The Castle, by Franz Kafka

This is the first writing by Kafka I’ve read that I haven’t been impressed by. And unlike the Trial, when they say it is unfinished, they really mean unfinished, like it cuts off in the middle of a sentence. I don’t understand why this was published, or why people continue to read it today.

The story is about ‘K’, who arrives in a nameless town, and at the center of this town is a ‘the castle’ which may or may not be an actual castle, but contains offices and officials who may or may not have influence over people in the town. K wants to get into the castle for a reason we never learn, and makes nearly zero progress toward this goal for the entirety of the writing.

think the point of it was the paranoia and confusion of impenetrable bureaucracy, but I’m not totally sure. Similar to The Trial (which also features a character called ‘K’) K is overwhelmed at every step by incomprehensible rules, but unlike the Trial, in which he is trying to find out what he’s been accused of, or at least be done with his trial, in the Castle we have no idea what his objective is other than ‘get to the castle.’ We have no idea who he is or where he came from, what was his life before.

The only part of the book that I really liked was when the story of Frieda’s father trying to remove what he sees as a ‘black mark’ on his daughter because she did not meet an official who asked her out for a drink. After she does this, every wrong thing that happens to the family, he perceives as being because the officials have them on some kind of the list. He expends all his energy trying to contact these officials in the castle (which he, like K, cannot get into) and spends all his money trying to bribe them, all when they have not even confirmed that the family has any black mark at all.

In the end, I wouldn’t recommend it. There was too many long, seemingly meaningless conversations, and not enough of K being foiled to make it as claustrophobic as The Trial was. Mostly I was just bored.

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Scent in writing

I’m reading Perfume: The story of a murderer, by Patrick Suskind, and am impressed with the amount of detail he’s put into describing smells. It is an underused sense, in writing, and maybe that is part of why it seems so amazing, but I’m really being drawn into the strange way this character perceives the world.

Scents are so varied, and so strongly tied to memory and emotion, that it’s a wonder they aren’t more widely used in descriptions. People are just so visual in everything we do, that the other senses get overwhelmed…

Losing momentum

Cause I haven’t been writing every day, I feel the write is just draining out of me. So this is me trying to fill it back up again.

Reading: I finished listening to Heart of Darkness and found it a bit disturbing, and also very well written. It was referenced in Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald, which I loved so much, and that’s why I picked it up. I’m now listening to the Castle, by Kafka, and it’s very similar to The Trial in that he’s overwhelmed by senseless bureaucracy. In this one though, he’s trying to do something (get to the castle) and being impeded, instead of having something thrust on him.  I also finished Burial Rites, and got a bit bored in the middle parts, cause it’s all about what happened, and I don’t really care what happened. I want to know how she feels, what she’s thinking, how it affects her. The details of how she got into the situation are kind of meaningless to me.

I’ve also been wasting a lot of time playing chess, which is distracting me from writing. Oh well, what can I do but follow my interests! I must make it a point to write some today…

What I want to read…

I’ve been reading Burial Rites by Hannah Kent with a book club I just started with some friends. It’s much more enjoyable to read a book when you have people to discuss it with, but how can anyone ever get their friends to read the same books… if you’re even fortunate enough to have friends who read at all!

So we each submitted some choices, and voted on those choices (can’t vote for your own submissions!) and ended up with a book that everyone at least kind of wanted to read. Success! It wasn’t my top choice, but I was interested!

The novel is based on the true story of an Icelandic woman sentenced to death for murder in 1829, and her last days living on a farm with a family, who are tasked with watching over her while she waits her execution.

This sounded appealing to me, because I always am curious about the mind states of people in extreme situations. What would it be like, knowing you are doomed to die, awaiting the inevitable end day by day… Because it is like a magnified version of all our lives, all will end, all will end definitely, but we pretend they won’t. I find myself curious of what it would be like when you can’t pretend anymore.

I’m about 40% done with it now, and while it is an intriguing read, it’s not what I’d hoped it would be. The story seems to focus more on the family’s perception of her, and her interactions with a priest, and doesn’t delve much into her internal feelings on death. Not so far anyway. It seems to be more about perceptions, and how we decide a person is one way, just because of what others say of them, or judge their entire life and being all based on a single action, a single mistake.

An interesting read so far!

 

The Luzhin Defense by Vladimir Nabokov

Another terrific read by Nabokov, I have yet to be disappointed by his novels. This one follows a chess player, but you don’t have to know a single thing about how to play chess in order to enjoy it. It’s more about the mental states, and how imagining all the possible outcomes in a game can send your brain down an unending maze of possibilities.

Aside from Nabokov’s usual wonderful prose and lovable characters, I found the slow, creeping insanity that Luzhin endures to be very believable and a bit unsettling. And even though I saw the end coming, that didn’t lessen the impact and effectiveness of it.

Another great read, and anyone who hasn’t read Nabokov please pick up one of his books, you won’t regret it!

how ‘the customer is always right’ culture is ruining our society

Happy May Day! Workers’ rights are important, and are ignored quite a bit in this capitalistic country (one of the few countries that doesn’t have May Day as a day off for workers… quite ironic.)

Here, it seems, even workers treat other workers like crap. And I don’t think it’s necessarily because they are bad people, but because they’ve been trained to be assholes by this ‘customer is always right’ idea.

Imagine going out to eat, and always being given your food free if you complain and yell about it enough. Imagine getting pulled to the front of the line if you scream and make a fuss. Imagine being apologized to profusely and groveled before if you howl and threaten convincingly enough—this is the state of customer service in America. He who screams and yells the loudest is given the quickest, best service.

It’s not hard to imagine this spreading to other, non-consumer areas of society. After being trained for their entire lives that yelling gets you your way, why shouldn’t someone take this strategy home, and yell at their wife or kids? Or at someone online in an argument? Or any other area of life?

We’ve trained people to be assholes by rewarding them for shitty behavior, at the cost of our workers’ sanity. It has to stop!

No one should be given a free meal for yelling and treating the server like shit, they should be thrown out and banned from the restaurant. They should not get to talk to the supervisor before everyone else in line because they started screaming, they should be thrown out and not allowed back in. People need to learn to behave civilly if they want to be helped and served by another human being.

But until we stop worshiping the dollar above all else, no company will change their ‘customer is always right’ policy–which translated, is really ‘the dollar is always right.’

Even more right than the rights of your workers to be treated like a human being.

The Third Policeman, by Flann O’Brien

The end saved this one a bit for me. I really was not a fan of a lot of the middle, so much of it seemed disconnected from everything and meaningless and confusing, but maybe that was the point.

The end was really surreal and creepy and dark, but the kooky humor of the rest of the book sort of undercut the effect of it I think.

I feel there was probably some meaning I was missing in this one, as nothing seemed to have any connection to anything… a strange read, but not recommended unless it’s your brand of humor.