Monday, November 16, 2009

Close Reading Homework 1

Franz Kafka (1883-1924)


They were given the choice between becoming kings or the couriers of kings. In the manner of children, they all wanted to be couriers. As a result, there are only couriers. They gallop through the world shouting to each other messages that, since there are no kings, have become meaningless. Gladly would they put an end to their miserable existence, but they dare not, because of their oaths of service.

[Translated from the German by Lyman Baker]


What is the most important word in this passage and why? Write a paragraph of at least 100 words explaining why this word is the most important to the meaning of this passage. (That means explaining what the passage means as well.)

Part Two: What word would you choose as the most important word in this passage if you were not allowed to use "kings" or "couriers"? Why?


Tree of Knowledge said...

"only" because it defines the relationship of the characters and creates the problem. but I'm not writing 100 words. or apparently capitalizing. does spelling count?

ha ha, my word verification is "taxions"...I hear it with a really bad French accent.

Bardiac said...

WOW, what a GREAT assignment.

I appreciate your sharing :)

Shane in Utah said...

"choice." No time for an essay.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Love this! I could make an argument for "children," or "messages," or "meaningless." This would make for great discussion after the paper.

Ooh, and my captcha is "chabl." Add "is"!

Digger said...


Great assignment, btw! Close reading of the text and of assignment-takers!

Sisyphus said...

I remember writing about "They." And I hadn't even read any Pynchon yet at that time in my life!

Fretful Porpentine said...

"Service." Because it is the relationship that presumably existed between kings and couriers, back when there were kings, and it is the absence of the actual service relationship, in combination with the lingering power of the ideal of service, that renders the situation absurd.

That's probably not 100 words, but I'm tired.

Peter said...

Months later, having arrived here from Bardiac.

I'd make the arguments for "oaths" or "meaningless," but the obvious seems to be "couriers."

"Meaningless" since the messages have no meaning, are merely conveyed, have senders, apparently, and conveyance (the messengers who "gallop through the world," and an utterance ("shouting") but no recipient. The messages are therefore meaningless not because the do not convey but because they are not received, emphasizing the impossibility of stable langauge.

"Oaths" since it is the meta-"message" and itself is meaningless if not taken by authority of and in reference to a master figure "king" who imbues it with meaning, who "signs" it on behalf of a still greater authority, the divinity who is absent. An oath without a sponsor, a transcendental signified, is meaningless as are all messages undertaken in its pursuit.

"Couriers," because the emptiness of the relation and the meaningless of the messages notwithstanding, "they" undertake the role, manic and roaring, regardless of its significance or lack, the ultimate in pointless social relation, where neither the word "social" nor "relation" are anything more than tokens.