Graffiti on the wall of a Syrian refugee camp: "Don't be realistic: reality is a huge rubbish dump!" (photo: unknown)
Our present reality: "the despots, the fascists and the Zionists have proved that criminality is more widespread than anyone might have imagined. They have made it clear that literature is unable to match their horrendous madness – and so the nightmare is reality itself, not its literary allegories," writes Khoury

Words swim in timelessness

Kafka succeeded in creating a closed world through allegory. In ″Metamorphosis″ and ″The Trial, tangible reality is transformed into possibilities that draw us back into fable. The words swim in timelessness, allowing the writer to build his metaphors and allegories out of a neurotic illusion that is carved on the invisible walls of fear. Kafka's literature is a shocking reminder of human degradation and the destruction of human dignity in a state where terror is the only prospect.

As I re-read Kafka, I told myself that this Kafkaesque approach might offer us, the heirs to this troubled history, a way to understand our own reality. But I ran headlong into a present reality in which the barriers that once separated men from beasts have been broken down. The despots, the fascists and the Zionists have proved that criminality is more widespread than anyone might have imagined. They have made it clear that literature is unable to match their horrendous madness – and so the nightmare is reality itself, not its literary allegories.

Kafka made the nightmarish allegory one of the possibilities of the present, but we are living an unadorned nightmare that is more horrific than any symbolic version.

Kafka was the 'prophet' of the Holocaust and the harbinger of the gulag, but what becomes of prophecy when, if it comes true, it exceeds all probabilities? Kafka's question, which opened the last century, is the question of the allegory that turns into a nightmare. But what is the question we have to answer here today in the Arab world, not to mention out there in the world that has become a land of misery, emigration and racism?

I do not want to be a theorist of the abyss, theorising is not my profession. We novelists find ourselves in the midst of all this chaotic bloodshed and horror, each one of us seeking the language that best suits us and our own approach to interpreting our time.

I began with Kafka to get to the question that keeps me awake, a question rooted in the relationship that words have with silence: how do we write words that speak – and how do we wall our text in with silence in order to write? This is the opposite of the Kafkaesque question: we have to write in pain the language of pain and transform the nightmares of history that we are living through into a metaphor that celebrates life amidst death.

Only path to life and renewal

The nightmare of the present takes precedence over the allegorical nightmare, draining the allegory of all meaning and inviting us to write it down in the language of the victims and their sufferings, proposing a new literary approach to produce metaphors from an accumulation of stories, transforming the latter into into mirrors for those stories that either precede or come after them.

Famine and the disasters of the last century were written down only as part of an instrument of oblivion wrapped in the symbols of revival: writing them down therefore produced a silence that used words to conceal the pain. Our modern disasters, however, are the domain of our words, which seek meaning in the midst of language's silence and inability to speak. Through our stories, we seek to transform this tension between silence and speech into a celebration of life.

As you can see, the task looks difficult, if not impossible. Isn't impossibility one of the characteristics of literature? We repeat words so that we don't run out of them, as the ancients said, but, whatever tricks it may possess, repetition itself is a gateway to running out of words and to death. Yet, at the same time, it offers the only path to life and renewal.

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