Thursday Mishmash

My mind is far too scrambled to write anything coherent today. My son has taken to watching The Mentalist. Last week we did series one and these past couple of days, series two. I must have watched about thirty-five episodes in quick succession. Everything I’ve read has become interspersed in my memory with Mentalist plotlines. They’re good programmes, though, with a consistently high level of quality and I’m now longing to learn mentalist tricks; to be able to read my student’s minds, even in a charlatan way, would be so cool.

Most of the rest of the time, I’ve been swimming in a sea of Kafka, which is no more conducive to mental clarity. What is it about Kafka that makes him such a hypnotic writer? When you think that the majority of his published works are unfinished or at least barely edited, it is astonishing that he is nevertheless regarded as one of the greatest twentieth century authors. And no kidding, he is amazing; there’s no one else like him, no one who comes close to the intensity and the surreal power of his stories. The other remarkable thing about him is the disparity between his sense of himself – weak, ineffectual, cowardly, untalented – and the self he presented to the world: charming, reliable, tactful, sympathetic. Kafka manoeuvred himself into an impossible position. At first he felt there was an absolute choice to be made between ‘real’ life, which meant marriage and fatherhood; and writing, which required silence, peace, complete concentration. He felt that writing might justify his existence in some way but later on he changed his mind, and believed that writing was killing him. He had tuberculosis by that time, and three failed engagements behind him. Whatever he did, he couldn’t win, because not writing made him feel even worse than anything else. At every twist and turn of his psyche, the view became darker.

Oh, one book I did read: Darcy O’Brien’s A Way of Life, Like Any Other. This is a classic bildungsroman of a young boy growing up in Hollywood. His life begins in a privileged paradise with loving, handsome, rich parents dedicated to his every desire. But by the second chapter, his parents have split, and life is growing ever more difficult. Initially, he remains with his mother, who is hopelessly inappropriate with him, telling him about her love life while she’s in her bath. She makes a new liaison with a Russian artist and the three of them head to Europe, with disastrous consequences. Eventually, he returns to America, to live with rich Hollywood friends, but when they hit hard times he’s forced to move on again. Finally he ends up living with his father, who has never recovered from the breakdown of his marriage and who is in a pretty desperate state. It’s a sort of picaresque tale as this young man lurches from one dysfunctional situation to another, growing up all the while, but it’s told in the most extraordinary deadpan style that is often very funny. I was extremely impressed by this strange, laid-back voice and the personality of the young man, not exactly wise beyond his years, but self-preserving, clear-sighted, calmly accepting. The novel is a classic tragic-comedy, with a bittersweet ending. And apparently based quite heavily on the real autobiography of Darcy O’Brien himself. Anyway, a very good read, in a very nice NRYB edition.

17 thoughts on “Thursday Mishmash

  1. What an interesting man Kafka sounds. I like his writing, I should read a bio about him sometime. And those letters. Haven’t you mentioned that there are letters or something?

  2. I’ve never read Kafka, can you believe it? I often say, however, that discovering great writers late in life is one of the benefits of an inadequate education.

  3. Darcy O’Brien is an author I didn’t know but I like what you write about… now to more serious things, skipping Kafka, and straight to The Mentalist, I was actually tempted by the series… 35 episodes sounds like a minor addiction … I like watching series on DVD precisely for that reason. Did you ever watch In Treatment? It’s quite interesting and I love Gabriel Byrne.
    I have read all of Kafka’s short stories but no novel…

  4. I’d never heard of Darcy O’Brien, so I’m glad to know more about him. Kafka is such a fascinating, mysterious figure, very hard to make satisfactory sense of, I think. Cynthia Ozick has a very good essay on him in my current collection of essays, Quarrel and Quandary, if you are looking for more reading material.

  5. I agree with you about Kafka. One of my projects this summer was to read The Castle; I have yet to finish it, but it would be difficult to find a more darkly funny book–deeply disturbing, and sadly, prescient. Are there letters published? Will have to look for them…

  6. I’ve heard a positive thing or two here and there about the O’Brien novel, and your thoughts on it may serve to cement it in my mind as something to pick up. Re: Kafka, the acquisitive design-o-phile in me is waiting with bated breath on the release of these lovely new editions of his work. I went through an adolescent enthusiasm for his work but haven’t revisited him since, and I think now that I was probably reading him for all the “wrong reasons,” if there are such things. Really should revisit.

  7. I also spotted those lovely new editions of Kafka that Emily mentioned! Not that I judge a book by its cover, but…I’ve always been intrigued by Kafka–such an interesting man, but I have never read more than one short story by him–have read letters and diaries and books about his loves, but I guess I have been a little intimidated by his fiction. I’m very tempted to try him since you have mentioned him a few times recently. I am adding the Darcy O’Brien book to my wishlist, though. And am curious about the Mentalist–have not heard of it so will have to look it up!

  8. The Mentalist, that is Mr. Mentalist – hmmm, very sweet, isn’t he?! I’m watching “Breaking Bad”, recommended by my son at 21, I like it a lot!

    Kafka – for me he is in this sphere of geniuses consisting of; Woolf, Beckett, Mann … and Kafka. The only really great analysis of Kafka I’ve read is the ones written by Gilles Deleuze, but – I must admit – I do also have great expectations for your coming writings – !

  9. Stefanie – definitely letters. There are letters to Milena, who was one of his last loves, and surely there must be the letters he wrote to Felice Bauer. Ah, but a quick search on amazon informs me that none are available to buy (possibly big libraries may have copies). The only one still available is his extraordinary Brief an den Vater or Letter to my Father, which I read yesterday and will probably write about next week. But you can get Kafka’s diaries. He is such a strange and compelling personality!

    Thomas – I reckon then that it was at your site that I first read a review of it. I couldn’t recall which blogger had recommended it, but I do remember reading a review that made me itch to read it!

    Grad – I had an extensive education and I still wilt when I contemplate how many authors I haven’t read! Well, head down and best get on with it.😉

    Caroline – The Mentalist is GOOD. In Treatment I haven’t heard of, but I’ll go and look it up. Darcy O’Brien is definitely worth trying and Kafka, well, Kafka is Kafka. I have read the novels, which I remember as brilliant and frustrating all at once.

    Dorothy – ooh an Ozick essay on Kafka – that sounds wonderful and I will definitely try to get hold of it. I think you’d like Darcy O’Brien as he’s quietly dark and funny at the same time.

    ds – I thought there were letters published, but I could only find diaries available here in the UK. Apart from the Letter To My Father, which I’ll be writing about next week. I didn’t realise you were reading Kafka, what a lovely coincidence!

    Mary – as the week goes on, my ability to write sensibly and coherently diminished! It’s very kind of you to like mishmashes. I do tend to be reading several things at once and enjoy following up the connections so there is sort of a point….🙂

    Emily – oh Kafka would surely be enchanted that you were reading him for the wrong reasons. He’s all about the wrong reasons and false paths and mistaken beliefs! Joking aside, I hadn’t read him properly since university days and it’s been a pleasure to get back to his work. The Darcy O’Brien was an interesting little read, and well worth a try.

    goodbyereality – the first time I read your comment, I thought you actually had transformed yourself and been involved in a lengthy law process. On second reading, I rather liked it the way I read it first!🙂

    Danielle – oh I do think you should try The Mentalist. I feel sure you would like the stories and Simon Baker is no hardship to watch.😉 Kafka is easy to read, but can often be frustrating and, on occasions, sleep-inducing (the writing is sort of hypnotic). So you have to be in the right mood. His life is fascinating, and if you have some of his elusive letters, you are doing very well. Darcy O’ Brien is a very good read.

    Sigrun – I do like your sphere of geniuses – mine are Kafka, Rilke, Cather and Colette. I am delighted to find another Mentalist fan in you and could not agree more with your comments! I’m wondering now if I have Deleuze on Kafka… I have some of the books he wrote with Guattari and will check when I’m next in college. I can imagine he would write a stunning analysis. And bless you for being so sweet – I will do my best with Kafka next week!

    Emily – start with the stories. They are more satisfying than the novels in the first instance. I would love to know what you make of Kafka!

  10. I like The Mentalist because he is so confident–he’s always right, always poised (except when he’s on about Red John), kind of an emotional Robin Hood in that he gives to the insecure and grieving and takes a strip off the conniving and arrogant.

  11. Yay love The Mentalist! Ok so Rigsby and Van Pelt – do you have the feelings about them yet? I adore them together. And Cho, love Cho. And Lisbeth (omg Lisbeth, such a cool lady and so casual about the fact that she is the boss without ever letting go of her undeniable control).

  12. I love the Mentalist. My husband started watching it and I got completely addicted. We would watch 3 or 4 episodes in an evening.
    I have to admit – I don’t really have any great thought about the Kafka, apart from that I hope you got through that set of essays ok in the end!

  13. Lilian – I had never thought of him in the Robin Hood light before, but I like that! And he offers a wonderful fantasy of being right all the time. Now why is that SO appealing?

    Jodie – we just can’t decide here whether we love Rigsby or Cho more, probably Mister Litlove has more of a thing for Cho (tending himself to be tall and goofy a la Rigsby). All I know is that Grace causes absolutely catastrophe with any other boyfriend, so for the security of the unit she really has to get back together with Rigsby! Lisbeth is just a pet and I love her. If only I could be her! But I am nowhere near ferocious enough. Ah, this is fun!

    Readingwithtea – this is so nice, like a mini Mentalist convention! So glad someone else binges on episodes too… and thank you, I did get through the essays eventually!

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