Discussed in this essay:
The Castle, Franz Kafka, trans. Willa and Edward Muir. Shocken. 352pp, $14.00.
The Trial, Franz Kafka, trans. Willa and Edward Muir. Shocken. 312pp, $13.50.
The Complete Stories, Franz Kafka, trans. Willa and Edward Muir. Shocken. 512pp, $15.00.
The Invention of Morel, Adolfo Bioy Casares, trans. Suzanne Jill Levine. NYRB Classics. 103pp, $12.95.
Asleep in the Sun, Adolfo Bioy Casares, trans. Suzanne Jill Levine. NYRB Classics. 192pp, $12.95.
The Dream of Heroes, Adolfo Bioy Casares. Out of print.
Two Dissonant Writers Who Rhyme
Realism, with its insistence on mimicking the flow and feel of reality as we construe it, is often declared more rigorous and difficult to write than other novelistic genres. Reality, this argument goes, though perhaps infinite, is also real: is rule-based and thus is difficult to mimic well, whereas fantasy—especially hysterical fantasy—permits anything to happen, and thus the fantastic makes room for the arbitrary and the sloppy. Jorge Luis Borges neatly reversed this: the fantasy novel, he argued, is in fact far more rule-based than most Realist fiction. It may rely on rules that are not of our world, but its rules are very strictly adhered to. Fantasies are in fact far more tightly wound than the chaos of realism, which makes room for big, baggy books like War and Peace and Ulysses. These are the books—embracing everything from the Napoleonic Wars to defecation—where anything can happen, even, to Borges’s great chagrin, nothing at all.1
Borges tailored this argument explicitly for his good friend, the novelist Adolfo Bioy Casares. Fifteen years his junior and a consummate heartbreaker, Bioy is generally considered an odd match for the persnickety, mamma’s boy Borges, but Borges took the young writer under his wing and the two forged a genuine, lifelong friendship. They spent long afternoons talking animatedly over coffee in Buenos Aires; they collaborated on some playful but altogether unremarkable detective stories; and Borges even made Bioy the protagonist in his fiction “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.”
Borges also wrote a Prologue to the novel that made Bioy’s reputation in 1940 and has secured it ever since. It is in this Prologue that Borges lays out his argument in favor of the rigidity of fantasy. Whetting our appetite for what will come in The Invention of Morel, Borges declares:
The typical psychological novel is formless. The Russians and their disciples have demonstrated, tediously, that no one is impossible. A person may kill himself because he is so happy, for example. . . . In the end such complete freedom is tantamount to chaos. . . . The adventure story, on the other hand, does not propose to be a transcription of reality: it is an artificial object, no part of which lacks justification. It must have a rigid plot if it is not to succumb to the mere sequential variety of The Golden Ass, the Seven Voyages of Sinbad, or the Quixote.
After Borges, Bioy considered his greatest literary influence to be Franz Kafka. (His follow-up to Morel, Escape Plan, contains significant nods to Kafka’s “The Penal Colony” and The Castle.) Although tuberculosis precluded Kafka from ever reading Borges or Bioy, if he had he might have returned some of the praise that the two Argentines heaped onto the Czech. In interviews, Bioy stated his great admiration for Kafka’s “arguments,” which he found laced into his plots; Bioy even went so far as to declare that Kafka’s arguments invented a genre of their own. 2 Borges too made no secret of his great admiration for Kafka. He wrote that “Kafka was the first among this century’s writers,” and then went on to explain his debt to him: “I have written stories in which I tried with great ambition but little success to be Kafka. There is one titled ‘The Library of Babel’ and others that were exercises in trying to be Kafka.”3
If Kafka invented his distinctive kind of plot, then Bioy succeeded in twisting Kafka’s plot to serve his own ideas. Both Kafka and Bioy took a cue from G. K. Chesterton (whose writing they loved) in creating works of immense logical rigidity. They both wrote in a sort of adventure/detective genre, and though it is true that most adventure and/or detective novels are characterized by the kind of strict plotting exemplified by Chesterton and emulated by Bioy and Kafka, these two are notable for the way in which rigid logic governs their works. This rigidity goes above and beyond that typically found in novels of the genre, and in their hands the logic itself becomes a defining feature. It argues things that had never been argued before. It creates strange equivalences that beg perhaps unanswerable questions. In short, it gives their works their distinctive feel. Out of this logic come strange systems that shimmer through tears in reality, light and effervescent yet preternaturally able to sustain, and inspire, interpretations. It is precisely this clearly felt but impenetrable logic behind Kafka or Bioy’s work that leads readers to such robust, contradictory opinions on what each of their novels means.
In his Prologue, Borges calls on writers of the 20th century to prove that “if [the literature of] this century has any ascendancy over the preceding ones it lies in the quality of its plots.” Kafka and Bioy are two writers who responded to, and perhaps proved, Borges’s declaration. For all the differences in their lives, contexts, and ways of meeting Borges’s challenge, their fictions exhibit remarkable convergences. So clear are the similarities that one might follow William H. Gass, who once declared “that Schopenhauer has read Borges and reflects him, just as Borges reflects both Bioy and Borges.”4 If Schopenhauer can read Borges, then Kafka has clearly read Bioy, and the two reflect each other like two mirrors, except what’s multiplied in their midst isn’t a person but a world: our very own, skewed as images caught between mirrors tend to be, but seemingly contained in both at once and, as the reproductions trail off to infinity, slightly but clearly bending in the same direction.
Convergence 1: Superb Reasoners in a Deaf World
Writing in an essay entitled “The Metamorphosis,” on Kafka’s story/novella of the same name, Paul L. Landsberg observes:
Our corporeality makes the inhuman world our master. It mocks at our pretended autonomy. The fragility of the identity of our character when a radical physical metamorphosis occurs cruelly shows the fragility of our entire condition. Gregor Samsa as a cockroach, for example, does not believe that he has lost the use of words. He speaks continually, tries to explain and excuse himself, and his arguments seem extremely reasonable to him. But after several minute he perceives that no one understands him any longer. No one even knows that he is speaking. What he judges to be reasonable language is for the others nothing more than the noise of a disgusting animal. He resembles Kafka’s other heroes, refined Talmudists surrounded by corporal beings, superb reasoners in a deaf world.5
In addition to bringing to mind much of Kafka, this passage seems almost designed to describe the problem encountered by the narrator of The Invention of Morel, a man who, literally, is never heard by the people he speaks to.
Absconded to a deserted island for purposes of happiness through isolation, the narrator one day finds his peace ruined with the arrival of visitors who throw the same party with loud music every night. Frightened that they will discover him, the narrator keeps his distance, but eventually love overwhelms his fear: one of the party detaches every evening to watch the sunset—she’s beautiful, of course, and the narrator comes to believe that “if she looked at me for a moment, spoke to me only once, I would derive from those simple acts the sort of stimulus a man obtains from friends, from relatives, and, most of all, from the woman he loves.”
One evening as the woman, Faustine, watches the sunset, the narrator marshals his courage and “jumps out from behind some boulders” right into her field of view. To no avail: “her aplomb astounded me, for she gave no indication that she had seen me.” The narrator tries speaking to her, but she pretends not to hear him. In the face of this rejection the narrator redoubles his efforts: he gathers thousands of wildflowers and creates a false garden, just for Faustine:
An immense woman is seated, watching the sunset, with her hands clasped on one knee; a diminutive man, made of leaves, kneels in front of the woman (he will be labeled I). And underneath it I shall make this inscription:
Sublime, close at hand but mysterious
With the living silence of the rose.
The result of this day-long sweat and labor? “As she passed my little garden she pretended not to notice it.”
Eventually the narrator will learn the reason why Faustine stepped right past his tribute to her, and it doesn’t have to do with indifference, coyness, or even outright animosity. The reason will make it abundantly clear to the narrator that, say what he will, Faustine will never hear him. And yet he will go on talking to her. By story’s end, some of us will have concluded that this is by far the best course of action.
By default, we know the alternate reality of Morel solely through the narrator’s attempts to explain it to himself. Although Kafka almost exclusively narrated from the third-person, his realities are similarly delivered to us: Kafka frequently dove into the minds of his protagonists to embody their thoughts as they pieced their way toward a working map of the logic they were up against. In both writers, the revelations delivered by these personal thoughts direct a reader’s sympathy while pointing out the inhumanity of the logic the protagonist is up against.
It’s noteworthy that Kafka tended to narrate from the outside, whereas Bioy’s books often take the form of documents left behind for us to discover: Morel, for instance, consists of the narrator’s diary (academic-sounding footnotes imply that it has, mysteriously, left the island and been found at an unknown later point in the future); Escape Plan consists of a series of letters, annotated by the writer’s brother; Asleep in the Sun is a long letter, or perhaps it’s a diary, or a document of evidence. Bioy’s protagonists are escapists, they’ve found the world deaf long before they reach the strange reality that Bioy has set for them, and in the new context it just becomes deaf in a stranger, more impossible way. Kafka’s characters, rather than escape, dearly wish to participate with the world around them; it’s just their bad luck that the logic they’ve been thrust into is impermeable.
Kafka’s and Bioy’s protagonists are people like you and me, ordinary people who suddenly find themselves in disturbing contexts. The drama of their fictions consists in the way in which the protagonists come to accept and embody the logic of their new worlds. During this process they, quite naturally, attempt to reach out to other humans. The tragedy of Kafka and Bioy is that the inhabitants of the new worlds are necessarily deaf to them. It is not a coincidence that so many of Kafka’s and Bioy’s tales end in catastrophe, for what other result can be expected when humans are put into a world they fundamentally don’t understand and are forced to navigate it without much in the way of human compassion or solidarity? They key difference, I think is that in Kafka’s fiction the protagonist never gains knowledge of the code behind appearances; he simply struggles nearer and nearer the void without ever seeing beyond it. In Bioy, the protagonist often does finally achieve an explanation—that is, in Morel the narrator finally learns why Faustine doesn’t hear him. But the explanation is never final; though it grants the protagonist knowledge of his world’s logic, there is another, deeper strain hiding just behind. And another. And another.
Convergence 2: “In reality he could not tell whether he had stood out or given in.”
There is always a struggle going on in Bioy and Kafka, and yet, it is a very odd sort of struggle, because we as readers are never sure which side is winning, or even which of the protagonist’s actions are effective and which are not. The poor creatures that we follow through the stories share our bewilderment. It is like this passage from Kafka’s novel The Castle:
It seemed to K. as if at last those people had broken off all relations with him, and as if now in reality he were freer than he had ever been, and at liberty to wait here in this place, usually forbidden to him, as long as he desired, and had won a freedom such as hardly anybody else had ever succeeded in winning, and as if nobody could dare to touch him or drive him away, or even speak to him; but—this conviction was at least equally strong—as if at the same time there was nothing more senseless, nothing more hopeless, than this freedom, this waiting, this inviolability.
Poised between complete freedom and complete hopelessness, woefully unable to estimate how close he is to either, or even toward which he is moving, K. struggles forward, backward, in some direction, or maybe he stands still. It seems that each of K.’s actions begets a series of new obstacles—or maybe this is too much agency to grant him, maybe they spring up on their own. At any rate, the obstacles breed prodigiously. The Castle is the most fecund of Kafka’s books in terms of generating plot out of nothing, in first building up complications from simplicities, and then building complications upon those complications, and then greater complications on lesser complications; they spread beyond all comprehension but nonetheless feel patterned, and rational, like a fractal. It is said Kafka wanted to end The Castle by having K. lay down in death, and I don’t think there would be any better way to extinguish the plot’s tendrils than to kill the protagonist from which they grew.
Yet, for as much as K. must unravel in The Castle, as absurd as the layered justifications become, each and every complication seems necessary. As we read, it feels that everything is arbitrary and nothing could be otherwise. It is as Alberto Spaini puts it in his essay, “The Trial”:
That is Kafka’s strength: to make us accept as indispensable a whole story which contrasts with the elements of daily life, and yet is woven together solely and exclusively of these elements. Not the story only, but every episode and connection of the various episodes and the characters and the connections between them and little by little the things which they do and say. Everything is perfectly in place, and everything is incredible.
The indispensability of each element is, of course, an aspect of all successful adventure/detective stories, but in Kafka it takes on a tint and texture characteristic to his work alone. In The Castle it feels as though the world’s operating principles are discovered, and invented, on the fly, that simply speaking words brings into being new certainties that then must be adhered to like the most stringent law. And indeed, once entered into the narrative everything becomes absolutely essential. No matter how crazy it sounds, characters begin to reason based on whatever is said; the tiniest events are appealed to as sources of justifications and grave consequences. In this way, Kafka builds a structure that, as Spaini says, is at once sublime and absolutely believable.
Bioy is the only other author I’ve discovered to make his strange worlds feel this necessary, although he does it differently than Kafka. In Bioy seemingly surreal occurrences accumulate, but, unlike in Kafka, these surreal events are not immediately riveted into place in the logical superstructure by page after page of detailed explanation. Rather, the reader is asked to continue suspending disbelief as the unbelievable accumulates, until, finally, Bioy reveals the explanation (often some marvelous technology or scientific experiment) that makes all the incredible events not only perfectly sensible but absolutely necessary. It is this revelation that also exactly explains the difference between the novel’s world and our own. What Bioy does at the end of his books is very much like a “trick” ending, and yet, rather than succumb to the trick’s cheapness, which is cheap precisely because it eliminates all the possibilities of the story save one (and generally an uninspiring one at that), Bioy’s revelations expand the possibilities of his novels. They project everything that has come before into entirely new territory: on only the most literal level is everything explained; in reality, the scope for interpreting the novel is expanded dramatically.
It is the rigidity and necessity of the logic underlying them that gives the fictions of Kafka and Bioy a feeling of inevitability, despite the fact that we and our protagonists don’t have any idea where we’re headed. We don’t know, but the logic knows just what it’s doing. We can sense that to the point that it props us up. Knowingly, we watch the protagonists struggle against this logic; we hope against hope for their victory. Perhaps they really are making headway. No, they’re not. At best, the protagonists bow down to the logic, at worst they die fighting it.
Convergence 3: The Servants
In her study of Bioy, Guia de Adolfo Bioy Casares, Suzanne Levine notes that among the references to The Castle to be found in Bioy’s novel Escape Plan, one of the most prominent is the strange, unsettling assistants found in each novel.
Escape Plan is a novel twice-framed. Its protagonist, Nevers, tells the story of his compulsory labor on a tropical French penal colony through the letters that he sends back to his brother in France. The second frame comes in because all of these letters are filtered through Nevers’s brother, who enlarges on and annotates them as he finds necessary. The story involves the governor of the penal colony, whom is generally presumed crazy, and whom Nevers quickly discovers is involved in strange experiments with some of the inmates. At the beginning, Nevers’s suspicion swirls around guesses that the governor is planning a communist insurrection, but it is plain to the reader that once the secret is revealed, it will not involve workers’ rights.
Discussing Nevers and his assistant, Dreyfus, (so-named by Bioy to parody the gravity with which the Dreyfus Affair had been invoked by other novelists) Levine writes:
Dreyfus’s incomprehensible words and actions, his friendly though sinister presence, appear to recall the function of the two assistants imposed upon the fatigued protagonist of Kafka’s The Castle. Sinister but affectionate, comical but sympathetic, Dreyfus, as difficult to avoid as the two assistants, is Nevers’s servant, whether he wants him or not.
Levine goes on to mention Dreyfus’s derivation from the tradition of the Greek eiron, which entered the novel in the form of Sancho Panzo and later became Sherlock Holmes’s assistant, Watson. By their subversion in spite of professed devotion to their masters, Panza and Watson generally served to highlight Don Quixote’s and Holmes’s shortcomings, just as Dreyfus underscores the uselessness of Nevers’s attempts to discover the truth behind the governor’s strange activities. But whereas Panza and Watson are comic and benign in their intentions, Dreyfus enters into absurd, unsettling territory. Right from the beginning, one questions the relationship—who exactly is serving whom here? Is Dreyfus secretly recruiting Nevers into the governor’s experiments? Does Dreyfus mean to harm Nevers?
Levine stops at the parallel between Dreyfus and K.’s assistants, but she might well have extended it to the many other assistants found throughout the works of Bioy and Kafka. Generally when servants—whether human or machine—are found in these writers’ works, the relationship is ambiguous, malign, and unsettling. Given the strange ending of Kafka’s “The Penal Colony,” one can reasonably question whether that story’s terrible execution machine is serving or being served. Similarly, is the machine at the center of The Invention of Morel assisting the human who made it, or has it taken over his life? Another Bioy novel, Asleep in the Sun, centers around psychiatrists and so comes to resemble The Trial—both deal with professionals generally enlisted by people to better navigate labyrinths they themselves cannot understand, and in both the professionals come to dominate the protagonists. The servant theme does not stop here. In Kafka’s masterful story “The Great Wall of China” one wonders if the wall itself has not taken over the whole of the immense nation that is producing it. (Again, there is a servant, this time to an Emperor, who perhaps inverts the traditional relationship). And in Bioy’s least characteristic work, The Dream of Heroes, there is a doctor whose power relation to the young men he has taken an interest in remains uncertain.
The novelists’ abiding interest in how servants dominate their masters is indicative in a greater, Foucauldian interest in power relationships and the evolving role of the underclass in supposedly classless societies, but it is also indicative of something else that deals solely with plot.6 Kafka’s and Bioy’s admiration of Chesterton—an admirable plot-spinner himself—is seen in their novels, which follow Chesterton’s love of placing mask before mask before mask. Although Bioy’s and Kafka’s comedy is always much more sardonic than Chesterton’s—his most famous novel involves witty repartee and intrigue between anarchists disguised as anarchists and the police who have to outwit them—they follow Chesterton’s delight in the possibilities for narrative innovation presented by masks. The distinctive feel of the authors’ novels that I discussed in the previous convergence—that of the viselike logical framework that nonetheless cannot be so much as touched or seen—is greatly due to the ambiguous roles that the serving-people and -machines play in these novels. Masks also abet the authors in creating narrative suspense and interpretive ambiguity, and they open up possibilities for Bioy and Kafka to explore logical nooks that greatly add to the complexity of the worlds they are envisioning.
Convergence 4: The End
When speaking of the end with Bioy or Kafka, one is on shaky ground: one author tended to use the end to change everything, the other hardly seemed capable of writing an ending. This indication that both authors regarded endings with great importance is perhaps indicative of the care with which they wrote, since the end of a novel is notoriously difficult to handle successfully and can make or break a work. This is especially true for adventure and detective stories: dependent as they are on plot and a lead character, few readings of their meaning will fail to consider the story’s conclusion.
Bioy has said that in Kafka one is always aware that the protagonist is headed toward disaster; it is telling that, although Kafka was famously unable to end many of his short stories and his novels, this is a verdict that few readers of Kafka could disagree with. Bioy might well have rendered this judgment on his own work, as his protagonists consistently die violently at the end (in an exception, one narrator finds himself turned into a dog; not death to be sure, but hardly a happy ending). Even if Bioy had shared Kafka’s inability to end a book, one could well predict where his protagonists were headed.
In The Dream of Heroes Bioy makes the Borgesian declaration that “the future is a world that contains everything”; perhaps, but Bioy’s work is nothing if not a demonstration, and a firm one at that, that even if the future is boundless, we will only ever have the potential to see the tiniest sliver of it. The novel involves the story of a young man who slowly sees the forking paths of youth closed off one by one, until he has no choice but to follow the one path left to him. Although the plot turns heavily on chance, it is pervaded by a sense of inevitability; when the end comes, close readers have seen it well in advance. Reading The Dream of Heroes, one is constantly aware that there is a logic at work in which chance events are really not chance. Although the future may encompass everything that could possibly be, most of it is as dark and inscrutable as the unlocatable dark matter in which the great bulk of the universe is said to exist.
Kafka’s futures share aspects of Bioy’s. Although Josef K. is told that it is possible for him to win his trial—that in his world all things can be—who among us ever thought he was going to win? Eventually does Josef even believe it? Although all K. need do to enter the castle is walk up to it, who leaves The Castle with the sense that this was ever truly a possibility? Kafka gives us the feeling both that the protagonist is making his own choices and that his choices are being dictated to him at every turn. This alone might not ensure that his protagonists end with disastrous failure, but this coupled with these characters’ continued insistence on butting up against the boundaries of their worlds—their very admirable, very human refusal to give up—ensures that there is only one place they will ever be at peace. This is perhaps why Kafka’s plots remain so satisfying even though they lack one of the most essential aspects of a good story.
Kafka’s and Bioy’s protagonists consistently end up in fundamentally the same place because the two authors are interested in creating very similar types of worlds; these worlds are places bounded by a ruthless logic, a logic that can only tolerate people who will submit to it. It is this boundedness, the fact that these worlds operate according to a certain logic that is hewn into the plot, that gives these books their very feeling of inevitability. Javier De Navascués has observed that the spaces in Bioy’s novels—spaces that protagonists flee to in search of liberation—gradually transform into jails. Kafka similarly incarcerates his characters, even though many of his characters do not take their jails as such at first. If transcendence were possible, if a character were somehow to beat the system, this would be tantamount to admitting a flaw in the logic that underpins the fiction; Kafka’s and Bioy’s works simply cannot tolerate such an admission.7
Of course, implacable logic need not lead to disaster; one could imagine a kind of logic in which a protagonist’s success was inevitable, in which a protagonist’s stasis was inevitable, in which an infinity of possible endings were inevitably dictated by the logic of the story; it is notable that in Kafka and Bioy the inevitable ending is always death, disaster.
De Navascués has also noted that Bioy’s protagonists go out of their way to isolate themselves; to paraphrase The Invention of Morel’s narrator, for them, to live is to flee. In Kafka, the intent to flee does not exist right from the beginning, but usually his protagonists come to be escaping from one or many things, themselves ambassadors of the logic that gradually besets them on side after side until they are completely and hopelessly enclosed. Kafka’s and Bioy’s protagonists are fundamentally cut off from their fellow human beings; their inability to communicate is matched by their great self-reliance, and in the end the two conspire to ensure disaster. The worldview represented in Kafka’s and Bioy’s works is one in which true human connections are both essential and impossible, where one tries in vain to peer through the cracks in reality.
It a world-view well summed up by something that occurs early in The Castle. K. is allowed a glimpse of Klamm, a powerful bureaucrat essential to his mission, and as it turns out, despite K.’s best efforts this glimpse is the closest he will ever get.
“Would you like to see Herr Klamm?” K. begged for a sight of him. She [Frieda] pointed to a door just on the left. There’s a little peephole there, you can look through.” “What about the others?” asked K. She curled her underlip and pulled K. to the door with a hand that was unusually soft. The little hole had obviously been bored for spying through, and commanded almost the whole of the neighboring room. At a desk in the middle of the room sat Herr Klamm, his face brilliantly lit up by an incandescent lamp that hung low before him. . . . If he had been planted squarely before his desk, K. would have seen only his profile, but since he was turned directly toward K., his whole face was visible.
Klamm is as close as Kafka’s or Bioy’s protagonists ever get to another person, ever get to a reality that they know exists right outside the boundaries of the one they’re trapped in. They know more is out there, and sometimes they can even peer through a peephole at it, but that’s as far as it goes.
When you get right down to it, The Invention of Morel is really the story of two men who had the bad luck to try and create diametrically opposed utopias on the same island. There’s the narrator, who thought utopia was living life as flight, as far away from his fellow humans as he could conceive; then there’s Morel, who thought utopia was living a strange sort of immortality amidst the woman he loved. Although the men never meet, they ruin each other’s utopias: Morel gets his immortality, but the narrator gets Morel’s love.
Although it’s hard to imagine at first, Kafka’s worlds are failed utopias of a sort too. They are the kind of utopia that W.G. Sebald alludes to when he writes in Austerlitz:
And I came to the conclusion that in any project we design and develop, the size and degree of complexity of the information and control systems inscribed in it are the crucial factors, so that the all-embracing and absolute perfection of the concept can in practice coincide, indeed ultimately must coincide, with its chronic dysfunction and constitutional instability.
They are, in other words, the kind of utopia that becomes the biggest trap for the person or people who attempt to establish it.
These are Bioy’s utopias as well; the difference is that Bioy tends to center his works around the person who tries to establish the utopia; Kafka is most interested in a normal citizen who becomes enveloped in someone else’s idea of utopia. In Kafka, as many have said before, the architect of the utopia is God; in Bioy the architect is always human, although perhaps a human who makes the tragic assumption that he is God-like.
In creating these logically inevitable, perfectly terrible utopias, Bioy and Kafka shared much with writers of their time, many of whom were turning to fiction to demonstrate arguments against totalitarian schemes that promised perfected societies. Of course, these two writers transcended mere screeds and political warnings. Perhaps the most important difference is that in Bioy and Kafka the book itself becomes a kind of failed utopia. In this they anticipate Julio Cortazar, who in Hopscotch very openly created a deceitful labyrinth designed to trap overactive readers. Bioy’s and Kafka’s novels can feel the same: to read their books is to become seduced by their logic—to become seduced by their logic is to become ensnared in attempts to understand and interpret it. One cannot speculate as to whether Kafka and Bioy meant their utopias to be traps, as Cortazar did his, but in trapping the reader their works powerfully communicate the feelings of the protagonists as they encounter the problems of modernity. In creating failed utopias for readers and protagonists alike, these authors came to similar solutions for the challenge that Borges posed, getting there in beautifully distinct and captivating ways.
Scott Esposito edits The Quarterly Conversation. Recent and forthcoming publications include an interview with translator Katherine Silver in The Bloomsbury Review, an essay on the fiction of William T. Vollmann for The Chattahoochee Review, and a profile of Salvadoran novelist Horacio Castellanos Moya for Boldtype magazine.
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