Editor’s Introduction: A good part of me remains very private, especially the writer caught in the act of composition. We write (I do) best in the dark. “Light” whatever its nature comes only in publication. There’s a quality of “for my eyes only” to this new website, North of Kafka. But there is also a part of me that needs to share—perhaps with you alone, perhaps with a number of others. I must be the judge of that depending on? Impossible to explain.
You may receive this North of Kafka and no other. Or some of them. Or all of them. Or none of them. (“What’s he trying to say?”) That’s the point of it. Perhaps.
There will be no subscription to this site. It will find the reader through my mailing list as I run down the names and send the latest North of Kafka to those I instinctively feel at the moment might take it to heart and mind.
Consider the nature of this site somewhat akin to looking over a writer’s shoulder as he is trying to work things out. –nb
August 10, 2011
A little history from your unreliable narrator:
“North of Kafka #1,” which finally appeared in WINTER BOOK, Ellis Press, 2002, was a column of sorts, a personal essay, a literary concept I intended to send to a few friends the old fashioned way—stamp, envelope, a letter in a mailbox. This was before websites and what came to be called “blogging,” which still sounds like an indecent act I am reluctant to commit. I’m a writer not a blogger.
“North of Kafka #2 has been printed online in a number of places, including www.norbertblei.com. #3, in notes for years, I can hardly relate to now and at this point consider abandoned. It was a project I planned to continue, but like so many plans one grows weary of them in time, loses interest, and the writer walks away seeking someone else inside himself. It is not my desire or intention to reprint either #1 or #2 here…as helpful as they may be for some perspective.
My intention is to move on…forward…backward…wherever I find myself: the unreliable narrator. But this is not about me, no matter the possible parallels, as readers who bear with these occasional narrations shall come to see. Many hats. Many faces. Many people. Who am I today? This is a story wanting to be told in any way, by anybody in the writer’s psyche seeking a voice at that moment. Thus the unreliability of the narrator. Thus, a work progressing, true and false. Thus, fiction.
“It is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary.” –Kafka
So consider this a transition, a new page, a fresh beginning. It’s also an image, a metaphor I can’t let go. Which means the work remains unfinished. There is more and more to say in the little time left. The top of the pinewood coffin closes… ”Wait, did I tell you about?” The storyteller never dies.
“North of Kafka” came to me near the end of winter in a cabin overlooking Lake Superior in Bayfield, Wisconsin, around the millennium, where I found myself standing alone outdoors on a cold night looking into the dark, sipping a cup of coffee with a little brandy, confronted with the age-old theme of loss. And more.
“Anyone who cannot come to terms with his life while he is alive, needs one hand to ward off a little his despair over his fate… but with his other hand he can note down what he sees among the ruins.”–Kafka
The loss of my father. The loss of my long marriage. The loss of the house where I grew up, The loss of Chicago, the streets, the people, the stories, the work and passion of a writer. The growing loss of almost every means of survival as a freelancer. All this continued to mount. There was never, would never be enough money in this ‘business’ of writing (though I prefer ‘calling’.) not to mention reason to keep doing ‘it’, becoming one. Which was the subtitle of my fiction, THE SECOND NOVEL, Becoming a Writer.
To admit you were a writer was to admit you were a failure. Newspapers were dying. Paper had given way to screen. My world had become old: yellow pencils sharpened with a knife, broken fountain pens, bottle of black ink, paper that felt good in your hands (Chieftain Bond, 50% cotton fiber sub 20, grain long, cockle)…gray manual typewriters (Olympia, Royal, Smith-Corona) that sang in the key(s) of tap, tap, tapping fingers.
The losses continued to add up: The loss of the old neighborhood, boyhood friends, relatives.
The local cemetery was full of family; my heart was empty of what once was.
“A first sign of the beginning of understanding is the wish to die.” –Kafka
I had tossed a shopping bag of clothes in the trunk of my car earlier in the day, a briefcase of files and notebooks, pencils and pens…novels, books of stories and poems…unread copies of Harper’s, old New Yorkers, The New York Times.
There was a woman in my life as well. A chance for a new life. The possibility of refuting Fitzgerald’s famous almost last words: “There are no second acts.”
Fresh clothes, books, writing materials…fragments of small dreams still left for a writer beyond the middle of his life… Destination?
“Away-From-Here…the journey is so long that I must die of hunger if I don’t get anything on the way. No provisions can save me. For it is, fortunately, a truly immense journey.”–Kafka
I headed north.
Why North? Back to (forward) to more winter? Why not South—Sweet Home Chicago? East? West?
The map inside me read Kafka territory.
“My grandfather used to say: “Life is astoundingly short. To me, looking back over it, life seems so foreshortened that I scarcely understand, for instance, how a young man can decide to ride over to the next village without being afraid that—not to mention accidents—even the span of a normal happy life may fall far short of the time needed for such a journey.”–Kafka
Drive, he said.
North, he said.
From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached. –Kafka