Kafka´s Humour, Spirituality, Self and Children by David Foster Wallace


What Kafka’s stories have, rather, is a grotesque and gorgeous and thoroughly modem complexity. Kafka’s humor-not only not-neuorotic but anti-neurotic, heroically sane-is, finally, a religious humor, but religious in the manner of Kierkegaard and Rilke and the Psalms, a harrowing spirituality against which even Ms. O’Connor’s bloody grace (Flannery O´Connors book “The Presence of Grace”) seems a little bit easy, the souls at stake pre-made.
And it is this, I think, that makes Kafka’s wit inaccessible to children whom our culture has trained to see jokes as entertainment and entertainment as reassurance) It’s not that students don’t “get” Kafka’s humor but that we’ve taught them to see humor as something you get-the same way we’ve taught them that a self is something you just have. No wonder they cannot appreciate the really central Kafka joke-that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home. It’s hard to put into words up at the blackboard, believe me. You can tell them that maybe it’s good they don’t “get” Kafka. You can ask them to imagine his art as a kind of door. To envision us readers coming up and pounding on this door, pounding and pounding, not just wanting admission but needing it, we don’t know what it is but we can feel it, this total desperation to enter, pounding and pushing and kicking, etc. That, finally, the door opens … and it opens outward: we’ve been inside what we wanted all along.

Surrender into Relating

Ludwig Feurbach wrote “But for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, appearance to essence, . . . truth is considered profane, and only illusion is sacred. Sacredness is in fact held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be seen as the highest degree of sacredness.” To surrender the ego to the truth can help in ones journey out of the illusion. The truth provides for a more vast and connected way of seeing and experiencing life that can not be know by the ego. It partly involves entering into and experiencing our vulnerability; an experience that has come to be intensely guarded by the ego.
Christine Louise Hohlbaum writes that learning to experience vulnerability is contagious. “When you rest in the vastness of your utmost truth, others start to settle into theirs.” In coming to let go of what has been until now known, we come to be open to what has been guarded and we do this in a way that we are naturally more open to join with others. Ultimately this involves a quality of sharing that is about relating with another from a more authentic and intimate place. There is a distinction to be made when we are talking about sharing ones experience with another. That is between analysis and direct sharing. Analyzing ones experience is not such an intimate and authentic endeavour. There are times when analysis is a practical and useful tool; but it is not always  so helpful in the attempt to discover what is authentic in our experience. It seems to in fact serve to shield us from that vulnerability at times in that it is more about  an assumed,  assured sense of knowing, all be it deceptively so.

In sharing that reflects a more direct truth of experience I am more open to learning the truth about myself, about others and about life. Words often don’t directly grasp that truth completely but they can reflect something of it and it’s not so easy at times to put the truth into words but it is all we have in terms of communicating with one another. If we want to openly and honestly know ourselves and in turn each other; it seems to me that it is worth while to explore words and language that can express and reflect that.

Going Beyond the Conventional

I don´t think that my experience is any kind of prototype for how another should be or what they would go through. We are all unique and have unique experiences in our exploration of what is authentic. I share my experience and impressions fully knowing that they are simply my subjective experience, but at the same time in the possibility that something of it, in some unknown way might be helpful to another.

When I reflect on what it means for me to be “awake” the notion of freedom arises. There is a release from something that was once confining. It has to do with a change in being and thinking; that it is no longer compromised by a conditioning that was in the past imposed upon it. A sense of clarity seems to arise  out of  the fog as I  come to the realization of what it was that has been so limiting and confining. It is a place where I am no longer entertained or overwhelmed with an incredible amount of uncontrollable, arising thoughts, unaware of where they originate from. I am increasingly able to just experience and enjoy and contemplate what is and if something distracting emerges I can at times be present enough to follow it to its source.
At the same time,  in going beyond the limits of the conventional there was something that upset the established balance in all that I had become; something real was discovered. This apparent change in consciousness seems to have been a gradual ongoing transformation that  moved away from being at the dominance of conditioned, static thoughts and memories.  It is not to say that the conditioned does not continue to demand attention, but there is now more of an ability to accept and allow what is authentic of me to arise and unfold. I am more able to let go when I am absorbed in something that is blocking that unfolding and to pursue with exploration and examination when it is in turn something that is expanding my experience. At times I am more fallible and vulnerable and not in the space to proceed although I am better able to recognize and allow for those moments. Curiosity and investigation are a more substantial part of daily living which seems to feed a world of increasing possibility.
Ultimately there is an increased sense of an experience that I am very much involved in a creative process of living and that many of the emerging thoughts, ideas and experiences are unfolding in a unique way and less about those formulated by another. There is a quality of knowing, although non factually based, but more arising from the ineffable experience of opening to life.
Despite this individual sense of experience,creativity and expression there is a felt connection with all else, seeing ourselves in relation to others and other things in a way that is beyond the limits of the condition self. That can be a humbling realization in that the sense of self-importance and self fixation that existed at a prior time is no longer dominant.

A Dialogue of Change

I have no delusions that I am the wise old  spiritual guru that is without the influence of a self. I can see that there is a self, and at times it can be constricted and self fixated and at other times it is open and accepting. I am becoming more open to change and see the benefits of being this way; that it facilitates a more authentic unfolding of what I am. I wonder how I might bring that acceptance of change that I am experiencing to the world. It’s not that I have definite ideas of what should be, but more a hope and ultimately a faith that change might be embraced.
That change itself will represent something undesirable to many. It’s not that there are bad guys and good guys but more that there will be resistance, partly a result of where the world is at. The dominant collective consciousness will be resistant to change because that is the nature of that consciousness. It is clear to me that there tends to exist in conventional thinking a more conservative agenda to protect and defend what we think we know ourselves to be and/or what we have become familiar and comfortable with. It is difficult to accept change when we are of this opinion and belief. It is not a bad thing but it is a way of thinking that is bringing disastrous consequences to the world.
I see the world saying in its own non verbal way that change must occur and I ask myself how I might bring the change that I am becoming, to the world in an authentic way. How can I be what I am in the world in a way that is not dogmatic? If one looks with awareness one can see what challenges need to be faced and ultimately embraced. That for me means to at least be engaged in dialogue and a part of that discussion. I question how it is that I should live as someone changing in a world that is grasping on to old ways and reeling against necessary change. How do I talk with those who are not ready to talk? Now more than ever for humankind and for the planet I see that there is a place for questioning, doubting and rebelling.