“Slush” by Joshua Cohen

Not sure if anybody’s noticed, but I’m a bit of a creature of habit. I like getting turned onto new stuff, sure, but once I’ve found something I like I tend to stick by it like a truly neurotic compulsive or perhaps like a faithful hound. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I was very happy to learn that Joshua Cohen, whose multi-part Nextbook essay about Kafka’s office writing I covered here, has a new piece of short fiction up at The Fanzine, which is a very cool site and probably not as widely known as it ought to be. So do yourself two favors: first, check out Cohen’s story, “Slush,” and second, start checking on Fanzine more often than you’ve been.  (if you want to do yourself a third favor, pink up a copy of The Weaklings, Dennis Cooper’s most recent collection of poems, which Fanzine published in a special illustrated limited edition of unlimited awesomeness.) Here’s the beginning of “Slush.”

 

Dear Aaron Priestly,

Thank you for letting us take a read on your manuscript. STORY OF MY LIFE was bold, and compelling, but ultimately I was not convinced that I was the right person to represent it. I just did not find this a must read. It did not click, I regret to inform. Nor did it hold ME. I find your premise lacking, quite. Good luck elsewhere (*I can no longer accept queries from writers who have not been previously published or who have not been referred to me by a colleague*)
    Please accept my very best wishes for the success of STORY OF YOUR LIFE. Though I did not fall in love with your story enough to continue reading it, I pass. We must pass. Obviously not for me, obviously. He, she, it, passes.

checking back in with Joshua Cohen and Kafka’s Office Writings

I’m sure you’ve all been keeping up this week with Nextbook.org’s five part series on Kafka’s Office Writings, which I first blogged about on Monday. But in case you haven’t, this is a good time to look over what you’ve missed so you can be all caught up for the big (?) finale tomorrow. The series, as I’ve mentioned now several times, is authored by Joshua Cohen, quite possibly the youngest working critic to be described non-ironically as “venerable,” assuming he has ever actually been called that before, which, if he hasn’t–well he has now.

(clicking anywhere on the text of a given day takes you to that day on Nextbook)

Today (day 4) we’re learning about Kafka and Nazis:        >>It has become a commonplace to say that Kafka’s work prefigured, in image, or predicted, in word, the horrors of Nazism. That argument is most often advanced by a litany of external congruencies between Kafka’s fictional world and the Third Reich: bureaucracy (though the Nazis were always more efficient than the authorial imagination), the infringement of technology on daily life, random violence, unappealable official destinies, fates based on birth, etc. Kafka’s intuition of Nazism was far more personal, however, far more inwardly directed. It can be found in his characters’ desires to join something, to become part of something, whether a style or form of being, or even a Volk (which, in Kafka’s case, would have, perversely, been Judaism).<<

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Yesterday, we learned about how Kafka’s work directly inspired his art:          >>While no intro1duction of “cylindrical shafts” could overturn such a metaphysical damnation, there is no doubt that the image of a body inscribed by technology springs from Kafka’s arbitrating experience with traumatized workers.<<

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On day 2, we learned about the history of office life in Europe:           >>[Kafka’s] origins lie before industry certainly, before widespread centralization. He began, in fact, when people stopped working for themselves and started working for others; when individual or familial subsistence gave way to earning a living. Work, in the 19th century, became largely an indoor activity, making daily labor—not in the fields and farmlands, but behind four walls in a plant—seem contained, a place where behavior could be scrutinized, and surveilled.<<

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And back on day 1 we got an overview of Kafka, and of what the rest of the week was going to be like:     >>Franz Kafka wrote as insurance against suffering the fates of his characters. It was as if every hour he spent writing, by candlelight and, later, by electric light, was an installment paid against darkness. He knew that with a stroke of the pen he could conceivably, at any time, have restored to Joseph K. his easy life before The Trial, and obtained for land surveyor K. a better position with a gentler Castle. But this is what makes Kafka the great writer of what has been called Modernity: That he stayed true to his fictions, and retained their tragedy.<<

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After you’ve had your fill of nonfiction, consider perhaps some of his other literature. Cohen is the author of five fine books out from presses that Giant readers and contributors alike have deep affection for: A Heaven of Others (Starcherone, 2008), Two Tribal Stories (Small Anchor, 2007), Aleph-Bet: An Alphabet for the Perplexed (Six Gallery, 2007), Cadenza for the Schneiderman Violin Concerto (Fugue State, 2007), The Quorum (Twisted Spoon, 2005).  A new novel, Graven Imaginings, is forthcoming from Dalkey Archive.  Better get on over to his website and see what the score is.

ALL THIS WEEK: Sympathy for the Cubicle Rat at Nextbook.org, starring Franz Kafka and Joshua Cohen

not Joshua Cohen. Or Kafka.

 >>This event—finally, the translation and publication of the last known scrap of Kafka’s work left untranslated, and unpublished—brings us to the subject of this series: how Kafka’s office writings influenced his fiction, and what that influence means. Kafka’s office writings, as presented here, cannot be read on their own (they are incomprehensibly boring) but, instead, must be read as companions, to demystify the three novels and stories (which are anything but boring). Taken together, though, both workaday fact and masterwork fiction create a network of connections that exposes not just the concerns of a single writer, but also that of a singular culture — the culture of the Office, which has imposed itself on what used to be our lives. <<

Check back at Nextbook.org every day this week for a new installment of Joshua Cohen’s writing about Kafka’s Office Writings. Also, there may be periodic updates here, highlighting our favorite pieces from the series and/or reminding you to go read it. 

Who could say no to this mug?

 

Or this bug?
Or this bug?