Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Blue Octavo Notebooks

The Blue Octavo Notebooks - Franz Kafka
The Blue Octavo Notebooks are two years of Franz Kafka’s notes from 1917 to 1918. Franz Kafka (1883-1924) is the author of the classic fiction The Trial (1925) and The Metamorphosis (1912) among others. The title of the notebooks was devised by Max Brod, Kafka’s literary executor and close friend, to differentiate them from the regular quarto-sized notebooks Kafka used as diaries. The Octavo Notebooks contain literary ideas, fragments and aphorisms.

What drew me to Kafka’s notebooks is Max Richter’s wonderful release The Blue Notebooks which includes some spoken bits (read by Tilda Swinton) from the Octavo Notebooks combined with Richter’s haunting arrangements. I listened to Richter’s release for several months before deciding to check out the notebooks. The opening musical track has Swinton reading the first entry in the notebook:

"Everyone carries a room about inside him. This fact can even be proved by means of the sense of hearing. If someone walks fast and one pricks up one’s ears and listens, say in the night, when everything round about is quiet, one hears, for instance, the rattling of a mirror not quite firmly fastened to the wall."

My favorite entry in the notebook and also used in the Richter’s work (track 7 “Arboretum”) comes in the third notebook:

“November 6. Like a path in autumn: scarcely has it been swept clear when it is once more covered with dry leaves.”
I’m not sure why that line speaks to me but it does. Maybe it has to do with my fall yard chores and the futility of picking up leaves (or doing many things?) too early. A couple other aphorisms from the notebooks:

“The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual. That is why the revolutionary spiritual movements that declare all former things worthless are in the right, for nothing has happened yet.”

“The decisively characteristic thing about this world is its transience. In this sense centuries have no advantage over the present moment.”

“Art flies around truth, but with the definite intention of not getting burnt. Its capacity lies in finding in the dark void a place where the beam of light can be intensely caught, without this having been perceptible before.”

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