You may have noticed that this website is getting more professional and informative, and less personal. I began it three years ago talking about my personal life and now it's a lot bigger and better than that. Such are the forces of social media! I still want to do personal posts, but there may be less and less room for them. We have to figure that out. I look forward to the day when Adam Horowitz says, I just can't get enough of what you write about your marriage, Phil, but could you put it on your own blog? Sounds right to me.
Last year about this time I did a piece on my sexual issues and my sympathy for Eliot Spitzer. It led to a piece in New York Magazine about male sexuality and an appearance on the Stephen Colbert show to talk about anti-Zionism. (That was a joke, sorry; Colbert was interested in married sexuality.) My sympathetic feelings were reawakened yesterday when I saw Matt Lauer and David Shuster administering a pious social drubbing to Spitzer for being such a bad, bad man.
All I can say is, I think David Paterson is a joke as governor, when we need a strong executive. So let us have a little goddamn sexual hypocrisy…
How does this relate to my headline? Franz Kafka is more famous for "The Metamorphosis" than any other tale he told, and there is good reason for that. The story speaks to very basic feelings everyone has of their disgusting animal nature. I need to reread it; but I think of it now as a sexual story.
I've been reading Kafka's diaries and letters, and it's clear that he had extremely conflicted feelings about sexuality. He regarded "coitus" as the "punishment" for marriage; and yet there's evidence he also visited prostitutes. He had one girlfriend after another. His incredible psychic energies drew women to him. He seems to have fallen in love again and again, with sexual heat. He read Freud and studied the literature on masturbation.
"The Metamorphosis" was composed under the following conditions: he was living in his family's apartment in Prague and conducting an intense relationship by letter with Felice Bauer in Berlin, to whom he was twice engaged, and with whom he had surely had sex. But he had reached the understanding that his life was dedicated to writing, and he stayed up all night to write. He was also writing to Bauer every day and keeping the relationship from his family. Yet his mother went into his letters without his knowledge and then wrote to Bauer about her love for her son, whom she could not understand. The weird family and sexual dynamics of Kafka's life fed the great story.
Nearly 100 years ago, when the editor Kurt Wolff proposed to illustrate the story, Kafka freaked out. He didn't want any drawing of the insect to appear with the story. He just wanted human beings depicted standing outside Gregor Samsa's door. That's because it's a psychological story; and the insect is inside all human beings. He didn't want an illustrator to make it literal.
The insect is in Eliot Spitzer too, of course! And to Matt Lauer, the former governor said that he "fell into" a pattern of behavior that he regrets. Sort of like the insect falling and hurting its leg and destroying himself in "Metamorphosis."
Kafka understood that sexual energy didn't have to destroy a person. A few years after Metamorphosis, he wrote the following in a letter to a sensitive Jewish teenager named Minze Eisner. (The letter is in this amazing volume from Schocken). It's spiritual/creative advice–and of course, I see a sexual understanding in it:
I will not try to compare myself with you but will greatly respect your grief, as we must everyone's grief. But perhaps you overlook something. Everyone has his sharp-toothed sleep-destroying devil inside him, and this is neither good nor bad, but is life. If one did not have him, one would not live. What you curse in yourself, therefore, is your life. This devil is the material (and basically what wonderful material) that you have been endowed with and with which you are supposed to make something. When you worked on the land that was to my knowledge no escape but rather you drove your devil out there like a cow who up to now had grazed in the streets of Teplitz and was now to graze in better pastures. In Prague we have this statue of a saint on the Charles Bridge, and on its base is a relief that tells your story. The saint is plowing a field, with a devil hitched to the plow. The devil is still furious (which marks a transitional phase; until the devil himself is pacified, the victory is not won), gnashes his teeth, looks back malignantly at his master, and tenses his tail, but he is still forced under the yoke. Now of course, Minze, you are no saint and are not meant to be, and it is not at all necesssary and would be a shame and a pity if all your devils were set to drawing the plow. But for a good number of them it would be excellent, and you would have put them to excellent use. I don't say this because only I think so–in your heart you are striving for the same thing.
What a beautiful and loving statement. I'm hoping that Spitzer has his devil at the plow, but not completely pacified.