A Saigon McDonald’s is hardly the ideal place to muse about Kafka, but that’s where I am, because I crave ketchup this morning, and I have just enough free time to pose as a writer. Running ragged, I spent this past week hosting two Korean salesmen. They’re in Vietnam for Metalex, a trade convention of machine tool manufacturers.
In a dozen interviews going back two decades, I’ve always cited Kafka and Borges as key influences. From each, I learnt about the ludicrous dignity of futile pursuits, the terrors of random injustice and how the weather in a sentence can suddenly shift, even several times. I encountered both masters at 19 years old. Since my parents were not readers, I had no serious literature at home, growing up.
Of course, they’re very different. Compared to Borges, Kafka is much more pared down and tactile, without that erudite surface. He’s more folksy, archetypal or even cartoonish.
Embarrassed and exasperated, an aging bachelor is depicted as “having to carry one’s supper home in one’s hand,” and to “stand there with a palpable body and a real head, a real forehead, that is, for smiting on with one’s hand.”
Psychological states are often depicted as physical conditions. In his first letter to Felice Bauer, this is how Kafka describes their budding relationship, “Now that the door between us is beginning to move, or at least we are both holding the handle, surely I can, in fact I even must, say it. Oh, the moods I get into, Fräulein Bauer!”
A door, a forehead.
In “Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk,” the listening audience feels this communal comfort, “Here in the brief intervals between their struggles our people dream, it is as if the limbs of each were loosened, as if the harried individual once in a while could relax and stretch himself at ease in the great, warm bed of the community.”
Writing to Felice, Kafka talks about biting onto a thought, “The night before last, or the one before that, I dreamed continually about teeth; they were not orderly teeth in a mouth, but a mass of teeth fitted together, exactly as in children’s jigsaw puzzles, and the whole lot, guided by my jaw, were in some kind of sliding motion. I mustered all my strength to express something which, above all else, was very close to my heart; the movement of these teeth, the gaps between them, their grinding, the sensation when guiding them—all this was in some way closely related to some thought, some decision, a hope, a possibility, which I was trying to grasp, hold on to, and realize, by means of this continual biting.”
As one of the 20th century’s most admired writers, Kafka has been discussed from every angle, so what can I possibly add? I’m bringing him up because there’s an inadequately interpreted story, “Jackals and Arabs,” that’s very pertinent to this moment, and our understanding of it.
A visitor “from the North” comes to Palestine. There, he’s approached by talking jackals who try to get him to kill Arabs with a pair of rusty scissors. Surrounded by jackals, the visitor is held in place by two young ones. With their teeth “well in,” they grasp him by his coat and shirt.
Naturally, the European demands to be released, to which an old jackal replies, “They will, of course, if that is your wish. But it will take a little time, for they have got their teeth well in, as is our custom, and must first loosen their jaws bit by bit.” So that’s how even a friend and potential benefactor is treated.
This violent detainment is actually “a mark of honor,” for the biting jackals are “trainbearers.” Old jackal, “We are poor creatures, we have nothing but our teeth; whatever we want to do, good or bad, we can tackle it only with our teeth.”
Entangled with Arabs in a “very old quarrel,” jackals wish to be “troubled no more by Arabs; room to breathe; a skyline cleansed of them,” but they can’t get rid Arabs on their own, so must enlist outside help. Howling in unison, a kind of melody from afar, they plead to the European, “Sir, we want you to end this quarrel that divides the world.”
Very curious, this local, desert quarrel that embroils and divides the world.
Chasing the jackals away, a laughing Arab explains to the European, “So long as Arabs exist, that pair of scissors goes wandering through the desert and will wander with us to the end of our days. Every European is offered it for the great work; every European is just the man that Fate has chosen for them. They have the most lunatic hopes, these beasts; they’re just fools, utter fools.”
Critics have interpreted the Arabs in this story as representing the spirit, natural law, Kafka’s father or Gentiles. The jackals symbolize matter, rebellious humanity, Kafka himself or Jews. The narrator is sometimes deciphered as the Messiah.
Eating a sausage muffin in a Saigon McDonald’s, dumbshit me think the Arabs are simply Arabs, the European “man from the North” is, well, a European, and the jackals are obviously Jews.
Far from being utter fools, jackals have gotten Europeans to mass murder Arabs for decades, and this genocide won’t be done until the horizon is purged of the Jews’ enemies. “So we shall draw blood from them and the quarrel will be over.”
Kafka paints these jackals most unflatteringly, “They all began to pant more quickly; the air pumped out of their lungs although they were standing still; a rank smell which at times I had to set my teeth to endure streamed from their open jaws.”
Though actual jackals are omnivores that hunt in packs, Kafka’s are strictly carrion eaters, for they complain of the Arabs, “They kill animals for food, and carrion they despise.”
Though they keep stressing their need for cleanliness, they devour cadavers, and in this story feast on a dead camel, a particularly unclean animal, according to Jews. These jackals just want be left alone to drain carcasses and pick bones clean, for that, to them, is cleanliness. “Cleanliness, nothing but cleanliness is what we want.”
Slithering and swooning in the putrid flesh and blood, “They had forgotten the Arabs, forgotten their hatred, the all-obliterating immediate presence of the stinking carrion bewitched them.”
Writing to Milena Jesenská, Kafka explains the Jewish bite, “Their insecure position, insecure within themselves, insecure among people, would above all explain why Jews believe they possess only whatever they hold in their hands or grip between their teeth.”
Kafka must have been quite an anti-Semite to portray Jews so nastily. He probably hated Jews so much because he didn’t know any. Ignorant, Kafka judged Jews only from Marlowe, Shakespeare and Luther, etc. A proto Nazi, Kafka preemptively justified the six million deaths of the Holocaust, and that’s why his books must be burnt tomorrow, and his two admittedly beautiful statues in Prague blown up. Moreover, sculptors David Cerny and Jaroslav Rona must be prosecuted for glorifying such a trumped up asshole. Kafka outtrumps Trump.
To continue our multicultural long march and holistic healing process, Kafka’s ghost must be deplatformed.