“There is nothing intrinsically imaginative about the idea of ‘gold,’ nor the idea of ‘mountain,’” writes Will Self, citing an idea of the philosopher David Hume, “but join them together and you have a fantastically gleaming ‘gold mountain.’ And might not that gold mountain be the Laurenziberg in Prague? After all, it looms over contemporary Prague just as it loomed in the consciousness of Franz Kafka, whose earliest surviving narrative fragment, ‘Description of a Struggle,’ is in part an account of a phantasmagorical ascent of its slopes.”
This association comes from “Kafka’s Wound,” Will Self’s new essay in the London Review of Books — or rather, a new “digital essay” from the LRB on the BBC and Arts Council England’s new site The Space, one which takes full advantage of the multimedia future, much enthused over back in the 1990s, in which we now find ourselves. For some readers, myself included, the association of the author of The Metamorphosis and The Trial with Hume, the author of so many volumes fictional, nonfictional, and psychogeographical (find some in our collection of Free Philosophy eBooks), constitutes reason enough to minimize all other windows and get reading.
But Self has taken on an even more ambitious project than that: the mind-mappish interface of “Kafka’s Wound” offers a wealth of audio, video, and other textual material to supplement the experience of the main text, all of which connects in some way to the essay’s subject: Will Self’s “personal relationship to Kafka’s work through the lens of the short story ‘A Country Doctor‘ (1919), and in particular through the aperture of the wound described in that story.” Self’s own site describes the essay as “‘through composed’ with Will’s own thoughts, as he works, being responded to by digital-content providers,” with more of that content to come through July.
The environment internet, which facilitates our natural tendency to drift from subject to at least semi-related subject with an addictive vengeance, encourages associational thinking. But so do cities, as a psychogeographer like Will Self knows full well. And so part of this rich literary investigation takes the form of an hourlong documentary (click here or the image above to view), in which Self takes a walking tour of Kafka’s Prague, seeking out the writer’s “genius loci,” the sites that gave settings to the milestones of his life and shape to his artistic and intellectual sensibilities. He also takes the opportunity to do a Kafka reading right there in Kafka’s hometown. It’s one thing to read Kafka with the Laurenziberg in mind, but still quite another to do it with the Laurenziberg in sight.
Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.