A blog is a fragmentary artwork, or at least it can be. So the blog’s aesthetic philosophy is at odds with the virtues of the masterpiece – completion, mastery, comprehensiveness, a vision fully and perfectly realised. I guess there are some blogs that present their niche as an encyclopaedia of their author’s thought-world. But much of the writing that I enjoy reminds us to be “Here among the disappearing, in the realm of the transient,/
be a ringing glass that shatters as it rings.” (Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus 2.13)
Much of the best writing survives or was made in fragments. This afternoon I picked up a book of aphorisms made after Kafka’s death although reflecting his part-fulfilled design. From this collection, there is the remarkable parable, which I was introduced to by Howard Felperin in the only year at university when I studied literary studies.
Leopards break into the temple and drink the sacrificial vessels dry; this is repeated over and over again; finally it can be calculated in advance and becomes part of the ceremony. (Franz Kafka, The Collected Aphorims, #20)
Harold Bloom places Kafka in the Western Canon for fragments: the good parts of the incomplete novels, the aphorisms or parables, the stories, some not finished, and parts of his diaries and letters. Bloom writes “one must range widely in his writings, because no particular genre that he attempted holds his essence. He is a great aphorist but not a pure storyteller, except in fragments and in the very short stories we call parables.” (Harold Bloom, The Western Canon, p 448) Famously, these writings survive since Max Brod, Kafka’s friend and executor, refused to carry out Kafka’s instructions to burn all his writing.
So, my list this week is of writers like Kafka who made their art in fragments or who only survive in fragments. It is itself as yet itself a fragment; I will need to do more research to develop this list.
- Franz Kafka
- Maurice Blanchot
- Emile Cioran
- Walter Benjamin
This is quite a paltry list as yet. Let me know by comments if there are others that you would add.
Perhaps next week I will write a variation on this theme – a list of lost works.