Wednesday, 25 June 2008


The more observant of you might have noticed that I have added a link to my Friends list; OneBook.

Its descriptor summarises its intention - 'If you could read one book…'

I, being a baldy of little brain, submitted the following which, I now realise, falls outside of the rubric so it was not posted. However, it deserves a wider readership. Not my writing, but that of which I write.

Adam Thirwell, ‘The Last Flippant Writer,’ an introduction to Metamorphosis and Other Stories, Vintage, 2005

I fear the book I wish to comment on does not exactly fall off the radar screen of required reading. It is Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Other Stories. However, it is introduction to the Vintage imprint, published in 2005, by Adam Thirwell, entitled ‘The Last Flippant Writer’, that caught my attention.

It is a very accessible analysis of Kafka’s writing, beginning with a definition of what Kafkaesque is and isn’t.

Kafkaesque is, to quote Thirwell, ‘the spirit of the non-serious – evasive, ironic, flippant.’ It is not the description of a man who is ‘a genius, outside the ordinary limits of literature, and a saint, outside the ordinary limits of human behaviour’.

Kafka’s discovery is that ‘Plots are so tiny, so small… that so much less was necessary to create a story than people had thought.’

As a writer, this is a liberating thought. The idea that detail, the floss traditionally extended to drive the narrative or create atmosphere, may itself constitute the story and so need fulfill neither function creates a delicious ambiguity. ‘Everything could be both, or neither, at once.’

Thirwell roots Kafka’s style in the experimental fiction of turn of the century European literature. He specifically refers to is the Swiss-German writer, Robert Walser.

‘From Walser, Kafka learned … that a story did not have to have a stated moral. It could be smaller, and evasive – it could be an exercise in style instead.’

Much of the mythology that has grown up around Kafka Thirwell attributes to Max Brod, a good friend who was charged by Kafka to destroy all his unpublished work. Fortunately, Brod refrained; less fortunately, he became Kafka’s first and most influential interpreter.

According to Thirwell, Brod ‘had a theory of a Great Writer’; someone who ‘is seriously racked by metaphysical doubt, a seer with a message for troubled humanity, a person preternaturally sensitive to pain and suffering.’

Add Brod’s desire to posit Kafka as a Great Writer to the author’s premature death and one can understand how Kafka becomes bracketed in the romantic ideal depicted in The Death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis.

Thirwell’s introduction, ‘The Last Flippant Writer’, runs to just 28 pages, a length one can comfortably read in-store at Waterstones or Borders so there is no need to buy the book. I would urge every writer, wannabe or published, to read this gem of literary criticism. It is, above everything, a Class A stimulant for the creative imagination.


Gary Smailes said...


I never received your submission!!! I have included and plan to include every (within reason) submission I get. Please try again here.

Oh and thanks for the plug


DOT said...

Might as well give you a double plug, Gary, but having read submissions to OneBook I think this isn't the most appropriate piece for it.

(It is also useful to have the submission address.)

I am planning to submit commentary on another book I love *soon*.

Caroline said...

You can submit here and I can do fancy direct links, unlike Gary :)

I loved reading this post and I look forward to your next one at One Book.

ps - I've now added you to my google reader so I don't miss your posts. Sorry for not being here for a while.


DOT said...

Impressive, Caroline. Not only an author but a technogeek as well!