Milan Kundera on Kafka, The Castle

"The convergence of the real world of totalitarian states with Kafka’s "poem" will always be somewhat uncanny, and it will always bear witness that the poet’s act, in its very essence, is incalculable; and paradoxical: the enormous social, political, and "prophetic" import of Kafka’s novels lies precisely in their "nonengagement," that is to say, in their total autonomy from all political programs, ideological concepts, and futurological prognoses.

Indeed, if instead of seeking “the poem” hidden “somewhere behind” the poet “engages” himself to the service of a truth known from the outset (which comes forward on its own and is “out in front”), he has renounced the mission of poetry. And it matters little whether the preconceived truth is called revolution or dissidence, Christian faith or atheism, whether it is more justified or less justified; a poet who serves any truth other than the truth to be discovered (which is dazzlement) is a false poet.

If I hold so ardently to the legacy of Kafka, if I defend it as my personal heritage, it is not because I think it worthwhile to imitate the inimitable (and rediscover the Kafkan) but because it is such a tremendous example of the radical autonomy of the novel (of the poetry that is the novel). This autonomy allowed Franz Kafka to say things about our human condition (as it reveals itself in our century) that no social or political thought could ever tell us.”

- Milan Kundera, The Art of the Novel.

My brain’s desktop, part two

"There is in the pointing out of patterns something that is opposed to life and art, an ungraciousness which artists in particular feel and resent. Readers feel it too, even critics: for every new moment, every new line or touch, is a triumph of opportunism, something snatched in from life beyond expectation and made design beyond design. And yet the fact remains that it is as we see the design that we see design outdone and brought alive."

- C. L. Barber, Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy.


"When Flaubert told Turgenev about his project for Bouvard and Pécuchet, the Russian urged him strongly to keep the work short. Perfect advice from an old master. For the story can only maintain its comical effectiveness in the form of a short tale; length would make it monotonous and irritating, if not completely silly. But Flaubert persisted; he explained to Turgenev: “If [this subject] is treated briefly, in a light, concise way, it will be a fairly witty fantasy, but without import and without plausibility, whereas in giving it detail and development I would appear to believe in my story, and I could make it something serious and even frightening.”

- Milan Kundera, The Curtain.


"Today the only modernism worthy of the name is antimodern modernism."

- Milan Kundera, The Curtain.


"Both ages make art that succeeds by failing , but each exploits failure in different ways. Jazz presumes that it would be nice if the four of us—simpatico dudes that we are—while playing this complicated song together, might somehow be free and autonomous as well. Tragically, this never quite works out. At best, we can only be free one or two at a time—while the other dudes hold onto the wire. Which is not to say that no one has tried to dispense with wires. Many have, and sometimes it works—but it doesn’t feel like jazz when it does. The music simply drifts away into the stratosphere of formal dialectic, beyond our social concerns. 

Rock-and-roll, on the other hand, presumes that the four of us—as damaged and anti-social as we are—might possibly get it to-fucking-gether, man, and play this simple song. And play it right, okay? Just this once, in tune and on the beat. But we can’t. The song’s too simple, and we’re too complicated and too excited. We try like hell, but the guitars distort, the intonation bends, and the beat just moves, imperceptibly, against our formal expectations, whetehr we want it to or not. Just because we’re breathing, man. Thus, in the process of trying to play this very simple song together, we create this hurricane of noise, this infinitely complicated, fractal filigree of delicate distinctions. 

And you can thank the wanking eighties, if you wish, and digital sequencers, too, for proving to everyone that technologically “perfect” rock—like “free” jazz—sucks rockets. Because order sucks. I mean, look at the Stones. Keith Richards is alwayson top of the beat, and Bill Wyman, until he quit, was always behind it, because Richards is leading the band and Charlie Watts is listening to him and Wyman is listening to Watts. So the beat is sliding on those tiny neural lapses, not so you can tell, of course, but so you can feel it in your stomach. And the intonation is wavering, too, with the pulse in the finger on the amplified string. This is the delicacy of rock-and-roll, the bodily rhetoric of tiny increments, necessary imperfections, and contingent community. And it has its virtues, because jazz only works if we’re trying to be free and are, in fact, together. Rock-and-roll works because we’re all a bunch of flakes. That’s something you can depend on, and a good thing too, because in the twentieth century, that’s all there is: jazz and rock-and-roll. The rest is term papers and advertising.” 

- Dave Hickey, Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy.

Saint Passionate


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