2. Extraterrestrial Kafka: Ahead to the Graphic Novel
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t w o Extraterrestrial Kafka: Ahead to the Graphic Novel Amid the Flows There is always something out of this world, by which we probably mean radically weird and inexhaustible, about Kafka. The weirdness arrives in broad strokes and tiny splashes. It encompasses the earth-shaking fictive premises of The Trial, ‘‘The Metamorphosis,’’ and ‘‘The Burrow,’’ which have given rise to innumerable extensions and adaptations in fantastic literature , sci-fi, and the graphic novel, but also such specific touches as the servants ’ uniforms in The Castle and the hum of the Castle telephone system. Often in Kafka’s writing there is no greater weirdness than a minor detail. Or a creature that may not exactly be human but that thinks and generates discourse, not only obscuring the boundaries between the human and the animal but inquiring, at the most elemental level, into the nature, qualities, domain, and pertinence of consciousness and cognition.1 PAGE 49 49 ................. 17885$ $CH2 10-20-10 14:48:59 PS 50 Extraterrestrial Kafka Kafka was uncannily attuned to the systematic restructuring ensuing from nineteenth-century colonialism and military science, from twentiethcentury corporate organization and bureaucracy, and from the vastly enlarged scale, acceleration, and range of mass communications facilitated by such technologies as the telephone, radio transmission, and photojournalism . Such striking depictions as the Court in The Trial attest to Kafka’s being, as much as any of his agents, servants, or facilitators of the Law, an unrepentant (and we would have to say bound) creature of the book. But the book medium that can be extrapolated from diverse snatches of his fiction, like the institutions of legal impartiality, personal freedom, and corporeal respect and integrity (as in habeas corpus), is also under seismic stress, in the process of morphing into something else, into something, like Gregor Samsa at the outset of ‘‘The Metamorphosis,’’ not quite what it was before. Whether Kafka intuited or not the future of his script in the medium of the graphic novel is beyond the scope of the present chapter. But that a discernible elective affinity prevails between Kafka’s imagination of systems and of urban and bureaucratic space under advanced capitalism and what would become the formal specifications and constitutive aesthetics and ethos of contemporary graphic fiction is the taking-off point and basic assertion of the following exposition. This meditation demands that we not only paraphrase and catalogue the substantive messages surfacing throughout Kafka’s prose. It requires that we explicitly address the irreducibly visual component in Kafka’s imagination, that we extrapolate its features and potentials outward toward powerful and memorable innovations in book, newspaper, and magazine publishing, and, for that matter, in painting, photography , and cinema, developments that it indirectly inaugurated and facilitated . The completion of this exercise will demand an acknowledgment necessary even in the face of the demonstrable superiority that the rigorous deployment of tropes and bearings emanating from philosophy and contemporary critical theory has afforded the reading of literature in general and indeed that of consummately difficult and autopoietically generative authors, including Kafka, Proust, Joyce, Woolf, and Borges: namely, that a host of visual, graphic, performative, and decorative art forms and media could be tangibly marked and reformatted by contributions and innovations filed by literary artists; furthermore, that these nonlinear aftershocks and repercussions of literary performances did not require discursive or conceptual legitimation, mediation, or intervention in order to transpire. ................. 17885$ $CH2 10-20-10 14:49:00 PS Ahead to the Graphic Novel 51 We can watch in bemused awe as the overarching skew and strangeness in his fiction ricochet beyond his written corpus into entire orders of speculative and conceptual derangement. I think in particular of the degree to which Kafka’s writing, more than any other single factor, occasions Deleuze/ Guattari’s notion of deterritorialization,2 a general category of social and psychic alienation and displacement amid global flows of money, goods, migration, sexual traffic, and signs (the latter accorded the same status by the mega-trope of flow), amid current hegemonic incursions by war machines on a greater than continental scale. Deterritorialization, of which Kafka is the exemplary visionary and poet, is for Deleuze/Guattari always the consequence of a crisis of encoding and decoding that has resulted in mutations: The modern theory of mutations has clearly demonstrated that a code, which necessarily relates to a population, has an essential margin of decoding: not only does every code have supplements capable of free variation, but a...


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Subject Headings

  • Criticism.
  • Social systems.
  • Literature -- Philosophy.
  • Books -- History.
  • Books and reading -- Sociological aspects.
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