Sunday, July 04, 2004


Well, I missed Kafka's birthday. As always, I was completely wrapped up in my own pervading sense of Weltschmerz [arguably a good way of celebrating the occasion]. Came across that most famous of letters to Oskar Pollak [at wood s lot], in which Kafka vehemently posits that "a book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us". That is decidedly different from a book that melts the frozen sea within us. Such a book is likely to be one that also makes us happy, which is obviously something that Kafka deemed an affront to his own literary sensibilities: if there was not a painful blow to the head involved while reading a book, there was little hope for any ensuing lucidity.

In my own reading experience, such blows to the head, with the resultant 'moments of clarity', have been effected by the author's perceived sensibilities matching my own [unarticulated susceptibilities to impression suddenly articulated], a phenomenon that not only leaves me feeling all sated with wisdom and ready to conquer the world anew, but also leaves me feeling, er, happy. Yes, happy. Now Kafka's position on the matter of books making us happy is that "we'd be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves".

No books at all? That would not be a happy world in which to live. Must I go and make the 'book as a physical object' argument again? And writing books ourselves? Franz: it's kind of you to modestly include yourself in this scenario, but we all know what a mess that would be, especially if it meant that we were all running around writing our own self-help manuals and living memoirs, all just searching for a little cathartic happiness in the process.

The question is begged: what kind of books knock us upside the head and make us weep with recognition? Do the types of books being published today even carry the potential of making such an impact? Perhaps the question I'm really asking is this: does chick lit change lives, or does it merely kill brain cells slowly and insidiously? More importantly, has it caused Kafka to roll over in his grave yet?

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