Is It Okay to Read Kafka as a Comedy?

Once, I was walking with a writer in the school, and when we came to the edge of the woods, I saw a girl sitting at a stone table, reading a book, and laughing like no one else. We both stopped in our tracks. The writer asked me: “Guess what book that girl is reading?” I said: “Probably some interesting books like comics.” Of course he also made some guesses. Later, when we were about to leave, he suddenly suggested: “Let’s go and see what she is reading and why she is smiling.” I agreed. Because her laugh is exaggerated.

We went back to the woods and asked the girl, “Excuse me, what book are you reading? We want to know.” The girl closed the book and showed us the cover. It was Kafka’s The Trial. We were both surprised at the time and thought it was incredible. Thinking of the absurd world described by Kafka, and seeing a girl laughing like that while reading Kafka, I really feel the absurdity. So I asked her again, “Do you think Kafka’s writing is funny?” She said, “It’s funny. Have you read it?” I said, “I did, but I didn’t find it funny.” She was sure Said: “It’s very funny.” I asked: “Can you give an example and tell me where it is funny?” Because we all think that “The Trial” is a serious book.

The girl said: “Look, it’s funny at the beginning, K. This guy was preparing to have breakfast at home, when two people came in and said to him: ‘You’re under arrest.’ They didn’t rush to take him away, but sat down and ate his breakfast. That is to say, they were here on official business, and they sat down and ate the suspect’s leftover breakfast. Isn’t that funny?” It’s also quite funny, but it’s not enough to make me laugh.” She gave another example: “K. The bed was blocked. He opened the door a little more, and the bed was exposed, and someone was sleeping on the bed. To enter the court, he had to pass through a bedroom first, and he had to move the bed before he could enter.”

After explaining this detail, the girl said: “Kafka is so great! Can ordinary people write this?” She also gave some examples, so that I suddenly suspected that I was not worthy of reading Kafka—— I have a sad face all day long, feeling that Kafka is going to tell us the great truth about this absurd world. But this girl is different, she is enjoying Kafka’s comedy.

I once participated in an international seminar organized by the Goethe-Institut in Germany, which was held to commemorate the 110th anniversary of Franz Kafka’s birth. At the meeting, a writer from the Czech Republic gave a speech that impressed me deeply. The theme of her speech is “Kafka’s Comedy”. She said that when Kafka was writing, he would often read to his friends what he had written that day. Almost without exception, those friends collapsed on the bed laughing, rolling with laughter. However, when people today read Kafka, they will be influenced by too many interpretations of Kafka. If a reader who does not have so much reading experience cares less about social alienation, paradox, absurd situations, and despair, and reads it as a comedy, is it okay?

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