Originally Posted by zelda_pinwheel
interesting analysis of kafka vs. calvino. overall i agree with it. i tend to make a distinction between kafka and the absurdists but i don't know that it's justified. objectively his vision of the world corresponds to the absurdist vision in many ways. perhaps i make an unconscious distinction between western europe (ionesco, pirandello...) and eastern europe (kafka, gogol...) who have their own special variety of absurdism (which is generally more sinister). also i tend to think of the absurdiste movement being more around 1950's and 60's and kafka pre-dates that. maybe he is just a pre-cursor, sowing the seeds...
kafka is indeed rather bleak ; the frightening part is this bleakness seems rather true to reality sometimes, *his* reality at the least. calvino's is definitely more of a happy-go-lucky absurde ; inexplicable things happen, people do incomprehensible or irrational things, but hey ! that's just life, no use getting wound up about it... and the people in his books seem to have their reasons for acting so strangely. like "the baron in the tree" ; what a crazy idea, to spend your life in the tree ! but he knows why he's there... whereas in kafka, as you say, they are condemned to struggle hopelessly against the incomprehensible (and generally malevolent) actions and conditions surrounding them.
I think you put your finger on a difference when you spoke of the eastern European absurdists having a more "sinister" variety of absurdism.
The difference is likely rooted in location and political environment. Kafka was a middle class Jew in what was then Austria-Hungary. The impersonal, bureaucratic world he depicts is a dark reflection of the sort of environment he lived in, which found its bleakest expression in the purges in Stalinist Russia. Medvedev, in _Let History Judge_, makes a good case that Stalin was responsible for the deaths of more Russians than anything else in Russian history. There was no rhyme nor reason to the purges: once the bureaucratic machine was started and set in motion, it continued relentlessly, chewing up anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in its path, regardless of what they might have done or not done. That was Kafka's bleak vision personified.
Calvino was Italian, from a culture where politics often take on a madcap comic opera guise. It's not evil, just highly personal, fueled by loyalty to family, clan, and region. "Italy" is a thin veneer over a mass of squabbling city states, and I suspect many Italians will indentify themselves as a Roman, Florentine, Venetian or what have you first, and an Italian second.
No surprise Calvino's tales are more light-hearted. His characters know what the rules are, though they may struggle to bend or transform them. Kafka's characters don't, and exist in mute bewilderment.
i'm starting to think i've never read invisible cities (how did that happen ?). i will have to add it to my list...
You have a treat in store.