Browsing my bookshelves for something to read to fill half an hour – before being collected for the cinema – I am drawn back to Auden’s essays in The Dyer’s Hand. Today, it is to The I Without a Self that I turn, Auden on Kafka.
Kafka is one of two writers who have remained with me from my teenage years, read annually, the other being Eliot. The ‘meaning’ I extract from both has changed much over the passage of years. I am in sympathy with Auden’s reading.
I am inclined to believe that one should only read Kafka when one is in a eupeptic state of physical and mental health and, in consequence, tempted to dismiss any scrupulous heart-searching as a morbid fuss. When one is in low spirits, one should probably keep away from him, for, unless introspection is accompanied, as it always was in Kafka, by an equal passion for the good life, it all too easily degenerates into a spineless narcissistic fascination with one’s own sin and weakness.
Just before this statement, Auden writes, “Kafka may be one of those writers who are doomed to be read by the wrong public. Those on whom their effect would be most beneficial are repelled and on whose whom they most fascinate their effect may be dangerous, even harmful.”
Sylvia Plath is the other writer about whom one could make the same statement. Any others come to mind?