Kafka on his deathbed

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The world is still tranquil. You are asleep in your apartment. You are asleep because everyone else is asleep, so late at night. That is what normal people do. End of story.

And even if you were not asleep, and were instead to peer out from your window to the lamp-lit street below, you would see the storefronts and deserted bus stops as quaint bulwarks against the emptiness of the night. You would not think of the city as a labyrinth, or as a tumor. It wouldn’t even occur to you.

But then you hear a rap on your door. It wakes you up. Kaaafka. A voice croaks. Kaaaafka. You go to answer the summons. Or you don’t, but dream that you do. It doesn’t matter: From that moment, everything changes.

Years later, lying on your deathbed, lungs clamped and legs shriveled, so weak that you have even whispered to yourself, this will be my deathbed, you will find yourself thinking about that messenger. What an idiot! To fall for a midnight messenger who — in all likelihood — had wandered the world for years, deranged, disaffected, knocking arbitrarily on doors and muttering to himself or to no one at all: Kafka, Kafka, Kaaafka. Or maybe: Kap ka, kap ka, kaaap ka.  You were the only one witless enough to answer his call. You thought it sounded a lot like your name. When you met him at the door, the sun was rising and cast seraphic rays that shaded his outline in furious yellow. That was the moment of your metamorphosis.

You used to speak in sentences. Now you spoke in parable.

You used to read for pleasure. Now you read for clues.

You used to speak in the first person. Now you spoke in the first-person plural, or of “a man,” or of Josef K.

You used to be an insurance investigator. Now you were a prophet.

Slowly, a crowd of acolytes gathered. You built for them puzzles and paradoxes and they reciprocated by transforming you into a symbol. You were so close to “going over,” to living forever in the rooms you’d erected in your limitless mind.

But now you are tubercular, near cadaverous and on your deathbed, which happens to be in a sanatorium near Vienna. Your friends visit every day, infecting the room with the haughtiness of the living. You retreat into your febrility, and there you dream of Mount Sinai. It is no accident that the archaeologists have never identified the historical Mount Sinai. It existed once, but only in Moses’ mind. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t real.

Moses built it with the faith of the Israelis. With their faith in him. It was the most perfect thing that he’d ever built, so perfect that God Himself came to inhabit it. And when the moment approached, Moses set out to ascend the mountain, to meet God there.

As the Israelites gathered below, Moses began to climb. The crowd — at first — was silent.  But as Moses disappeared into the mist of the mountain, the Israelites began to cheer. Moses heard their roar as notes of jubilation. It was only years later, alone and dying on the summit of a different mountain, that Moses understood what had really happened. He’d been dispatched not as a prophet, but as a scapegoat. Azazel! Die for us! the crowd jeered, as ecstatic as spectators at a gladiator match. Moses looked sepulchrally into the green land that he’d never reach. Like a dog! he said, as if the shame of it should outlive him.

You are about to die. There is nothing else you can do.

Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me…[is] to be burned unread.”

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