inside the castle

Is he mad or blind?… In the realm of total acceptance there are no accidents. He once told a friend accidents do not exist in the world but only in our heads. There is no world without causation, and the idea of accident reflects the limits of human perception, our inability to know all connections and so pursue total causality.

Later, He went to an exhibition of Picasso paintings and expressed (to his friend) his opinion that this artist is guilty of wilful distortion. He said he did not think so: ‘He merely notes the abnormalities which have not yet penetrated our consciousness. Art is a mirror which “runs fast” like a clock – sometimes.’

This is from an introduction to Kafka’s The Castle. I’ve been thinking about it since my memory was jogged by Tim Etchells’ notebook from Prague (‘An Axe to Break the Frozen Sea, 8 August 2008), and I’ve been thinking about it even more since reading M John Harrison’s brilliant 1991 book review here. That review depresses me because the author was so clearly on fire when he wrote it, and it is so rare to have that rage and understanding and clarity. It’s a beautiful review. The writing is enough in itself to make me feel a fragility that is far too luxurious, far too much, for this world. But I’d like to live in it all the time.

Am I mad or blind, or do my eyes turn the images in front of me into something else without my knowing such that I see what isn’t there at all, but what my eyes see? This question is partly what stopped me from wanting to report news any more – partly what stopped me being able to report news any more. But I also believe that this is what totalitarian states do, which is why Kafka interests me so much, and why Angola (oh, Angola, forgive me) interests me so much. But these are obvious cases. Totalitarian states are effective because you believe you are mad, because your perceptions of what is really happening are tested and confused and thrown up. Someone is murdered by the State – and everyone says it was an accident of increasing violent crime. But you know, somehow, through perception, that he was murdered by the State. That is a too obvious, too straightforward example. The better examples are much harder to explain, the better examples are not obvious – they are very fuzzy, very subtle, very nuanced. You don’t know why you are scared but you are, or why you are confused but you are. And because you don’t know why you are scared and fear insanity. And slowly you become that.

Distinctions of fact and fiction are more frightening, maybe, in apparently non-totalitarian, apparently liberal, capitalist states. As ‘Julian’ comments on M John Harrison’s post (linked above), Deleuze has argued that we can view ‘theft as the original act of exchange, leading to the ‘coding’ of pleasure and desire that leads to tyranny and capitalism’. Shifting points of truth and the lie and the fact and the fiction. Talking of murder, remember Dr Kelly. And yet in places like Britain, such is the desire for fact and certainty, you can’t even consider that something which appears to be fantasy – Dr Kelly murdered by the State – to be fact. The limits of human perception are exaggerated and expanded out to trap the humans who live in the web (“Of course he wasn’t murdered, this isn’t Russia for God’s sake!”). We trap ourselves, our lives, in a divide between fact and fiction which never existed anyway.

Why is this so complex? So unbelievable. It seems so clear to me.

Am I mad or blind?

By the way, my mum and dad have been married for 47 years today.