Sunday, July 13, 2014

Kafka And The Art Of Glossing Over A Blunder

Back when we were at university, a time when life was simpler, my husband Tzvi and I spent 2 months hitchhiking through Europe. Since I studied art history, Italy was our natural destination. We were a young and clean looking couple and never waited long for a ride. Drivers were extremely kind to us and always wanted to talk. For example, on the way to the tiny republic of San Marino, a woman slightly older than us gave us a ride. We started a conversation and she invited us to stay the night at her house. She said that she too had been travelling, and people had invited her to the their houses.

Another place which I wanted to visit was Riva Del Garda. In addition to art history I also studied literature, and the town Riva on Lake Garda is the setting for Kafka’s short story "The Hunter Gracchus.” On the way there we got a ride from a distinguished looking Italian gentleman, in his late forties. Perhaps he was younger but to us he seemed very old. He told us that he was a lawyer and asked what we studied. Upon hearing that I studied literature he said that he loved to read. Tzvi, looking for something to talk about, said “my wife is going to Riva del Garda because of a short story,” "Who is the author?" he asked me "Franz Kafka and the story is 'The Hunter Gracchus.'” "I have never heard of Kafka." he said. We felt very bad, as we were his guests and our job was to entertain him so he would feel happy that he had given us a ride. Suddenly I heard Tzvi saying “Ah Kafka, he is a minor Jewish author, only Jewish people have heard of him."

We were relieved to step out of the car. After that unfortunate exchange we were quite worried that we would say anything which would make our driver uncomfortable.

When we went to see the lake in the late afternoon, I could imagine Gracchus’s lost boat getting into Riva del Garda. Gracchus the hunter insists that he has been dead for hundreds of years, but he is the protagonist and the narrator of this short story and his restless and endless death seems very much like life.

Throughout the years I have read this story many times without seeming to understand this exercise in futility any better. My memory of the story is mixed up with images of a hazy afternoon on the lake in Riva, the park by the lake, the driver who became anxious because he didn’t know who Kafka was, and poor Gracchus who is still looking for a port.

When I looked for some information about the story I came across this statement by Karen Bernardo, “Gracchus's role as a dead man in the world of the living ironically parallels Kafka's position as a Jew in a Christian and anti-Semitic society. He is an outsider, and there is nothing to be done about it.”

So now I have finally figured out the convoluted connection between Gracchus, Riva del Garda, a young Israeli couple and “a minor Jewish author.”

I found online an English translation  of "The Hunter Gracchus:”


No comments:

Post a Comment