The Kafka Curve
Think Gregor Samsa had it rough? He never had to wait in line at Carnegie Hall.
“We don’t have any press list back here,” said the balding man behind the glass at Carnegie Hall. I was hoping to get a seat for Gyorgy Kurtag‘s Kafka Fragments, a well-received (and sold-out) setting of letters and diaries featuring Dawn Upshaw and a solitary violin. The press office had told me I was first on the wait list, but the box office staff didn’t know what I was talking about; I would just have to stand on line with everyone else.
Ever since reading “The Metamorphosis” in high school, my experience with Kafka has followed a similar curve. What draws me in is the way he puts his reader through the same frustrations as K. and Karl and Samsa. This method, perversely pleasing, soon turns maddening and sends me packing. Yet I keep returning, as if the outcome will be different.
A few months ago, I picked up Amerika, and was amused and amazed by the audacity of the opening sentence:
As the seventeen-year-old Karl Rossmann, who had been sent to America by his unfortunate parents because a maid had seduced him and had a child by him, sailed slowly into New York harbour, he suddenly saw the Statue of Liberty, which had already been in view for some time, as though in an intenser sunlight.
Though not as often quoted, it’s as forthright as the start of “The Metamorphosis” or The Trial, combining the bright immigrant’s vision and the shadowy past. But I put down Amerika midway, knowing it would only lead me down the same spiral.
At Carnegie Hall last night, I waited on the ticket line for about a half-hour, eavesdropping, tracing the carved ceiling, glancing at my watch. “A few minutes more,” the uniformed house manager assured me and a dozen other diehards, only to usher us out the door. Dejected, I returned to the ticket booth, and asked another teller about press tickets. “You have to go around to the Press Office, on 56th,” she said. I ran outside and around the block, but the performance had started and the press person was already gone. So I walked away with an appropriate frustration without the pleasure of the opening flourish.