Kafka Blocs

Methamorphosis Roger awoke from nagging dreams to find he’d grown into a whopper, a hairy human swarmed in vermin. “Don’t break bad on me,” his mother yelled at the door. “Bugs don’t dream, asleep or awake. You’re late for work.” But he hardly knew how to work his new legs and arms. How would he…

Can Business Rescue the Humanities?

While Plato ruefully proposed to banish the poet from his Republic, today’s Humanities aficionados may seek to bar businesspersons from their club. Yet the Humanities are in crisis, as usual, perhaps for lack of sound business sense, while the sound business sensors, often viewed as eschewing the Humanities, may be nipping in the basement of…

The Bare Bodkin of the English Major

“To be, or not to be; that is the bare bodkin,” says Mark Twain’s duke as he prepares to take down the house with an encore of Hamlet’s soliloquy. Where’s an English major when you need one? They were no doubt in short supply in the Mississippi Valley in the early nineteenth century, and their…

Kierkegaard: A Good Self is Hard to Find

We enjoyed Gordon Marino’s recent piece in the Times, “Kierkegaard on the Couch,” about a distinction between despair and depression, the former, according to Marino, a kind of disrespect for one’s self, not accepting who one is, the latter a disease; the former our existential condition (for which Kafka said there is no cure), the…

A word of one’s own

Comfortably ensconced in our reading lair, hidden behind the arras of the Dec. 8 New Yorker, perusing the cartoons, time passing easily, and find our Eric has been at work on his French, annotating the Mankoff cartoon caption “A la Recherche des Cheveux Perdus” (p. 68) with the translation “Remember Hair Lost.” What is past is…

The weightlessness of existentialism

Early yesterday, reading Nick Paumgarten on “The lives of elevators” (New Yorker, April 21), about a person stuck in one for forty-one hours, we were reminded of the weightlessness of reading and writing. The video, from the Kafkaesque security tape, is a work of art Warhol could have made; or Becket might have written a…

Hank Williams sings Huck Finn

“At the center of liberal education,” Northrop Frye gives us in “Ethical Criticism,” the second essay in “Anatomy of Criticism,” an attempt to create a science of literary theory, “something surely ought to get liberated” (p. 93). So what gets liberated? “Poetry can only be made out of other poems; novels out of other novels,”…