Poetry on Monday: SHORT TALK ON KAFKA ON HÖLDERLIN

“I cannot keep my dreams straight.” By this complaint Kafka meant, keep them going in a straight line from front to finish. His dreams were inclined to swerve back on themselves, for example his dream of Hölderlin. Kafka dreamed that Hölderlin caught fire. “Finally you somehow caught fire.” Kafka began to beat out the fire with an old coat. Now the swerve begins. “Instead it was I who was on fire.” Here the swerve collides with itself. “And it was I who beat the fire with a coat.” Finally the swerve subsides in a hopelessness that is reasoned yet also neurotic. “But the beating didn’t help and only confirmed my old fear that such things can’t extinguish a fire.” Myself I find palindromes bleak—how they march forward as if to unfurl some wisdom then there we are cowering again at the back of the cave. And wasn’t it also Kafka who dreamed of swimming across Europe with Hölderlin river by river? So off they go, but soon the reasoning sets in. “I can swim like the others only I have a better memory than the others, I have not forgotten my former inability to swim. But since I have not forgotten it my ability to swim is of no avail and I cannot swim after all.” See that swerve and collapse. That after all mood in which he pinches the little specimen in two fingers and nips off its wings.

Myself I don’t dream at all these nights.

—Anne Carson

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