My first exposure to Kafka was like anyone else’s, a reading of “Metamorphosis” in high school. When you’re that young, it’s truly impossible to get a full grasp of the meaning of most stories - lacking the life experience, it can be hard to relate with something someone much older and more experienced has written. Of course, it’s main themes of alienation and loneliness can probably be pretty familiar for most teens; there’s still something more to the prose, however. A teenager has a couple of years of loneliness - an adult can have decades of loneliness, and that kind of dark decay of the soul is much more profound than you can truly appreciate when young. Of course, a teenager always thinks he alone can understand such a vast sorrow, but that’s not so.
To brush up on this understanding, and to see why a good friend of mine hated the Prague writer so much, I had purchased a copy of one of his collections of short stories and was determined to read it. This was back when I lived in Denver, with that constant level of fear and alienation I was feeling from my own culture building up inside of me.
It wasn’t so much that I was in truth alienated, but maybe it was that I was at a point of life that if I wasn’t alienated, then there must have been something mediocre about me, and hence the fear. What greater and worst thing is there in life than to be mediocre? And when you look at all the greats of history, most have accomplished so much by the age that I was, in my mid-twenties, and there I was with a mediocre desk job, a mediocre salary, mediocre stories, a mediocre life. And there I was reading the Collected Works while sitting alone on my toilet, while my cat Augustus Caesar meowed outside, clawing underneath the door, trying to save me from the depths of whatever renal attack he imagined the great porcelain toilet monster was letting me have. What else could all that noise be? he must have been wondering with great fear. If the God dies, then where will the mana come from?
the high castle of Prague
Last Sunday, I went to the Kafka Museum, here in Prague. At the time of reading the greater hull of Kafka’s works while sitting on my toilet back in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver, I had no design to ever live in Prague. I didn’t even want to visit the city, as it was already overused and outdone by hipsters throughout the town - “I’ve been to Prague, it’s so out there, on the border of civilization, and amazing and artistic.” Right, not really - I’ve been to the places on the "border of civilization", and in those regards, Prague is quaint. You can quote me on that when talking to hometown hipsters.