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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

The several meanings of Kafka's Jackals and Arabs

A weird (redundancy here?) Franz Kafka story that somehow, at least to my memory, I've never read before,  Jackals and Arabs- though read it last night in a neat little old pb anthology I've got of European short stories, and what to make of this? Seen from our 21st-century vantage, it's in many ways politically awkward at best, probably politically incorrect: the narrator, a European man, is traveling through the desert with some Arabs (his escorts?), they bed down for the night and a herd, if that's the right term, of jackals approaches the narrator and says they have been waiting for years to meet him, he is their savior, he'll understand their plight. As he listens, they talk (yes, talking animals - a familiar and odd Kafka trope) and tell him the Arabs are cruel and crude, they long to escape from them; during the conversation they approach the narrator and essentially pin him in place by biting through his clothing - a pretty precarious situation - but he's rescued by the Arabs who throw the jackals a dead camel, which they greedily consume, and then they begin whipping the jackals into submission. So, first of all, there's the Eurocentric assumption of hegemony: the European man is obviously superior, or so he surmises, to the Arabs. Then, if we think of the jackals as what they I believe truly represent - an oppressed working class, in fact a class of slaves and servants - there's the sense that they are crude and "animalistic," rather than human. But let's try to put that aside and get at what Kafka sees in this brief episode: that the ruling classes control others because of their greed and their need - just throw them a carcass and then beat them into submission. And in a broader sense, isn't this also about consciousness - battle between the animalsitic ID and the controlling super-ego - that we have primitive blood-urges that are always trying to control or "win over" the narrator (i.e., the ego), and they must be lured and then beaten into a submission, or repression? And in the broadest sense isn't this an allegory about our culture: the constant struggle between the abused and oppressed, looking for a "savior," either through politics or religion, and in the end being beaten back into further submission - the threat to the social order, the class structure, the conventional ideology, beaten down and dismissed as the voices of an animal?

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