Note 5

One of the most troubling aspects of reading Kafka in English, for me, was the extent to which German speakers – and in particular his peers – seemed to find his work funny. Brod writes of Kafka reading the opening sections of The Trial aloud to him and a group of their friends, and the writer corpsing himself as the others also doubled up. Personally, I’ve never found Kafka particularly funny at all – except in a bleakly absurd vein – and I convened a City University meeting of Kafka translators, in part, to try and get to the bottom of this humorousness in German. Anthea Bell and Joyce Crick were enlightening about many things – but on the matter of humour, I found them unconvincing, speaking as they did of the amusement implicit in the shift between ‘“Will you save me?” the boy whimpers, dazzled by the life in his wound’ and ‘That’s the way people are in this parish. Always demanding the impossible from their doctor.’ More helpful was an Englishman who approached me after the session and said that having lived for many years in Germany, he had come to understand how formal even humour was for the Germans, sometimes even announcing itself thus: ‘I am going to tell a joke now, and you are going to laugh.’ In his view, Kafka’s humour derives from his undermining of these situational cues: the joke, like the country doctor, or the lad’s wound, comes out of nowhere.

Comments are closed.