The Door Opens Outward

Consider the LobsterI just read a short essay by David Foster Wallace, “Some Remarks on Kafka’s Funniness From Which Probably Not Enough Has Been Removed.” It really made me think how much we are prisoners of our brain chemistry. Because Wallace gets it. He really understands what life is all about. And yet he chose to end his own life to avoid the psychic pain that leads many brilliant and insightful people to do so.

I don’t talk about this a lot, because I think it just disturbs people. Life is a form of anti-art. It is like we are all composers working on a piece of music that no one will ever hear. Eventually, no one will even know that it existed. It won’t even be like those Shakespeare plays that we only have titles for. Our lives come to nothing and I absolutely do not mean that metaphorically. The process is the art. And that is glorious!

Wallace understands this completely. He wrote in the essay:

And it is this, I think, that makes Kafka’s wit inaccessible to children whom our culture has trained to see jokes as entertainment and entertainment as reassurance. It’s not that students don’t “get” Kafka’s humor but that we’ve taught them to see humor as something you get—the same way we’ve taught them that a self is something you just have. No wonder they cannot appreciate the really central Kafka joke: that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home. It’s hard to put into words, up at the blackboard, believe me. You can tell them that maybe it’s good they don’t “get” Kafka. You can ask them to imagine his stories as all about a kind of door. To envision us approaching and pounding on this door, increasingly hard, pounding and pounding, not just wanting admission but needing it; we don’t know what it is but we can feel it, this total desperation to enter, pounding and ramming and kicking. That, finally, the door opens… and it opens outward—we’ve been inside what we wanted all along. Das ist komisch.[1]

I understand: it is dark. It is hard. People don’t like to think this kind of thing. But to me, this is freeing. On my best days I feel like a painter whose brush cannot err. And the memory of those days carry me through the days where it seems all I do is brush more grey on top of the grey from the day before. And for me, that is enough. Sadly, it was not enough for a mind as great as David Foster Wallace. And now all that is left of his art are shadows in the form of his writings and others’ memories. That would have happened eventually, of course. But songs that end abruptly as so frustrating.

Das ist nicht komisch.

[1] “This is funny.”

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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