Apocalyptic Futures: Marked Bodies and the Violence of the Text in Kafka, Conrad, and Coetzee

Apocalyptic Futures: Marked Bodies and the Violence of the Text in Kafka, Conrad, and Coetzee

Apocalyptic Futures: Marked Bodies and the Violence of the Text in Kafka, Conrad, and Coetzee

Apocalyptic Futures: Marked Bodies and the Violence of the Text in Kafka, Conrad, and Coetzee

Synopsis

The primary argument that Russell Samolsky makes in this book is that certain modern literary texts have apocalyptic futures. His contention, however, is not, as many eminent thinkers have claimed, that great writers have clairvoyant powers; rather he examines the ways in which a text might bewritten so as to incorporate an apocalyptic event into the orbit of its future reception. He is thus concerned with the way in which apocalyptic works might be said to solicit their future receptions. In analyzing this dialectic between an apocalyptic book and a future catastrophic event, Apocalyptic Futures also sets out to articulate a new theory and textual practice of the relation between literary reception and embodiment. Deploying the double register of marksto display the means by which atext both codes as well as targets mutilated bodies, his specific focus is on the way in which these bodies are incorporated into the field of texts by Franz Kafka, Joseph Conrad and J.M. Coetzee. Situating In the Penal Colony in relation to the Holocaust, Heart of Darkness to the Rwandan genocideand Waiting for the Barbarians to the revelations of torture in apartheid South Africa and contemporary Iraq, he argues for the ethical and political importance of reading these literary works' apocalyptic futures now in our own urgent and perilous situation. To this end, he draws on contemporarymessianic discourse to establish the ethical and political resistance of the marked body to its apocalyptic incorporation. In this regard, what is finally at stake in his analysis is his hope of finding the possibility of a hidden countervailing redemptive force at work in these and othertexts.

Excerpt

There is no law that is not inscribed on bodies.

—MICHEL DE CERTEAU, The Practice of Everyday Life

Commenting on the emancipatory utopian possibilities in relation to a work and its temporality, Ernst Bloch writes in The Principle of Hope: “Every great work of art, above and beyond its manifest content, is carried out according to a latency of the page to come, or in other words, in the light of the content of a future which has not yet come into being, and indeed of some ultimate resolution as yet unknown.” In contrast to Bloch, for whom the latent, as-yetunrealized possibilities of art open out onto the still-unknown but potentially redemptive future, Franz Kafka considered the relation of his work to that future in starkly opposite terms. Whereas for Bloch works of art are invested with liberatory powers and hope that keeps faith with a radically open and utopian future, for Kafka it was precisely his lack of hope in the future powers of his writings that convinced him that they must be destroyed. It will not surprise us, since we are speaking of Kafka, that paradoxically the impossibility of hope in his art was a symptom not of the failure of his writings, but precisely of their powers of forecast. On one particular occasion, Kafka, together with his young disciple Gustav Janouch, was looking at some of Picasso’s cubist still lifes and a painting of . . .

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