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A Review of EXCAVATING KAFKA, also known as WHY YOU SHOULD READ KAFKA BEFORE YOU WASTE YOUR LIFE (James Hawes) by Joseph Suglia
My goodness! Kafka was an onanist! Alert the presses! James Hawes’s “revelations” in Why You Should Read Kafka Before You Waste Your Life aren’t particularly “revelatory”–any self-respecting “Kafkologist” knows that Kafka subscribed to Der Amethyst, a literary and aesthetic journal that Hawes finds “pornographic.” And I don’t need James Hawes, failed novelist, to demystify Kafka’s allegedly “saintly” image for me. Milan Kundera did that himself many years ago–not that I am an admirer of Milan Kundera.
Has it never dawned on Hawes that perhaps Kafka was a subscriber to Der Amethyst because it contained contemporary avant-garde literature or because Franz Blei published that journal–Franz Blei, who ALSO published Kafka’s own Betrachtungen? (Parenthetical question: Does Hawes TRULY know German? There are very few references here, and they are largely to English-language texts.) And has it never dawned upon the author that Kafka perhaps did NOT see masturbatory possibilities therein? I am reminded of one of my best friends, who happens to be gay and who collects heterosexual pornography, which he finds intriguing from an aesthetic, political, and cultural perspective. Did Hawes find STAINS?
And so the philistinic and moralistically hypocritical James Hawes equates Der Amethyst with Penthouse, Blei with an “Edwardian Larry Flynt,” Octave Mirbeau and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch with back-room, dime-store pornography, Gustav Klimt with Girls Gone Wild, and a familiar passage in Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers with Kafka’s Die Verwandlung–as if he were the first person to see the resemblance. Oooooo… Werther imagines himself turning into a May beetle (Maikäfer)… Gregor Samsa imagines himself turning into a vermin (Ungeziefer)… Ooooooooooo… What a revelation! Ooooooooo…
Instead of engaging with the form and meaning of Kafka’s writing, Hawes, failed novelist, grubs about in Kafka’s life, which is the pitfall of most Kafka scholarship. Only a few philologists have insightfully commented on Kafka–Walter Benjamin, Gilles Deleuze, Stanley Corngold. Hawes, predictably, focuses upon the tabloid aspects of Kafka’s life. And so Hawes, while pretending to present Kafka as a man of the world, merely reinforces the dreary, pseudo-moralistic cliches about Kafka, who is often mistyped as a “dark and lonely masturbator.”
James Hawes, now older than Kafka was when he died, releasing all of his envious venom on a great writer, is the true pornographer.
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