Friday 18 November 2011

Das Schloß - The Play (The Director's Cut)

As you may have noticed from my posts this week (and from my earlier reviews of Der Prozeß/The Trial and Die Verwandlung/The Metamorphosis), there's something about Kafka's work which makes writing a parody seem easier than actually reviewing the book.  His works are so obviously allegorical and divorced from reality that I find it hard to summarise the main ideas and interpret what I'm reading.  Nevertheless, I suppose I should explain myself a little, if I am to redeem myself after my little escapades...

Das Schloß (The Castle), like Kafka's other novels, was a work which his executor, Max Brod, was supposed to destroy after the Czech writer's death.  Luckily (or unluckily, depending on how much you like it) Brod ignored the instructions and decided to publish it anyway.  Like Der Prozeß, it's a surreal tale, following a normal man as he attempts to make sense of an increasingly abnormal situation, although this time there is no actual resolution to the story.

The book begins on a snowy night as the Land-Surveyor K. enters a village and asks to stay at an inn.  He has come at the behest of someone at the 'castle', a shadowy, mysterious entity which few people have actually visited.  Not long after his arrival, K. is met by two assistants, Artur and Jeremias, who have been sent to him by the castle, and he also receives a message from an official.  From here though, his attempts to actually get into the castle go nowhere...

It's clear from the outset that the castle is a metaphor for something deep and meaningful.  It's equally clear that anyone who claims to know what it actually is has their pants on fire.  The whole point of Kafka's work is that it defies unravelling; there are several possible keys to the text, each as likely and as implausible as the next.  The best thing to do is just to give it a go and make up your own mind about what is actually going on...

Would I recommend Das Schloß?  Yes and no.  It's definitely not for anyone who has yet to pick up anything by Kafka.  The chapters can sometimes seem like an interminable monologue disguised as one side of a conversation, followed by... well, another interminable monologue disguised as one side of a conversation - Kafka characters do like a good chat.  At times, you can read page after page, or even chapter after chapter, without really thinking you're getting anywhere.  Also, the more desperate K. gets to actually enter the castle, the more unbelievable it all becomes - abandon a sense of proportion, all ye who enter herein!

However, if you're looking for challenging, thought-provoking writing (and are prepared to abandon the concept of any real plot), Das Schloß is well worth reading.  It's easy to see why it's one of those must-read books; it's also easy to see that it's not one I'll be rereading on a regular basis though ;)

Before I wrap-up my work on Kafka's epic though, I thought I'd just help out a little with my posts this week.  I'm sure that most of you Germanophiles will have picked up on all the subtle allusions, but here's a quick key for those who missed some of the feeble jokes:

- The Gary mentioned in the play is, of course, Gary of The Parrish Lantern fame, who invented the idea of the German Literature Month Tour Bus during my solo G-Lit month back in August (so basically, you have him to blame for all this!).

- The phone number for the Castle hotline (371883) is actually Kafka's date of birth.

- The recorded message (and the Innkeeper's later refusal to give K. Tony's room) refer to one of Kafka's most famous short stories Vor dem Gesetz (Before the Law) - well worth reading :)

- The last line of Act One, paraphrasing a quotation from The Wizard of Oz, namechecks Gottfried Keller's novella collection Die Leute von Seldwyla (The People of Seldwyla).

- Hohen-Cremmen is, of course, the home of Effi Briest's parents (Effi is also alluded to at the end of Act Three...).

- Barnabas, like the other characters mentioned (e.g. Frieda, the Innkeeper) is actually from Kafka's book.

- Buddenbrooks, a semi-autobiographical tale of the decline of a merchant family in Lübeck, is one of Thomas Mann's most popular works.

- Caroline and Lizzy, the shady people sharing a crafty dram with Gary, are, of course, the hosts of the whole German Literature Month (so you can blame them for all this too!).

- The phrase "add that to the file" refers to the masses of paperwork in the nightmare bureaucracy of the castle, where everything has to be written down.

And that, thankfully, is that!  I hope you enjoyed the show, and don't forget to check out the real thing one day - if you can find your way to the castle, that is...