Argentina as a K country - Franz Kafka was born in Prague but lives in Buenos Aires

6 2004 Kultura English
obálka čísla

In spite of the fact that cultural conditions in Argentina have differed so much from those of Central Europe during the last two centuries, and that most of the people here are not familiar with the crossroad of religions (Christian, Jewish) and cultures (Czech, German, Jewish) which have existed in the heart of Europe that is – Prague, the multiculturalism that has always identified Argentina also includes the phenomena of Kafka. It is one hundred and twenty years now from the moment Franz Kafka, the son of Julie Löwy and Hermann Kafka, a merchant, was born into a middle-class Jewish family in Czechoslovakia or, to put it under a different shade, it is going to be eighty years soon since tuberculosis ended Kafka´s life in a clinic near Vienna, in the arms of Dora Dymant, in that winter of 1924. I dare to say Mr. Kafka would have liked the latter. Some writers have acquired the prestige to render their names to create new adjectives, evoking special atmospheres. We speak of the Dantesque, referring to the poet Dante or to his outstanding work The Divine Comedy and, by extension, to anything terrifying or recalling hell. The Kafkian universe is so restless, so disturbing -due to its immediateness, that has transcended the literary field to generate oneiric obsessions. Characters encountered to sequences of events that they cannot decode but that are irrevocable, as fate itself. The letter K is a very important letter in the work and life of Kafka; in addition to the obvious reason of his surname containing two of them, it also appears in almost every name of his characters. He dies attended by his friend, medical doctor Kloptock, in the area of Kierling. Prague is a mysterious city with bending and endless steep narrow streets that lead to the castle… to the unknown world… where everything is possible… His calligraphy was ill-assorted and showed him insecure; small lines, protecting among themselves. His drawings remind us at times of those by Federico García Lorca in their aspect, never in their theme though. Torturing machines, ambiguous characters puppeteered by invisible threads… "That night I woke up with the sensation of having put my head in the wrong hole", he says in one of his diaries. Argentinian writers such as Ernesto Sábato, Eduardo Mallea and Jorge Luis Borges among others are indebted to Kafka from diverse angles of their works. All of them have gone across the threshold of the absurd beyond allegories, playing with the improbable and even reaching our daily nightmares with the restless beauty of the fantastic world. A parallel might be drawn between Franz Kafka and the Argentinian writer Eduardo Mallea (1903-1982). Among his fruitful production, Mallea wrote "History of an Argentine Passion" (1937) where he refers to ‘an invisible Argentina’, to ‘an invisible man’… He suggests that while we are walking the streets of Buenos Aires under the sunlight, a different, sometimes opposed event is taking place… at the same moment, at the same site… but the common man cannot perceive it…. If you visit Prague after reading Kafka´s "The Castle", you will probably perceive "another" castle, apart from the one you will actually see, of course… In Argentina intellectuals simply adore him. The philosophers consider him an outstanding exponent of surrealism, the psychologists take him as an example of how pathologies can be turned into a piece of art, for the people of letters he is a master of the fantastic gender and so on. When Dr. Bernardo E. Koremblit –a very well-known Argentinian writer, biographer and literary critic, was consulted about the reason why intellectuals in Argentina consider the Czech Franz Kafka so highly, he replied, ‘Argentina is a Kafkian country, it may be heavens, it may be hell…’ He also mentioned a joke about Kafka being alive and, not being able to adapt in Europe, he applies for a residence in Argentina. After some time-consuming investigations the permit is denied due to ‘lack of imagination’. Apparently, all his talent had not been considered enough to be able to properly picture the controversies and daily absurdities that govern this wonderful but at times, lunatic country.

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