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October 22nd, 2008

Kafka and Me (Why Bloggers Need Not Be Perfect)

I just read Franz Kafka’s The Trial for the first time and learned something pretty startling: There were elements that resembled a blog.

I picked up the book on the way to vacation. (What does a Jewish lawyer from New York pick to read on a visit to Prague? A book by a Jewish lawyer from Prague.)

The startling part to me was not its well-known theme — a man arrested and asked to defend himself in an unknown court with unknown charges — but the fact that such a famous work was also very much unfinished. Much of Kafka’s work, including this one, was published by a friend after Kafka’s early death.

The start of The Trial is ominous enough:

“Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything wrong, he was arrested.”

And from there K. descends into the hell of the all-powerful, all-knowing and unseen bureaucracy.

The recent translation I read — and the reason this comes up in the context of blogging — had explained in the forward that this version was published to be as true to the notes Kafka left as possible. That means errors in names (same name spelled differently), the timing of events, and descriptions of scenes remain as written. Unfinished chapter fragments are tacked on after the end. The actual order of chapters, in fact, is not entirely known. There were paragraphs that went on for a dozen pages, as if the notes had been written down for later editing.

Now blogs can be like that. Unfinished. Rough around the edges. Often with mistakes, which we hope are merely formalistic and not substantive. Because if the substance works, then (like Kafka) errors in the formalities of writing will (we hope) be overlooked.

And that, from this day forward, will be my excuse for written errors.

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