Franz With Benefits


An involuntary celibate reads Kafka.

“This mode of address is becoming tiresome,” he says to Milena Jesenska, who he endlessly yet self cock-blockingly courted, referring to the letters with which they, yes, tiresomely corresponded. In his genius, he called her husband “the calmest person” in a paragraph full of eerie compliments. Franz is fun in his numerous anthologies, but can you imagine dating him? Kafka lived online before the internet: a one-sided spasm of impulsive, desperate communication towards abstract entities wrapped in a pretty face. His aphorisms would have been the world’s greatest tweets; his diary entries ponderous blog posts with that nightmarish 0 comments. It is not until we are all 404 Not Found that his truest prophecy awaits, but until then, good times.

“Written kisses don’t reach their destination, rather they are drunk on the way by the ghosts,” again, in a weary letter to Milena — and in 2011, on this blessed day, these ghosts are you, dear reader. I write for a selected few in mind, fleshy ambassadors of whatever devastations irl-experience(s) have incurred, intercepted kindly by this readership. Though, we are complicit in our mutual faith in these words. We dare to understand one another. Intellectual intimacy is underrated, so come overrrr my darlings. He ends that letter to Milena with “the ghosts won’t starve, but we will perish,” a masochistically selfless gesture towards the timelessness of words. As if he were writing for us all along. Please, I do not compare myself to Kafka. He had a much better set of hair.

I’ll spare you the details of my involuntary celibacy, only to say that I don’t understand what the/ my problem is. I’ve been told countless times in the last decade or so that I need to “get out more” by friends owing my demise simply to paltry statistical numbers, their implication being that the more people I meet, the greater my chances are to use the word “consummate” in a future ball-drained account of it. I’ll occasionally go to a bar, brave the wet tips barely seen in the dim lighting, and realize I want whiskey more than sex, the manic high-pitched squeal of some blonde women in a short skirt and caked mascara almost cracking my Samsa-esque exoskeleton. Oh my god, she says. Oh my lord, I think. This is when a man with arms thicker than my legs comes in. Kafka compared faith to a guillotine, calling it both heavy and light. I guess my faith in the game, and its players, is on the light side.

“A cage went in search of a bird.”

My favorite of his aphorisms, as the imprisoner needs some fulcrum of meaning, the imprisoned, to define itself. Dominance was invented by the weak, and the slow months that roll by, invented by the week. I imagine my heart — not that blind dumb funny-beating organ, but the brittle vacancy around and within it — wrapped around an afternoon with you, a walk up concrete San Francisco hills marked with the inked spatter of late afternoon tree shadows, leaves gently threatened by a gaining breeze, before dinner at some hole-in-the-wall, then maybe my tongue-in-your-face. But of course, there is the power of a text, them fingers of yours finding letters one-by-one, in your greatest assertion, as mine had found the warmest parts of you. “Intercourse with human beings seduces one to self-contemplation.” Kafka can’t shut up can he?

The truth is, I use Kafka similarly to the women to which he hauntingly wrote: whenever the dire need calls for it. He is my non-homoerotic timeless muse. The idea that he suffered emotional torment diminishes mine, the projection that he was never loved. Like Jesus, he is a pastiche of words inside a book. I am the empty cage that hosts some swollen notion of him, my friend. My copy of The Basic Kafka (1979, Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster) was procured one foggy day for $2.71 at a used book store. I handed him three dollars and neglected the change. When the cashier looks at you with pity, you know you’re onto something good. “I am more strange than a stranger” goes my Franz, in a letter to a father explaining why he didn’t want his morose disposition to preclude his daughter’s potential happiness, that she deserved more. Even in break-up letters, he cut himself.

This mode of address is becoming tiresome. All I have are these words, strands of sentences flimsier than arms. I have addressed “you” simply as a formal second-person pronoun, shielded by the auspices of rhetoric, speared by the hyphen required to type non-fiction. The problem with ghosts is they look so real. The opaque face hides that transparent feeling of something wrong, barely dense enough to contain itself in the gathering wind. Love may be the devil’s laughter in disguise, or simply, in the skies.

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