Two Kafka Plays: Kafka's Dick and the Insurance Man

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Автор:Alan Bennett
Издателство:Faber & Faber
ISBN: Тегло (гр.): Формат: 130 / 200 Състояние: Мн. добро
Two Kafka Plays: Kafka's Dick and the Insurance Man / Alan Bennett

Author’s Note
I have written two plays around if not altogether about Kafka and in the process have accumulated a good deal of material about and around the Prague insurance man. Some of this is fanciful; sketches and speculations that never had a hope of being included in either piece; some of it is the kind of stuff that’s always left over after writing a play, the speeches one has not managed to get in or the jokes that have had to be cut out and which are invariably the jokes and the speeches of which the playwright is most fond. Indeed he often thinks them the heart of the play, whereas the director (who never had to sweat over them) can see they’re diversions, distractions or ornament. Not wanted on voyage. There is a word for this kind of thing which I have just come across (and having come across it can’t think how I’ve managed so long without it); it is paralipomena - the things omitted but which appertain and are put in later as afterthoughts. It describes half my life as well as the notes that follow.

Besides these notes I have also included, as an introduction to The Insurance Man, a diary that I kept during the shooting of the film, which was first shown on BBC2 in February 1986. Kafka’s Dick was produced at the Royal Court Theatre six months later. The play was not as well received by the critics as was the film and, though I could not imagine it better done and it played to packed houses, it did not transfer for a longer run. Shortly after it opened, I was working in Yugoslavia and drove into Italy for the day. Depressed about the reception the play had had I came by chance on the village of Aquileia, went to look at the church and found there a huge mosaic floor laid down in the fourth century. I say ‘by chance’ but to read Kafka is to become aware of coincidence. This is to put it at its mildest. His work prefigures the future, often in ways that are both specific and dreadful and this is part of his popular reputation. Sometimes though, his premonitions are less haunted, lighthearted even: he has a notion of the answering machine, for instance, and a dream of Berlin divided by a wall that seems more strange than tragic. In Kafka’s Dick, Kafka is metamorphosed from a tortoise and is also sensitive about the size of his cock. So to find inside the west door of this church at Aquileia, a mosaic of a cock fighting a tortoise seemed not quite an accident. In the play cock and tortoise are not symbols; in Aquileia, so said the guide book, they represent a battle between the forces of light and darkness. I bought a postcard of the mosaic and the postcard-seller told me of a better example in the crypt. This took some finding, as the tortoise wasn’t so much in the crypt as in a crypt beyond the crypt, and even there hidden behind the furthest pillar, just where Kafka (were he a tortoise) would have chosen to be. This seemed if not quite a nod then at least a wink and I drove on in better spirits.

I would like to thank Richard Eyre, who directed the play and the film (and who was always in good spirits) and for her unstinting help and encouragement, the best of editors, Mary Kay Wilmers.

There are many perils in writing about Kafka. His work has been garrisoned by armies of critics with some 15,000 books about him at the last count. As there is a Fortress Freud so is there a Fortress Kafka, Kafka his own castle. For admission a certain high seriousness must be deemed essential and I am not sure I have it. One is nervous about presuming even to write his name, wanting to beg pardon for doing so, if only because Kafka was so reluctant to write his name himself. Like the Hebrew name of God it is a name that should not be spoken, particularly by an Englishman. In his dreams Kafka once met an Englishman. He was in a good grey flannel suit, the flannel also covering his face. Short of indicating a prudent change of tailor the incident (if dreams have incidents) serves to point up the temptation to English Kafka and joke him down to size. The Channel is a slipper bath of irony through which we pass these serious continentals in order not to be infected by their gloom. This propensity I am sure I have not escaped or tried to; but then there is something that is English about Kafka, and it is not only his self-deprecation. A vegetarian and fond of the sun, he seems a familiar crank; if he’d been living in England at the turn of the century and not in Prague one can imagine him going out hiking and spending evenings with like-minded friends in Letchworth. He is the young man in a Shaw play who strolls past the garden fence in too large shorts to be accosted by some brisk Shavian young woman who, perceiving his charm, takes him in hand, puts paid to his morbid thoughts and makes him pull his socks up.

Charm he certainly had, but not at home. Chewing every mouthful umpteen times so that at meals his father cowered behind the newspaper, Kafka saved his charm for work and for his friends. Home is not the place for charm anyway. We do not look for it around the fireside so it’s not so surprising Kafka had no charm for his father. His father, it seems, had none for anybody. There is something called Home Charm though. In the forties it was a

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