Franz Kafka, Bugs Under Your Skin, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer
A Field Guide
to the Invisible

Wayne Biddle
(Henry Holt)
This is one you pick up for the laughs, and put down for the nausea. It's mostly The Bad News Bears. Dioxin, radiation, allergens, noise. Under, for example, "Freon," we find out that CFCs were developed seventy-five years ago by one Thos. Midgley, that we've been using them willy-nilly, and now, as we all know, the Ozone layer may well be history because one pound of Freon can destroy 70,000 pounds of Ozone. Because its production is outlawed in the U. S., it's being smuggled into the country from such places as Mexico and, would you believe it? It's the second largest contraband substance after you-know-what.

Fallout? You want to know about fallout? No you don't. And you certainly don't want to hear about carbon dioxide concentrations, and contaminated dust. In fact, we are wondering why anyone would buy this book, unless they are into suffering. In that case, you'd probably have more fun with The Crimes of Love by de Sade.

A Field Guide to the Invisible is divided into almost sixty sections, arranged alphabetically, beginning with "Allergens" and ending with "Zeitgeist." No-see-um's are there, or rather, Biddle claims, really aren't: no one knows whether they are midges, punkies, gnats, or a joke invented by Native Americans to curse the land we stole from them. Other eenie-weenies are "Thoughts," "God," and "Mites" [See Fig. 1. Scabies eggs under your skin. Ug.].

The one invisible missing is something called "Humor." Under "Fallout,"

    If the B-61-11 [nuclear weapon] were ever used to take out an underground Libyan or Iraqi munitions factory, for example, vast sections of the Middle East would be hot in more than the Mad-Dogs-and-Englishmen sense.
Biddle also given to saying "veddy" as in "veddy British."

A New Translation
Mark Harman

Anyone who wants to buy and read a novel by Kafka should have his (or her) head examined. His involuted, twisted, paranoiac style could drive even the most sane to near-lunacy, and he certainly outdoes Joyce, Proust, and Faulkner at their worst when it comes to run-on lines.

Here's a typical page from this new edition of The Castle:

    There was also something rather shameful about this effort to probe family secrets in a roundabout way through an innocent child, and indeed doubly so if you couldn't even come up with anything. And finally, when K. asked the boy how he proposed to help, he was no longer surprised to learn that Hans merely wanted to help them with their tasks so as to ensure that the teacher and schoolmistress ceased scolding K. K. explained to Hans that no such help was needed, it was probably in the teacher's nature to be a scold, and one could scarcely escape this even through the most meticulous work, the work itself wasn't that difficult and only because of certain chance events had he fallen behind today, and in any case this scolding didn't affect K. as it would a pupil, he simply shook it off, it meant almost nothing to him, and he hoped to escape soon from the teacher. Since this merely concerned help against the teacher, K. thanked him very much and said he could go back now, he hoped he wouldn't be punished. Although K. never emphasized this and only intimated it involuntarily, it was only the help against the teacher that he didn't need, whereas he wasn't ruling out the possibility of another sort of help, Hans clearly took note of this and asked whether K. needed help of some other kind, he would be very glad to help him, and if he couldn't, he would ask his mother to do so, and then success would be assured. Besides, when Father had worries he also asked Mother for help. And Mother had once even asked about K., she hardly ever left the house, her presence that day at Lasemann's was exceptional, but he, Hans, often went there to play with Lasemann's children, and Mother had once asked him whether the surveyor had ever come back. Well, one shouldn't ask Mother needless questions, for she was weak and ill, and so, he had simply told her that he hadn't seen the surveyor there nothing more was said; on finding K. here in the school, though, he had to speak to him so that he could inform his mother. For Mother liked it best if you carried out her wishes without explicit orders. At that, after a moment's reflection, K. said he didn't need help, he had everything he needed, but it was very kind of Hans to want to help him.

Can you come up with a bigger, noisier, meandering creek-bed than that? What fret-work! Max Brod, Kafka's friend and editor, was instructed by the author to destroy all his unpublished works when he died. Kafka passed on, with a surfeit of words, as well as TB, in 1924, at the age of 41.

Instead of dumping these noodlings in the trash-heap where they belonged, visions of sugar-plums danced in his head. Quick as a bat, with a little convenient pruning, Brod published all of Kafka's novels within the next three years. He obviously knew there were a passel of paranoiacs out there who wanted to read about their own condition, ad nauseam. It's like bulimics reading about other bulimics, or battered wives wanting to read about other battered wives.

By saving these manuscripts, Brod did a major disservice to long-suffering college students the world over, adding exponentially to their misery. It was bad enough that we had to slog our way through The Aeneid, or The Confessions of St. Augustine, or Hamlet. In our endless "Modern Lit" Courses, we had to make our troubled, yawning way through The Castle or Amerika or The Trial. To those of us who were in any way normal, these paranoid-schizophrenic novels meant nothing more than nut-case meandering, and, furthermore, a meandering that never ever seemed to want to end. We suspect that Kafka never could figure it out either, which is why he never could seem to finish the buggers.

In the case of The Castle, it's the long tale of a surveyor named "K." who arrives in the village, and is supposed to have a job the castle on the hill, only no-one seems to know what he is supposed to be doing, and he certainly doesn't know what he is supposed to be doing, and where he's supposed to do it, and to whom --- so he ends up at the village inn, dithering nervously about, with several thousand contradictory thoughts. It's a generally madmaking slow boat to nowhere.

The literary world is beside itself with this new translation by Mark Harman, because it turns out that Brod had dolled up the text when he published it, though you could've fooled us. No wonder Kafka was such a looney-cakes --- hanging out with blood-suckers like Brod. It reminds us of Warren G. Harding's famous statement: "My enemies I can handle; it's my friends that drive me bonkers."

We are sure there will be an instant market amongst the fake literati for this edition of The Castle, just as there is for the newest update of Das Kapital. Both works should look dandy, up there on the top shelf of the book-case, where they belong, gathering dust.

O yes, there is one great moment in The Castle, which we ended up being very fond of, when we finally got there:

    She held out her trembling hand to K. and had him sit down beside her, she spoke with great difficulty, it was difficult to understand her, but what she said

That's it. It's end of the book. No period, no nothing --- just "but what she said"

Well, what the hell did she say? How about, "It's a miracle you made it all the way to the end of this tale. How'd you ever do it?" To which we respond, "We had to. Reading Kafka is about as much fun as a barium enema. It feels so good when it's done and over with."

on the Cross

Dietrich Bonhöffer
(Translated by Douglas W. Scott)

Bonhöffer was a Christian, with a capital "C." He didn't get to live long --- thirty-nine years --- because his work with the Pastors' Emergency League in Germany raised the ire of the Nazis. (What the PEL did was in poignant contrast to the way that most other Protestant groups responded to the Nazis. Pope Pius XII, for example, saw to it that the Papal State the very first to recognize Hitler's new government in 1933).

Bonhöffer was in Tegel Prison in Berlin for most of 1943-1944 --- and was murdered shortly after the June plot against Hitler. He was a prolific writer and a fundamentalist Christian --- in the best sense of the word: he identified with the Passion to the point that he saw his own suffering as not worthy of comment:

    There rises protest in me when I read references to my "suffering." To me, this seems like a sacrilege. These things must not be dramatized. It is more than questionable to me that I am "suffering" more than you or even than most people today. Of course, much of what happens here [in prison] is disgusting, but where is that not the case?

Bonhöffer believed in a pervasive vision of the Christian Imperative, and a deep involvement in secular life. His reading of the Scripture made him see all that occurred to him, and to the world, in terms of the Passion and the Resurrection:

    The liberating thing about Good Friday and Easter is that one's thoughts are swept far beyond one's own personal fate to the ultimate meaning of all life and suffering, and of whatever occurs, such that one is seized by a great hope.

This particular volume seems quite slim. If one wishes to appreciate the works of Bonhöffer, it would probably be better to invest in the 1951 edition of Letters and Papers from Prison.

--- R. R. Doister

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