Monday, August 23, 2010

The Axe for the Frozen Sea


From Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading (Viking, 1996), another book I’m enjoying at the moment:

“Altogether,” Kakfa wrote in 1904 to his friend Oskar Pollak, “I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow on the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy, as you put it? Good God, we’d be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe.”


Update:
In the Forum: Just a silly syllable longer.

11 comments:

all ways 11 o'clock said...

one can imagine Kafka as commited as he was stomping around hands in the air bellowing these words then a little later calmer writing.

glad to see you again my friend.

~robert.

Joseph Hutchison said...

Wonderful! And true. How tiresome to launch into a book only to discover that it exists to flatter our easy preconceptions....

Does this mean you've successfully resurrected your computer?

William Michaelian said...

Glad to see you, too, Robert. I do have a weakness for forceful, dramatic talk. Let our lives depend on it, I say, even if it seems trivial, and perhaps especially then.

Joe, it does, and the repairs seem to be holding. Baling wire and duct tape are both secure.

So, really, who has time to waste on all these books that are dead on arrival? And what makes them so popular? Well, we know the answers. The best remedy is to get busy and write our own. And then later on, when our works are smugly ignored (an obvious acknowledgment of their greatness), we can — oh, the hell with it. I do love reading, though, even stuff I’ve written. Is it bad to say so? As Gordon Lightfoot said in one of his early songs, “Oh say can you see, my best friend is me, I’m a friend I can use.”

Wine and Words said...

Dead minds read dead literature. The same law at work when stupid movies become blockbusters, and teens with synthesised voices make records. Yes, break the frozen sea. It's everywhere.

William Michaelian said...

Annie, what you said would make an excellent warning label on those very products. “Warning: Dead minds read dead literature....” I like it.

nouvelles couleurs - vienna atelier said...

oh it is so true... I think exatly the same like Kafka,
... books are a grear help for us, you know William, a book would be never thrown away, all of us have a phrase of a book as motto of life and this remain all life long...

you, as writer, have a great tasl

William Michaelian said...

And a great joy. Thank you, Laura.

rahina q.h. said...

wow, what experiences his heart must have had that it may then have become insensitive to the fluttering of a leaf or the first rays of a sunrise.... just my first thoughts on reading this quote which initally touched me but then made me wonder...

William Michaelian said...

I see what you mean. And yet I think he might not be insensitive at all, and would, rather, feel joy and pain in those very things — in their repetition, and in their ephemeral nature. I suppose we must read on in order to find out.

L.Holm said...

Love this..thanks for sharing. True of all art forms..

William Michaelian said...

It is. Thanks, Liz. My pleasure.