Kafka, talking and whether to do it
Two pieces of tangentially related news.
First, I wrote about a great and long overdue new translation of Kafka’s diaries for this week’s New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2023/01/16/the-diaries-of-franz-kafka-party-animal
Second, next week I’m venturing to UChicago to talk to Agnes Callard about whether writers should talk. I think writers shouldn’t talk (or at least, shouldn’t have to talk)—I made the case for my reticence in a Gawker essay here—so obviously I can’t pass up a chance to talk about why they shouldn’t talk. The anti-talk will take place on January 18 at 9 p.m. EST and will last….as long as it lasts. Here’s a link to the livestream: https://uchicago.zoom.us/j/95070671481?pwd=Z3p3RnpOUWJEbkVxUmlqVFJkbFZ0Zz09
Here’s the event announcement: https://thepointmag.com/events/should-writers-talk/.
The discssion is happening under the auspices of The Point’s extremely exciting new initiative, The Point Program for Public Thinking, which you can read about here: https://www.publicthinking.thepointmag.com/. I’ll also be chatting with undergraduates about how to get into public writing, and if you’re a UChicago undergrad, feel free to email me for details.
The relationship between these tangentially related pieces of news is that Kafka had the good(ish) sense to pursue a career entirely unrelated to literature. I’m not sure whether he ultimately made the right decision. He loathed his job, and his attempts to balance work and vocation by writing late into the night left him strained and exhausted. And of course, despite his best efforts to keep the office from permeating his writing, his fiction is full of heaps of files and other bureacratic inanities. Still, he largely managed to escape the rat-race of self-promotion. If he was over-burdened by an office job and a secret nocturnal life, at least he wasn’t burdened by the imperatives of careerism. One of the reasons I oppose making or encouraging to writers to talk is that I oppose the general push to transform writers into brands with whom readers have parasocial relationships. You get into this business because you love reading and writing, but before you know it, you find yourself giving talks, navigating social squabbles with unhinged interet bullies, and generally engaging in what a consultant-type would probably call “image-management.” Most speaking gigs are just part of the big plot to turn writers into minor celebrities who sometimes happen to put pen to page. But THIS speaking gig is the rare one I do not dread. It’s not a careerist concession but a chance to chat with a philosopher I admire enormously and actually want to talk to, and even though talking scares me, it will be FUN. Roll thru!