The image of a wide pork butcher’s knife

The image of a wide pork butcher’s knife swiftly, and with mechanical regularity, chopping into me, shaving off razor thin slices which fly about due to the speed of the work. Kafka.

Since I was 17, I’ve wanted to go crazy just like I thought Kafka did.  A smoldering intensity that would burn up my teachers at school and women would find irresistible. I bought a pair of glasses that he might have bought at a local optometrist. I had to special order them. If he had worn khakis and Jack Purcell’s I would have bought them too. That’s the easy part. The Gap has an ad with Salvador Dali and his wife standing next to a pool. I think it says, Dali wore khakis. The question is, would Kafka have even if he looked like Jeremy Irons, who played him in the movie Kafka. Khakis are too dayish. With his ears turned out like bats and his eyes looking like they had been plucked out of Nosferatu’s bald head, Kafka would be wearing black pants and a crisp white shirt buttoned up to the neck, an ink stain at the corner of the pocket – a well-dressed but casual vampire. Deleuze and Guattari saw this in Kafka. “There is something of Dracula in Kafka – a Dracula who works by letters, letters that are like bats. They prowl by night and by day are locked in his coffin desk.” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1986, page 29-30). Still no mention of khakis. Anthony Perkins, who played Joseph K. in Wells’ movie version of The Trial doesn’t wear them even though in a few scenes he does go out during the day. I have a picture of Kafka in my office at school. His head and shoulders loom over Prague, just as a movie poster might show Dracula looking down on London. His jacket is black.

by Patrick Keim

by Patrick Keim

Kafka’s work is a model for writing about the new exoticism in the tighter spaces around the self and the politics of the nervous system (Taussig, 1992). The word Kafkaesque is already injected into the system. Kafka and his bugs stand for anything out of the ordinary and at the same time the absolute ordinariness of an office bureaucracy. Here they might be wearing khakis. Kafka’s portrayals have a more intense lividness than C. Wright Mills’ crucial epiphany at the beginning of The Sociological Imagination. Mills is too slow. He’s still in the 19th century. He’s still working with blocks the size of the state. The ordinary is not ordinary. It’s a sentimentality in the maintenance of the big heterosexist machine. Kafka, writing in the early part of the 20th century, is already aware of the modern and how the political and the ordinary are intertwined in a nervous system. The shock here, even at the smallest point, whether fumbling for change in a line or drinking a double espresso, sets up vibrations that are felt in varying degrees the length of the commodity and dream trails in the world system. This is my starting point. Drive, accelerate, exaggerate, Mills’ (1959) notion of the sociological imagination into Kafkaean micro-politics. Second, map the trip into the nervous system.


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