‘For we are made of lines. We are not only referring to lines of writing. Lines of writing conjugate with other lines, life lines, lines of luck or misfortune, lines productive of the variation of the line of writing itself, lines that are between the lines of writing.’
— Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (trans. Brian Massumi)
[There is satisfaction in returning to a work you once found all but incomprehensible, and read as poetry, only to find that this time perhaps your thinking has in some senses caught up and you are able to read with greater clarity, or that is at least how it feels. It’s probably illusory.]
Sigrun posted a quotation from Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy? I’ve spent many hours thinking about this puzzling, beautiful text. Sigrun’s post sent me back this afternoon, though, in the end, it was the paragraph below that kept me company with the late afternoon sun. I love that they make a connection between thought and witchcraft, between the contemplation of the morning after and the nights that belong to Dionysus.
Thinking provokes general indifference. It is a dangerous exercise nevertheless. Indeed, it is only when the dangers become obvious that indifference ceases, but they often remain hidden and barely perceptible inherent in the enterprise. Precisely because the plane of immanence is prephilosophical and does not immediately take effect with concepts, it implies a sort of groping experimentation and its layout resorts to measures that are not very respectable, rational, or reasonable. These measures belong to the order of dreams, of pathological processes, esoteric experiences, drunkenness, and excess. We head for the horizon, on the plane of immanence, and we return with bloodshot eyes, yet they are the eyes of the mind. Even Descartes had his dream. To think is always to follow the witch’s flight.
Rineke Dijkstra, arguably the most essential contemporary portrait photographer.
A photograph works best when the formal aspects such as light, colour and composition, as well as the informal aspects like someone’s gaze or gesture come together. In my pictures I also look for a sense of stillness and serenity. I like it when everything is reduced to its essence. You try to get things to reach a climax. A moment of truth.
While Proust, Woolf, and Nabokov all sought to transform the art of the novel to convey the condition of time, their works have persistently been read in terms of a desire to transcend temporal finitude. In contrast, I pursue a notion of “chronolibido” that challenges this notion of desire. The fear of time (chronophobia) does not stem from a desire to transcend time, but rather from the investment in a life that will be lost. It is because one desires a temporal being (chronophilia) that one fears losing it (chronophobia). The implications of chronolibido that I pursue in the major works of Proust, Woolf, and Nabokov are not simply an extrinsic theory that I apply to the novels in question, but rather a set of insights that I derive from close readings of the texts themselves. Finally, I systematize the logic of chronolibido through an in depth engagement with psychoanalysis. Contesting Freud and Lacan’s notion of the death drive, I seek to demonstrate how the chronolibidinal notion of binding provides a better model for thinking the constitution of the libidinal economy and why the logic of survival is more expressive of the problems of attachment, trauma, and mourning that are at the center of psychoanalytic inquiry.
I remember—I must have been eight or nine—wandering out to the ungrassed backyard of our newly constructed suburban house and seeing that the earth was dry and cracked in irregular squares and other shapes, and I felt I was looking at a map and I was completely overcome by this description, my first experience of making a metaphor, and I felt weird and shaky and went inside and wrote it down: the cracked earth is a map. Although it only takes a little time to tell it, and it is hardly interesting, it filled a big moment at the time, it was an enormous ever-expanding room of a moment, a chunk of time that has expanded ever since and that my whole life keeps fitting into.
We might as well say that minor no longer designates specific literatures but the revolutionary conditions for every literature within the heart of what is called great (or established) literature. Even he who has the misfortune of being born in the country of a great literature must write in its language, just as a Czech Jew writes in German, or an Ouzbekian writes in Russian. Writing like a dog digging a hole, a rat digging its burrow.
Type “Kafka” into Google and you can choose from more than 14,000,000 English language sites-twice as many as for James Joyce. In Kafka: The Decisive Years Reiner Stach writes of ‘ well worn “complete interpretations” from the 1950s and 1960s, handbooks and tomes that explicate specific passages, essay collections, dreadfully hefty but nonetheless outdated bibliographies, and finally an immense array of academic monographs on the structure of fragment x, the influence of author y, or the concept of z “in Kafka.” As a reader of many of these volumes I agree with Stach’s conclusion of their value:
Disillusionment soon follows. Most of this material consists of unsupported speculation or academic verbiage. No Theory is too far-fetched to have been advocated somewhere by someone; there is no methodological approach that has not been used to interpret Kafka’s work. Some monographs resemble autistic games; it is impossible to imagine a reader who might reasonably benefit from them.
Although it is possible to revel in Kafka’s artistry without reading a single word of criticism, it is natural after reading the short stories and the three incomplete novels to dip into the diaries and letters. From there a curious mind is drawn to biography and interpretation. Disillusion swiftly follows.
I could use some help to compile a short list of essential Kafka criticism. What are the genuinely enlightening essays or books? After suggestions from Steve Mitchelmore and Flowerville I have updated the bibliography:
Kafka: The Decisive Years – Reiner Stach
The I Without a Self (The Dyer’s Hand) – W. H. Auden
Lambent Traces: Kafka – Stanley Corngold
A Bird Was In The Room (Writing and the Body) – Gabriel Josipovici
Kafka’s Children (Singer on the Shore) – Gabriel Josipovici
Kafka’s Other Trial: The Letters to Felice – Elias Canetti
The Castrating Shadow of Saint Garta (Testaments Betrayed) – Milan Kundera
Reading Kafka and Kafka & Literature (The Work of Fire) – Maurice Blanchot
Franz Kafka: The Necessity of Form – Stanley Corngold
Kafka: An Art for the Wilderness (The Lessons of Modernism) – Gabriel Josipovici
Notes on Kafka (Prisms) – Adorno
K. – Roberto Calasso
Conversations With Kafka – Gustav Janouch
Kafka: A Collection of Critical Essays – Ronald Gray, ed.
The Metamorphosis (Lectures on Literature) – Vladimir Nabokov
Kafka, Rilke and Rumpelstiltskin (Speak, Silence) – Idris Parry
Kafka and the Work’s Demand (The Space of Literature) – Maurice Blanchot
Excluded from this list because I consider them inferior are Brod’s biography (interesting but unreliable), Pietro Citati’s hagiography and Deleuze and Guattari’s showiness.
[21 Aug: Added a second Blanchot, Gray, Parry and Nabokov; deleted Pawel’s biography due to speculation and inaccuracies. 24 Aug: Removed Benjamin’s two Kafka essays (Illuminations)]
Simon Critchley’s Continental Philosophy, like other VSIs that I have read, combines compactness, knowledge and, in this case, insight. Critchley explains how philosophy came to be divided into analytical (or Anglo-American) and Continental philosophy, establishes the critical differences and suggests a way forward for philosophical reflection. Philosophical history aside, all fascinating, Critchley afforded me a candlelight (dim but present) of comprehension into Kant’s work (a Scruton VSI to Kant sits forbiddingly, unread on my shelves), and illuminated my token understanding of Heidegger’s work on being and time. As a successful introduction should, Critchley also whetted my appetite to try some key texts of Continental Philosophy: specifically Habermas’ Knowledge and Human Interests and Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy?