8th February 2021

I started teaching again last week, with a Zoom seminar on Franz Kafka. Kafka is a notoriously ‘difficult’ author, whose works have been interpreted from every conceivable critical angle without anyone coming up with a definitive interpretation. And while this excites some of my students, others – especially those who are used to giving (only!) right answers – find it very frustrating. Some are even more frustrated by my response, that when I know the ‘answer’ to Kafka I will give up teaching him. For me, the pleasure lies precisely in the discussion, in seeing another new group grapple with the works and discover them afresh, often surprising me with their own insights.

Kafka himself said that a book should be ‘the axe for the frozen sea in us’, an image I particularly like for the way it suggests a book working on us to release a source of life deep within. The critic Malcolm Pasley picks up the image, suggesting that Kafka’s reader should approach his work with an open mind and ‘let it work on you, so that you may grasp the scope and direction of what is written’. As I joined my students in wrestling with Kafka’s work this week it struck me again that this process is much like life in a Christian community: the Bible does not offer us a straightforward instruction manual, but if we are open to letting it work on us, it will continue to enrich our lives.  All the more so, perhaps, if we are all open to sharing our struggles, questions and insights and learning with and from one another.   

Debbie Pinfold