GAY KAFKAESQUE WRITING
“In Kafka’s world the sacred and
the profane cannot be untangled,
and “seeming” may be the weightiest
word in his writings.”
—Saul Friedländer, Franz Kafka:
The Poet of Shame and Guilt
Franz Kafka (1883–1924) is one of those authors whose impact on gay literature cannot be underestimated. Kafka was the precursor for what we call today the Gay Diaspora of Literature – creating a new exile gay fiction that we take for granted because of its now fairly well-accepted and ongoing modern homosexual literary ubiquity.
Franz Kafka struggled during his short life to reconcile the irreconcilable: 1) his gay life, 2) his gay imagination and 3) his gay writing.
Kafka’s texts at the time - and even now - demonstrate a perplexing problem for the Heteronormative literary establishment which slavishly treats Kafka’s queer oeuvre with an air of str8t mystification and myopic misrepresentation.
For example, it’s commonplace for str8t literary critics and hetero littérateur queens to say something like:
1) “Obviously the quality of Kafka’s work is clear yet it resists all attempts to approach it by way of traditional (str8t) reading”;
2) “Our (str8t) imagination and understanding fall short of grasping Kafka’s textual world”;
3) “Kafka’s gay texts demand a (str8t) transdisciplinary and comparative approach”;
4) “It’s so perplexing: We understand the words and sentences of Kafka’s texts, but when it comes to envisioning the (gay) universe of his texts and its internal queer logic, we encounter almost insurmountable barriers.
Insurmountable barriers? How boring and tres bourgeoisie, my dears. Str8t literary critics and commentators set themselves up as losers from the very outset.
These so-called readers of Kafka’s texts seem to want to fail from the very beginning. And be doomed in their attempts to understand this so-called ‘uncanny’ queer world of Miss Kafka, created supposedly out of nowhere by an alien from the planet Mars!!!
C’mon now, my str8t dears. Is an alternate gay existence with its own queer dimensions such a difficult thing to entertain?
Another thing these supposed str8t literary critics and hetero littérateur queens introduce into the Kafka conversation is the term “Kafkaesque” – an uncomfortable paradoxical little linguistic tidbit of str8t thinking:
1) “We can understand Kafka’s texts but we struggle to follow their logic and the mysterious gay world created by them”;
2) “The term ‘Kafkaesque’ suggests a dimension of Kafka’s texts that we perceive as strange, uncanny, and resistant to any str8t classification”;
3) “Str8t authors have tried to adopt the ‘Kafkaesque’ situating themselves in the literary tradition of the uncanny that relies on the world of the mystified city of Prague with its long Jewish tradition as well as on Romanticist and ‘Gothic’ texts”
Of course, one can read a wide selection of Franz Kafka-esque texts by other contemporary authors as well as authors from other cultures and eras (J. Joyce, W.G. Sebald, T. Pynchon, H. Mulisch, Ph. Roth).
But does such a Comparative Literature approach really help to prepare our understanding of Kafka’s gay universe by comparing & contrasting it with the vast str8t oeuvre of all these other esteemed writers?
And just how much do we want to beat the same old ‘uncanny’ bandwagon circus act to explain away any understanding of what Miss Kafka could be saying to us?
For example, Kafka’s parable/short story UP IN THE GALLERY is hardly ‘uncanny’ or ‘mystifying’ or ‘unfathomable’ to either the Str8t or Gay Reader or anybody else along the GLBT spectrum of modern day Homonormative Identity Politics who takes the time to read this brief two-paragraph seminal little piece of ‘gay kafkaesque’ fiction.
In some ways UP IN THE GALLERY is like another one of Kafka’s brief snapshot parables, BEFORE THE LAW. The latter piece describes the gay closet while the former parable describes what it’s like to be a gay out of the closet before a mob of Str8ts.
UP IN THE GALLERY is like a three-ring Barnum & Bailey Circus Act that begins this way:
“If some frail tubercular lady circus rider were to be driven in circles around and around the arena for months and months without interruption in front of a tireless public on a swaying horse by a merciless whip-wielding master of ceremonies, spinning on the horse, throwing kisses and swaying at the waist…”
In the second paragraph, a sympathetic gay spectator is shocked and horrified by the tacky performance and rushes down out of the bleachers to somehow save the “frail tubercular lady circus rider” from such a cruel spectacle.
But the “frail tubercular lady circus rider” doesn’t want to be saved and actually enjoys doing the difficult circus act and relishes the applause and attention she gets from the adoring crowd:
“high on the tips of her toes, with dust swirling around her, arms outstretched and head thrown back, wants to share her luck with the entire circus—since this is how things are…”
If there is some kind of ‘gay kafkaesque’ paradox involved here in these two parables, it seems to me it revolves around: 1) being in the closet (BEFORE THE LAW) and 2) being out of the closet (UP IN THE GALLERY).
Kafka seems to develop and elaborate on these various ‘gay kafkaesque’ parables later on – with his METAMORPHOSES, THE TRIAL and THE CASTLE.
Like the “frail tubercular lady circus rider” who doesn’t want to be saved and craves the attention of the audience - is the “frail tubercular” writer Franz Kafka doing the same kind of performance? Is Kafka willing to perform this same kind of lady circus rider act like UP IN THE GALLERY - before a mob of str8ts?
Is this what we call today being a ‘gay kafkaesque’ writer?