Two of my favorite authors are Franz Kafka and Philip K. Dick. I suspect each has had an impact on my own writing. I know that I like crafting stories that leave characters and readers wondering about what is going on, that leave room for the reader to speculate. I hope I am effective when I attempt this, but I know I set out to achieve it some of the time. I’d be in denial if I didn’t acknowledge the impact that Kafka and Dick have played in developing my own voice.
(Usual caveats apply. All garbage is still my own, not to be blamed on others. And further, my understanding of their works comes from my reading of them for pleasure, not from formal study.)
One of Kafka’s short stories has had a particularly marked effect on me. “In the Penal Colony” is a wonderful and horrible story. In it, a man seeks to understand his own crimes by subjecting himself to the execution machine he has used on others. Instead, his machine malfunctions and just slaughters him without revealing his crimes.
We seek meaning in life and in death. We want to know why, or at least that it is all part of some larger plan. Unfortunately, that knowledge – even if true – often escapes us. Tragedy happens, and despite our wishes, we don’t often find out why.
Perhaps Kafka is too bleak. But even if so, we are often left in the dark by an incomprehensible world. Some of my stories attempt to articulate my own bouts with confusion, the times when the world has confronted me with its senselessness. And sometimes we don’t need fiction to demonstrate the inscrutable nature of the world.
Today we wonder at the world. Not for the first time, and not for the last. Our hearts go out to the people of France, and human beings all around the world. Even if the world doesn’t make sense, we can still act with compassion for all who share it with us.