Category Archives: Sastra Eropa Timur

Kafka: Ia yang Ingin Tiada

Kafka
David Zane Mairowitz   |   Robert Crumb (illustrator)
Fantagraphics, 2007  |  176 hlm

kafkaGarcía Márquez pernah menyatakan ketakjubannya saat membaca Metamorfosis Kafka untuk pertama kalinya: “Oh ternyata orang boleh menulis seperti ini ya…” Kafka memang istimewa, hanyalah dialah satu-satunya sastrawan yang namanya dipakai sebagai kata sifat/ajektif dalam kosakata bahasa-bahasa dunia: kafkaesque, yang menurut kamus Merriam Webster merujuk pada “having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality”. (Bahkan Cervantes pun “menyumbangkan” kata sifat quixotic “cuma” berdasarkan tokoh rekaannya, dan bukan namanya sendiri).

Saya sendiri pernah serius membaca Kafka gara-gara teman baik saya, seorang penerjemah Kafka yang tekun. Namun selalu —sekalipun memikat— saya merasa agak berjarak dalam membacanya. Kafka kerap tampak terlalu Eropa buat saya. Problem-problemnya, yang bisa dibaca sebagai problem kegalauan seorang Eropa memasuki abad ke-20, tampak berbeda dengan problem seorang Minke misalnya, yang sama-sama memasuki abad ke-20, tapi dari sudut pandang seorang bangsa jajahan yang sedang berada dalam “zaman bergerak”.

“This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper,” kata TS Eliot dalam sajaknya “The Hollow Men”, yang menurut saya menggambarkan jelas psike Eropa saat itu. Saat negara-negara jajahan sedang memperjuangkan sebuah “bang”, sebuah gerakan dan gebrakan, di metropol Eropa yang terjadi justru “whimper”: “Things fall apart / the center cannot hold” (kalau yang ini sajak Yeats).

Demikianlah kondisi yang dialami Kafka, seorang Yahudi Praha yang tak jenak dengan keyahudiannya. Dongeng-dongeng fantastik dan mistik dari tradisi kuno Yahudi tak pelak lagi mempengaruhi jalan kultural hidupnya, meski sebagai agama ia tak terlalu menganutnya. Ayahnya sendiri lebih mengaku diri sebagai orang Ceko ketimbang orang Yahudi, yang membuat mereka terbebas dari aksi-aksi vandal anti Semit yang marak saat itu. Namun di lain pihak, nasionalisme Ceko yang sedang bangkit justru memusuhi Yahudi-yahudi Praha ini, yang mereka asosiasikan dengan Jerman karena sehari-harinya berbahasa Jerman dan bukan Ceko. Alhasil, mayoritas Yahudi Praha pun memihak Jerman, negara yang nantinya bakal mengirim mereka semua ke kamp-kamp konsentrasi. Sungguh suatu ironi sejarah yang menyesakkan.

Kafka berusaha mengambil jarak dari semua ini. Ia tak jenak dengan dirinya, dengan fisiknya sendiri, dengan keluarganya, dengan lingkungan Yahudinya, dengan nasionalis-nasionalis Ceko, dengan perkembangan yang terjadi di sekelilingnya, juga dengan wanita-wanita yang ia dekati. Singkat kata, secara psikologis orang ini memang “tak beres”. Ia ingin mati, tapi bukan dengan bunuh diri—ia ingin dihukum mati. Tema inilah yang menjalari seluruh karyanya: bagaimana membuat dirinya sendiri lenyap. Ada Gregor Samsa yang tiba-tiba berubah jadi kutu besar, ada “seniman pelapar” yang memeragakan aksi tidak mau makan, ada K. yang tiba-tiba ditangkap dan diadili untuk sesuatu yang ia sendiri kurang jelas, ada Georg Bendemann yang loncat sendiri ke sungai sesudah mendengar ayahnya menyumpahinya “kau akan mati tenggelam”.

Puncaknya adalah pesan yang ditinggalkan pada sahabat sekaligus editornya, Max Brod, agar membakar seluruh tulisan, surat, dan manuskripnya setelah ia mati. Kafka seakan ingin lebih mati dari mati, tanpa meninggalkan jejaknya di dunia. Max Brod tidak mematuhinya, dan karena ketidakpatuhannya kita kini bisa menikmati Kafka (meskipun Borges pernah bilang secara usil, “Kalau Kafka memang ingin membakar karyanya, akan ia nyalakan sendiri apinya. Kalau cuma titip pesan, berarti ia tidak ingin membakar karyanya”).

Dan Kafka pun akhirnya lebih hidup dari hidup. Sebagaimana layaknya semua sastrawan besar, ia tidak bisa didekap dalam satu kategori. Ceko yang dikuasai rezim komunis kesulitan menempatkannya dalam “sastra resmi” mereka. Lukacs bilang Kafka memikat tapi dekaden, sementara ada lainnya yang bilang Kafka justru mencerminkan dengan jelas alienasi yang dihadapi kaum buruh dalam kapitalisme (ingatlah Gregor Samsa si penjaja keliling). Namanya pernah didiskreditkan lalu dipulihkan, untuk kemudian didiskreditkan lagi. Tapi kini, di Praha pasca komunis, wajah Kafka terpampang di kaus-kaus yang dijual di pinggir jalan. Pakar-pakar Kafka kontemporer berusaha menyusun kembali manuskrip-manuskripnya secara lebih setia pada aslinya (bukan sebagaimana yang diedit Max Brod). Novelnya yang tak selesai misalnya, Der Verschollene dijuduli oleh Brod sebagai Amerika, meski arti judul itu sebenarnya adalah “Lelaki yang Menghilang”. Maka Kafka, yang pernah mengatakan “menulis adalah tidur yang lebih dalam ketimbang kematian”, akhirnya terus hidup justru karena tulisan-tulisannya, satu ironi lagi dalam dirinya.

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[ This English version of the above review is specially dedicated to Lamya Alsakkaf, with special thanks to Mia Fiona ]

“HOLY SHIT!” screamed Gabriel García Márquez one day in 1947, “Nobody had told me this could be done!” He was nineteen at that time, and was reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis. As he said in his many interviews, Metamorphosis was revelation that people are actually allowed to write such things.

Kafka was extraordinary indeed. He was the only writer whose name is used as an adjective: kafkaesque, according to Merriam Webster dictionary, refers to “having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality”. (Even Cervantes was only able give the world quixotic, adjective taken from his fictional character rather than his own name).

Many years ago I used to read Kafka a lot as one of my best friends was an ardent translator of Kafka. I don’t know, although his works are amazing, personally I always feel quite distant from them. Kafka’s works seemed “too European” for me. The problems he raised, which can be read as an European’s moral-social conflict when entering the 20th century, seemed to be quite different with that of Minke (the protagonist from Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Buru Quartet), who also in the process of entering the 20th century, only with a colonialized subject’s point of view in “an age of motion”.

I think TS Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” summarized perfectly Europe’s psyche in that fin-de-siècle: “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper.” When colonialized subjects in the colony were fighting for a “bang”, with radical movement and revolt, the European metropoles were declining into a “whimper”. Or by Yeats: “Things fall apart / the center cannot hold”.

And so it was the life that Kafka went through. A Prague Jew, but not quite attached to his Jewishness. Fantastic tales and the ancient Jew mystical traditions had influence his childhood, although he didn’t practice Judaism as a religion. His father saw himself more as a Czech than a Jew, and that helped them to avoid anti-Semit pogroms in that era. However, on the other side, the rising Czech nationalism were waging wars against the Prague Jews who were being associated with Germany as they spoke in German not Czech. Due to this situation, most of the Prague Jews then sided with Germany, the country who later would send them to concentration camps. One of the most tragic irony in history.

Kafka tried to distance himself with all around him. He was not comfortable with himself, with his physical body, with his family, with his Jewishness, with the Czech nationalists, with the worsening prospect of war, and also with women he tried to get close with. It was clear that psychologically this guy is a fruitcake. He wanted to die, but not by suicide—he wanted to be sentenced to death. This theme appeared from time to time in all his works: how to make one’s self disappear. Gregor Samsa metamorphosed into a giant vermin; a hunger artist (Ein Hungerkünstler—or a fasting artist ini some translation) performed his art of hunger until he died starving; K. was arrested without even being aware on what charges; and Georg Bendemann jumped into the river after he heard his father swore to him “I sentence you now to death by drowning”.

Ultimately, of course, there’s Kafka himself, who ordered his friend and editor, Max Brod, to burn his entire writings, letters and manuscripts after he died. It seemed that Kafka wants to be more dead than dead, leaving no traces whatsoever in the world he left behind. Max Brod disobeyed him, and thanks to him we are now able to enjoy Kafka’s works (though Borges once jokingly said, “If Kafka really wants to burn his works, he would light the fire himself.”).

And now, it seems that Kafka is more alive than alive. Just like the other giants of the world literature, he cannot be categorised. Communist regime of Czechoslovakia found it hard to put him into their “official” literature. Georg Lukács —followed by hardline old school Marxists—said that Kafka is just a “bourgeois decadence”. While others (works like The Landscapes of Alienation: Ideological Subversion in Kafka, Celine, and Onetti and Icons of the Left: Benjamin and Eisenstein, Picasso and Kafka after the Fall of Communism) stated that Kafka’s works reflected clearly the alienation of workers in capitalism (Gregor Samsa is salesman, right?) His name once being discredited but then restored only to be discredited again. But now, in post-communist Prague, Kafka’s face is printed on t-shirts for sale on the streets. The contemporary Kafka scholars are putting efforts to restore his original manuscript (unlike the edited version by Max Brod). For example, his unfinished novel Der Verschollene (titled as Amerika by Brod) actually means “The Man Who Disappeared”. So Kafka, who once stated that “writing is a deeper sleep than death”, is now really alive through his writings—another irony in his life.

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