June 20, 2013

An empyrean way of digesting the surreal

Reading an article at the New Yorker book blog by Kelsey Osgood about Kafka for kids, these lines jumped out at me:
It's easy to brush aside traditional fairy tales and their modern retellings because we have lost our belief in the overtly fabulous, but what Kafka describes becomes more frightening to us as we age. We are sure, as mature people with 401(k)s and digital subscriptions to the Times, that we will never be stalked by an amorous, sparkly vampire, but we are not sure that we won't be charged and prosecuted for a crime we aren't even sure we committed...In this way — not the bloody, but the banal — Kafka's work becomes more spooky than the original Brothers Grimm, in which Snow White's evil queen is forced to dance to death in scalding iron shoes.


And though this might be taken as an argument for sheltering kids from Kafka, consider that the urge to avoid feeling fear altogether is stronger in grown-up humans than in small ones. “Grownups desperately need to feel safe,” Maurice Sendak said in 1993, “and then they project that onto the kids. But what none of us seem to realize is how smart kids are… they’ll go for the hard concepts, they’ll go for the stuff where they can learn something.” Perhaps Kafka’s works can be best confronted by children, who have that empyrean way of digesting the surreal and decoding symbols, who are braver, in their innocent beliefs, than we can ever be. 


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