I’m not sure which of these five short stories were worse, the three that made some sort of sense or the two that didn’t. The first piece, “The Judgement,” initially impressed me with Kafka’s more than competent writing skill and eye for detail. However, the end of what could only be loosely termed a “story” left me bewildered. Still trusting, I reread the main bits carefully, thinking that perhaps I’d missed some important detail or was simply not smart enough to understand. Finally, I resorted to the relevant Wikipedia article. Now I have a pretty good nose for bullshit and my eyes started watering with the stench almost immediately. Is the story a commentary on the conflict between a world of “vital existence in which probability and reservation rule” and a world “in which every step has an incalculable importance because it is taken under the horizon of an absolute summons to the road,” or is it a load of old bollocks imparting nothing but the vague flavour of some unspecified psychosis? Since I’ve cleverly managed to include my answer to that question inside the question itself, we’ll move right along to the other “chocolate chips” in this raisin cookie.
“The Metamorphosis” was the most readable piece–a miserably surreal little tale that left me feeling depressed and wondering why the author even bothered with it. “In the Penal Colony” was even more unpleasant, but the hint of deep psychological meaning and political commentary made it feel less pointless, at least. “A Report to an Academy,” the story of an ape who became a man, was almost funny and probably the least off-putting work in the collection, though nothing that would make an author famous. Finally that nonsensical nightmare “A Country Doctor,” which might as well have been included in its original German for all the sense it made.
Nothing makes one feel quite like an ignoramus as much as not “getting” a famous literary work. However, my first exposure to Kafka gives me the distinct sense that his fame comes from the self-congratulation of literary critics, psychologists and scholars who find endless theses in his tangled writings, only brought to the public eye through tireless promotion (one could almost say, exploitation) by his rather sketchy friend, Max Brod.
[Why I read it: Another one of those classics that didn’t make it onto my reading list until I came across it in the thrift store. I actually started reading it while in the middle of Forrest Griffin’s Be Ready When the Sh*t Goes Down because I needed something else (for obvious reasons) to fill the hour between doors opening and the start of Ax Fighting #51 (featuring martial artists, not crazed lumberjacks, unfortunately).]