Kafka at Camp: The Lost Diaries
October 14, 2003 6:53 PM   Subscribe

Kafka at Camp: The Lost Diaries July 10,1897—In Arts and Crafts, that humid hut, the teacher stops. He looks down. I look up. I am working on something intricate, something simultaneously nothing and everything. It is made of paper. "I always wanted you to admire my origami," I say. "I do. I do admire it." "Well, you shouldn't," I say. "You're a weird little dude, Franzie."
posted by GriffX (16 comments total)
Well worth posting, GriffX, as it's fluently written and funny here and there, even though Woody Allen (and even Steve Martin) did this sort of thing much better, back in his writing days (few good recent pieces notwithstanding).

However, I have to say I think it's a complete failure as it not only bears no relation to Kafka, i.e. the persona we know from letters, diaries, biographies etc, but makes no attempt to capture the style of his diaries. So "Kafka" becomes just a spurious tag to stick on some standard geek/misfit jokes. The name is interchangeable - which is pretty damning criticism when it comes to caricature or satire. Has the author ever read Kafka's diaries or letters? I doubt it.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:10 PM on October 14, 2003

Has the average person read Kafka's diaries or letters? I doubt it. I've read "The Metamorphosis" and a couple of other stories (years ago, in a Modern Lit class taught by an wholly unimaginative man), and this piece captures my vague memories of Kafka, and that's good enough for me. Not everything has to be a brilliantly researched polished gem of humor to be funny.
posted by eilatan at 7:55 PM on October 14, 2003

I don't think it was supposed to be funny, at least any sense of humour I noticed was funny in the same awkward way Kafka's work is funny.

I had the same reaction as Miguel, only not as deep because I haven't read all that much Kafka. I thought it was fairly well written, and captured some of Kafka's spirit, but it didn't sound at all like Kafka, which seems like something you might want to do with such a work. Honestly, I think it'd be a lot better if he simply had allusions to Kafka, in order to flesh out a Kafka-esque young anti-socialite. But what do I know, I gave up on writing before I really started!
posted by The God Complex at 8:00 PM on October 14, 2003

Yeah, I was just about to come in here and say it bears little resemblance to Kafka. He did have a fair amount of fatalistic misery ("...always conscience that every moment of happiness must be paid for at some later date"), but he wasn't generally a simple wallower. Camus might fit better here.

That said, I laughed, and I should probably not be so stodgy about something so small and silly.
posted by malphigian at 8:00 PM on October 14, 2003

Camus might fit better here.

I was thinking Sartre; "hell is other campers". Agreed that the article was funny...but Kafka seemed a plug and play name choice.
posted by dejah420 at 8:34 PM on October 14, 2003




no reason to be jealous, miguel, one day mcsweeney's will do a hamfisted parody of your writing style. heck, maybe it'll even be as good as harry potter and the heartbreaking work of staggering genius.

also, i have no reason to be jealous as my own writing is already a hamfisted parody of itself.
posted by arto at 8:42 PM on October 14, 2003

While it suffers some of the same weaknesses as this "Kafka" piece, I enjoyed a few giggles over The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook. Sometimes it isn't as important to nail the voice as it is to nail the cliche' history has assigned (often unfairly) to the voice.
posted by elwoodwiles at 8:53 PM on October 14, 2003

arto - that Eggers 'Harry Potter' parody was fantastic. Thanks for linking to it. I especially like the D.F.W. footnote in the 'reviews' section.
posted by GriffX at 9:12 PM on October 14, 2003

I have read Kafka, in the original German, no less.

This isn't so bad. But:

If I were trying for Kafka-flavour in English, I'd be trying for more impersonal and passive voice constructions, and lots and lots of abstract nouns, combined with very concrete, onomatapeic verbs.

During the first night, pictures of naked women were observed by those below, including H. A fapping was heard. I loathe H's very existence, but at the same time I experience fascination.

Noone trying to convey Verfremdung is going to write "I understand how they feel." But I'm more annoyed by simple solecisms like "naked pictures of women". The pictures had no clothes?

The JPS cookbook is a classic, and far better.

McSweeney's in general has always puzzled me. Moist of the things I've ever read there are at best mildly amusing, and the jokes, if they are jokes, are way over-extended.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:12 PM on October 14, 2003


posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:13 PM on October 14, 2003

I have a weakness for over-reaching academic parodies. Many philosophy majors have great senses of humor and even more have access to the internet. PoMo Jerry Springer style is another favorite.

I quite like McSweeney's because every now and then they put something really cool up. At worst they are mildly amusing on the level of a failed SNL skit, but when they shine, It's truly worth the while. The site isn't as good as the journal, but it is better than Dave Eggers who has yet to write himself out of that wet paper bag of his. (Though his story in McSweeny's 10 was pretty damn good. I'm convinced he'll grow up to be a good writer.)
posted by elwoodwiles at 9:41 PM on October 14, 2003

that modern humorist eggers/potter parody kicks ass.
posted by juv3nal at 9:45 PM on October 14, 2003

I love McSweeney's site, but as long as they're doing things like charging $30+ for the printed literary journal (including a TMBG disc(!)), I'm going to have a problem buying it.
posted by GriffX at 10:14 PM on October 14, 2003

I was lucky enough to sign up for the lifetime subscription, back when McSweeney's started - it was only $120 - and have been rewarded ever since. They just keep mailing, from Iceland or wherever. I find it admirable that Eggers and his fellow workers have maintained the spirit through thick and thin. Success has not spoilt Rock Hunter, in this case.

It's a damn good read. And the format changes are always fascinating. Even its literary quirks are fun - a bit like The New Yorker's during the latter years of Shawn's editorship. Praise enough, no?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:03 PM on October 14, 2003

McSweeney's in general has always puzzled me. Moist of the things I've ever read there are at best mildly amusing, and the jokes, if they are jokes, are way over-extended.

it's just dry. sometimes i'm like that too, drawing things out until they're not really funny in a ha-ha sense.
posted by schlaager at 11:17 PM on October 14, 2003

I've always assumed that the overextendedness is just part of the joke, in some sort of post-whateverist way.
And they're not always trying to be funny--either that, or they are on some sort of level that I would need a postmodern sensibility and a lit degree to understand, and I do not own a postmodern etc etc. That said, when their stuff is good, it's grrrrreat.

(And I've never actually read the paper version--hell, I'm not even sure where one could buy it in this town.)
posted by arto at 12:06 AM on October 15, 2003

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