I have been spending some time in the company of distinguished intellectuals. Some of them are verbose, some more reticent with their opinions and thoughts. Others are meditative, contemplative, cumulative. What unites them is that they are all profoundly distinguished and deeply intellectual. I enjoy keeping their company.
On an evening with such folk, over cocktails and gentle jazz, a Professor of deeply impressive bearing and a firm yet gentle countenance waved his hand with authority and stated that the subject under discussion was ‘Kafkaesque’.
I sat bolt up right at this as if he had slapped me on the rump and called me Daisy. I was captivated. Kafkaesque - what a word it was! I had no idea what it meant - I pinched and pulled it in my mind to see if it would reveal itself. I felt its contours and crevices, shaking it a little to hear it move. It was foreign, surely, or if English, from some distant corner of these isles. But its taste and sound offered no clue to its meaning - all onomatopoeia absent. It was an impenetrable word, and therefore, surely - deeply intelligent.
Emerging from my reverie, I returned to the room, nodding attentively and chuckling knowingly at appropriate intervals. In the brief interlude between dessert and whisky, I stole off to the bathroom to conduct further research. I glanced at myself in the mirror and as I made to pull out my device, caught the eye of the bathroom attendant winking and reflected in the artificial light. A thought crept in.
‘Say, you there - fellow,’ I began.
He looked up pleasantly.
’You don’t perchance happen to know what ‘Kafkaesque’ means, do you?’
He was a youngish man of wispy character. He creased his brow, nodded quickly and responded.
‘Ah, yes, Sir, it refers to the author - Franz Kafka. Austro-Hungarian, I believe he was. His works are possessed of a rather distinctive style… absurdly nightmarish in quality they are, his protagonists often find themselves in deeply unpleasant and absurd situations or caught in the web of an oppressive bureaucracy. So, the adjective - Kafkaesque, that is - might be used to describe such a situation.’
‘Good God - what depth of analysis!’ I screamed with pleasure. ‘Here - have a penny for your thoughts.’
I produced a rusty copper coin from my top pocket and winked suggestively as I popped it in the wispman’s bowl.
‘A pleasure, m’Lord,’ he mumbled, blushing.
How strange! And again - what a word! The feel of it, the texture, the Austro-Hungarianness - it was all so deeply intelligent I could barely contain myself. I made a note to read some of the work of this thinker and scholar once the evening’s festivities had been brought to a meaningful end. I returned to the fray to chitter, sip and nibble amongst the dwindling party.
As evening concluded, I thanked the host effusively while shaking him by the begonias and made a brief detour to the learned Professor.
‘Quite an evening eh, Professor?’
He narrowed his sombre and insightful eyes and mused at me intelligently.
‘Indeed,’ I felt emboldened. ‘Not Kafkaesque in the slightest, wouldn’t you say?’
I relished every syllable of the sweet delicious word. The Professor’s mouth opened slightly as he pondered contemplatively and contemplated ponderously all at once. My - what a man!
‘Well, I suppose not.’
Aha! A correct usage. That was all I had time for - I retreated quickly and waved a single brisk hand in salute. I would see this Professor again soon - for we were equals now, him and I.
But now - the library beckoned.
The college library late at night had become something of a haven for me - the bemused moans of undergraduates brought me a good deal of sadistic pleasure. I wandered defiantly about, slapping my feet on the marble flooring like a punchdrunk sailor fresh from his most recent bout of scurvy.
Quickly enough, I found the place. I began rifling through the volumes and found him almost instantly - Kafka. Franz. Presumably dead - for many of his books were old and grey. One bore the title ‘Metamorphosis’ and had a rather charming portrait of a dung beetle on the front. I decided to start with that one - I have an inexplicable fondness for dung beetles.
I retired to my room, loosened my bow tie and kicked off my shoes as I fell backwards onto my feather pillow clutching the tome with great care.
Within a page - I was intensely embarrassed. For the foolish bathroom attendant had misled me - there were no tales of woe or nightmarish spectres in these pages.
The plot concerned some unfortunate fellow who one morning finds himself transformed into something hideous and verminous. The text didn’t quite specify but (encouraged by the front cover) I saw him as some sort of cockroach or beetle scuttling to and fro quite pathetically.
It was hilarious.
It was a riot, nay - a barrel of laughs, a murder of giggles. Indeed, I would go so far as to call it a chucklefest.
The poor chap was ostracised by his whole family, and they chased him from the room whenever he entered. He would clumsily and amusingly scuttle off back to his chamber, presumably weeping with misery. I was barely able to turn the pages such was my mirth for the duration of the first few chapters.
A man becoming a cockroach and having to live as one… hahaha - what an image! I wondered if the book had been adapted into a film or a series featuring that comical dunce who played Mr. Bean - it would’ve made excellent slapstick.
My drunken jollity increased as the book went on. The little roach found himself in increasingly ridiculous situations and conundra. The repeated images of the silly bug shuttling up and down the walls filled me with incomprehensible glee. His parents treat him with increasing disdain and the house guests complain about his lack of hygiene. Oh dear, we’ve all been there! Surely all of us have forgotten to bathe or shower on occasion. Oh sweet relatable Kafka - how have I only discovered you now.
Sleep now pressing down upon me, I made to save the final few pages for the following day. I chuckled to myself and tucked the slim volume under my pillow.
‘Ah, how very Kafkaesque,’ I mumbled fondly, slipping into a deep and blissful sleep.