The Scalpel We Need

22:49 Mon 22 May 2006
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Earlier this year I read this:

It’s not for nothing that Kafka spoke of literature as “a hatchet with which we chop at the frozen seas inside us.”
—”Some Remarks on Kafka’s Funniness from Which Probably Not Enough Has Been Removed”, p61, in Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace

(The essay is online.)

My initial reaction to this was that Kafka was talking about the act of writing. This is definitely not the case—he was talking about the impact that books should have upon us. However, I was definitely struck by the idea that writing was itself a way to move in the same direction. Perhaps not an axe, because the books, written by other people, would probably have greater force (their unexpected nature providing this) and not very much accuracy (their authors don’t know us). We, writing for ourselves, however, are also working on the frozen seas of ourselves, and I for one certainly need to write, to assault the ice. The concept of the self as a frozen sea is powerful, and resonates with me. I need books to chop away as hatchets, and I need my own writing as a scalpel.

Although now that I think about it, I might need more of a flaming sword than a scalpel.

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3 Responses to “The Scalpel We Need”

  1. glitzfrau Says:

    Yes, yes, yes. Except: their authors DO know us. Else, why study literature? Really, at the very base of it all?

  2. NiallM Says:

    I hope that does not logically imply that you are not bringing truth…

  3. Tadhg Says:

    Well, they may know us, but as well as we know ourselves? You could argue that they know us better in some ways, but certainly not in the way we know ourselves, which is why there’s a distinction between how we need our own writing versus how we need the writing of others.

    NiallM: I’m not sure what you mean by that. I can continue with the metaphor by pointing out that if the hatchets and scalpels (and flaming swords) aren’t made at least in part out of truth, then they won’t be too effective.

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