Monday, February 12, 2007

Case Notes 2

In my now very tattered Basic Kafka, there is a chronology of events in Kafka's life. The entry for 1917 reads:

First half: Writes "The Hunter Gracchus." Learns Hebrew. Spring: Writes "The Great Wall of China." July: Second engagement to Felice Bauer. August: Begins coughing up blood. September 4: Diagnosis of tuberculosis. Moves in with sister Ottla in Zürau. September 12: Leave of absence from office. November 10: Diary entries break off. End of December: Breaking of second engagement to Felice Bauer. Autumn and winter: Writes aphorisms (octavo notebooks).

There is an (Ambrose) Biercean chuckle in me that rears itself at the sequence "July: [gets engaged]. August: Begins coughing up blood." I always imagine that the graduate student who compiled the chronology arranged the facts intentionally to achieve this effect, and that Eric Heller either didn't notice it or allowed it. It may also have been perfectly unintentional, of course.

In any case, a lot of other things no doubt happened to Kafka in 1917. And other arrangements of the details already presented are obviously possible. Consider the following list:

Begins coughing up blood. Leave of absence from office. Moves in with sister. Diary entries break off. End of December. Writes aphorisms.

It is obviously this sort of sensibility that lies behind Kate Greenstreet's case sensitive. It produces wonderful passages like the following:

Several glass ashtrays, the panther lamp. The light
bent toward the map. I spent a long time under the table, learning
to recognize wires. How we could change her.

How the bullet is scraped as it moves through the barrel.

The subject is distant, and dark.

It's not who dunnit that matters here, but how rooms look in detective novels. Not what surveillance uncovers but what it feels like to watch. There is an aesthetics of private investigation that is here freed from the plot. Also here:

There might be a group of people who meet every year at a summer house.
All that nature. A single mouthful can kill a man.

The poems concentrate our attention on what makes a whole range of mediocre movies succesful (it isn't the suspense, nor the action, nor the sex). Toxicology and balistics and nobody really dies.

Case Notes 1

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