life is even horrible, or merely becomes so for those awakened to what might be outside the bubble.

Do many more texts fit if we abandon the helping issue? Or does that become mere gnosticism? Discovering a tunnel up into the sky and not knowing quite what to do with it, or how far one can go before suffocating despite the fact that it would seem that feet could walk there, or whether something can be done by oneself or others to accomodate one's lungs if its air can't be breathed now.

And in versions where the tunnel can be ascended it leads to an identical-seeming earth.

The great tease that is poetry. The difference between Kierkegaard's poetic and religious natures being that the former recognizes that it's a deliberate tease, or an accident that looks like one. But recognizes also that there IS a tease. A system of caves exists, perhaps of passages. Whether it can be entered is arguable, since they're not physical caves. Whether one has ever left when one has entered becomes arguable. Whether they go somewhere else. Or are somewhere else. Or can become somewhere else with work. Or become here, with work, or part of here. Or prove that we were in caves all along. But just because something is, and remains, arguable, doesn't mean any particular argument is wrong. And since the caves may not be like real places we can't be sure two arguments, half the arguments, even all are not somehow right. And of course also can't be sure there's no way to be sure.

The crucial difference between this and Borges' library, Derrida's language: the second you know what the caves are there are no caves. And some part of us seems to remember knowing what they are. Maybe the same part that, for a while, seemed to remember knowing that the caves that no longer were had once been there.

It has even been suggested that each aspect of what we truly have and are, our immeasurable unnoticed amplitudes, was once a cave.
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33. The Trial, tr. Breon Mitchell

I like the Muirs but this translator's good too. This novel's what people are thinking of when they talk about Kafka's resistance to interpretation, isn't it? The trial is medical, literary, religious/spiritual, vocational (the direct parallel in the book is with his career at the bank) - whatever one can perish, or might as well have perished, for having not succeeded at. And it's not like the anti-bureaucracy, anti-authoritarian aspect isn't in there; it's just directed past people at life, hence the constant distinction between silly, vain, avaricious lower orders and inscrutable, never-seen higher ups. All we know of the latter is they corral us here among the former, which is not a great recommendation. Well, perhaps he meets just one of them (whose special pulpit emerges from the stone, Varos-like) - and what the two discuss does seem to be the recalcitrance of the materials the high ones have to work with. Though low and high get dialectical there.

The final image of the window and the arms is quite amazing, a suitably ambiguous Faust/feminine moment. The "Before the Law" failure is in striking contrast to Goethe's Faust's unexpected success, actually. Though Josef K. has a bit more Hamlet in him, an urge to assert himself at the expense of what implicates him, even as he knows he can't escape. The absolute ambiguity of the book is whether he has a right to - whether sky or crow can be blamed for his failure to fly.

A hell of a book. "In the Cathedral" I'll add to Invisible Cities and Garden of Forking Paths as things to reread annually. Until I no longer want to, of course.
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In Kafka you fail because of some awryness of your substance.

In Borges because your need to be God leads you to ignore the facts.

In Calvino because the world is remarkably complicated.

In Calvino you would succeed if the world were different. Lament.

In Borges if you tried to be a smaller god. Moderate.

In Kafka if you were different. Change.

Borges is an optimist in that we can easily attain a smaller paradise.

Calvino in that we are not to blame.

Kafka in that we're already in the paradise, true paradise, of someone else.
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From October 1921:

It had been impossible for him to enter the house, for he had heard a voice saying to him: 'Wait till I lead you in!' And so he continued to lie in the dust in front of the house, although by now, probably, everything was hopeless...

One page and two days after "This ending of the Pentateuch bears a resemblance to the final scene of L'Education sentimentale." Is the necessary context here - this rewrites "Before the Law" in light of that resemblance.

Maybe it isn't only Borges who hides la femme - that beard and pointed nose always seemed fake, no? But here the mask perhaps falls. Maybe perhaps falls. God is God but the gods are a woman.

The invisible house-obsessed are often emphatically single, aren't they? Thoreau, Robinson, Crowley at the time. Or like Frost (and maybe Shelley - and in a sense Stevens) contemplating a failed household - can't remember what Bishop's status would have been when she wrote "End of March" or finished "The Moose." Neglected to mention that most crucial aspect of the house, didn't I, that you not be alone in it. Alone, even a mansion is just an apartment. Though "End of March" is funny about that - the dream house seems to involve aloneness, where on the beach one of the few things she does have is her companions. "Five Flights Up" is living alone.

And then the next passage, from the same day, fades us into the other house, the tower, the Command Center:

All is imaginary - family, office, friends, the street, all imaginary, far away or close at hand, the woman; the truth that lies closest, however, is only this, that you are beating your head against the wall of a windowless and doorless cell.
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Kafka's Diaries, July or August 1912:

The invention of the devil. If we are possessed by the devil, it cannot be by one, for then we should live, at least here on earth, quietly, as with God, in unity, without contradiction, without reflection, always sure of the man behind us. His face would not frighten us, for as diabolical beings we would, if somewhat sensitive to the sight, be clever enough to prefer to sacrifice a hand in order to keep his face covered with it. If we were possessed by only a single devil, one who had a calm untroubled view of our whole nature, and freedom to dispose of us at any moment, then that devil would also have enough power to hold us for the length of a human life high above the spirit of God in us and even swing us to and fro, so that we should never get a glimmer of it, and therefore should not be troubled from that quarter. Only a crowd of devils could account for our earthly misfortunes. Why don't they exterminate one another until only a single one is left, or why don't they subordinate themselves to one great devil? Either way would be in accord with the diabolical principle of deceiving us as completely as possible. With unity lacking, what good is the scrupulous attention all the devils pay us? It simply goes without saying that the falling of a human hair must matter more to the devil than to God, since the devil really loses that hair and God does not. But we still do not arrive at any state of well-being so long as the devils are within us.
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Just reread "In the Penal Colony" for the first time as a grownup. Am I overreading, or are the final lines suggesting that the Intellectuals ultimately abandon the People to the potential reemergence of murderous Tradition - perhaps out of the desire to ignore ground-level reality because they're traveling promiscuously among more interesting things, or maybe out of the need to stay an elite by not sharing their knowledge, or out of contempt? It's so easy to read Kafka through the War and Holocaust not even he saw coming.

The traveler's sympathy for the officer can be read two ways, after all: as some humanistic understanding that, for the officer, the traditional life was the only one that could be accepted, or as respect for any view of life that rejected vulgarity, dedicating it to some higher purpose, despite his finding the officer's purpose illogical and unviable. The latter point of view is open to a certain critique from vulgarity, or on its behalf, no? Which Kafka might be making by having the two speak French - and the traveler's scrupulosity could be interpreted by some as self-important. (I don't think so; this case is making itself without me, as it were. I want to read "Penal Colony" as a beautiful, straight attack on religion, and also one that doesn't blame it on people like me.)

But also the case may be being made against the People? They're following these orders, behaving clownishly etc. Perhaps it's they that enable religion, fascism, whatever else, and he's getting away from them to preserve himself. And it's just weird - dream-weird, Kafka-weird - that they try to leave with the traveler. Makes sense that he wouldn't be taking them with him, since why would he? It's not like he's leaving them behind among people like the officer, at the end, since commandant #2 and his ladies seem to be running things. Though apparently there are still captains making random implausible accusations (but if the condemned man acted so strangely at the end, perhaps he really could have threatened to "gobble" him?).

Great story though. Heavily reminiscent of the glorious Naphta/Settembrini sequence in Magic Mountain, which I find similarly gratifying. That's even more fun, actually, though Mann's only waveringly in Kafka's artistic league (basically Tolstoy's and Shakespeare's league, no?). Was reminded greatly of Naphta the other day, in fact, reading excerpts from Eagleton's new douchebaggy book. Not that he has Naphta's brains, or is anywhere near as entertaining. Post-conversion Orestes Brownson is a much purer real life version of that character.


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