Sunday, August 5, 2012

Kafka and Seuss

I've just discovered lost letters between Gregor Samsa and Dr. Seuss.  Very illuminating into the human condition.  I'll post them below.

Gregor Samsa:

Herr doctor, I find myself, for reasons inexplicable to me or my loving family, to have woken up this morning transformed into a cockroach. I am reasonably certain this is not a dream. Can you help?
I am usually in very fine fettle in the morning. But as a result of my new condition, I find myself unable to go into work. And while my life has never been what you might call a bed of roses, this unfortunate turn of events has certainly made it worse.
By way of example, this letter has been composed by painstakingly mashing my antenna into the keys of my father's typewriter. It has taken me close to four hours and has left me with a horrendous migraine. I write to you because I have heard of your brilliance and your keen appreciation for the absurdity of this world. Please help. Yours, Gregor Samsa, Prague.
Dr. Seuss: Samsa, I've only just opened your letter. Fear not, worry neither. We'll soon have you better. You might feel like a freak, but I'll make you quite well. Your problem's unique, yet your name rings a bell. A silkworm I knew used to live in a trillium. I think his name was Samsa. Or was it Fitzwilliam?
Oh, well. Please forgive me. My mind is a haze. One really meets so many faces nowadays.
If you ooze like a slug or you prick like a cactus, every ill-feeling bug finds his way to my practice. Whether dozens of styes mar your 100-eyed face, whatever your ailment, you're in the right place. Not to brag, but I've never yet failed to determine whatever root causes were vexing a vermin.
Rest assured, I'll endeavor to glean and deduce. You'll be better than ever or my name isn't Seuss.

Gregor Samsa: Dear Dr. Seuss, perhaps you do not understand. And for this, I am probably to blame for not having made this point more clear. While I am now a cockroach, I was not always one. I was born a man and am now a bug.

Do you see? Is this even pertinent to my case? I mention it only in the interest of aiding your diagnosis. I hope I have not offended you with my quibbling. If I have, the only defense I can offer is that I have not been myself.
I feel that time is of the essence in this matter because without my being able to go into the office, I fear my whole family will all too soon wind up in the poor house. To migrate embarrassment, my father has already taken to eating his meals with lesser employees of the bank. Very sincerely, Gregor Samsa.
PS, pardon me if this is a rude question, but I must ask. Is metrical rhyme an American mode of correspondence? If so, I apologize for not responding in kind. Were circumstances different-- that is, were I not a bug-- I would have very much enjoyed the challenge. As it is, though, typing even the simplest of prose taxes me for hours.
Dr. Seuss: The way that I speak gets a comment each time. Some people have accents, while I like to rhyme. Just as those who I treat might have thorax or a stinger, but nothing that ever resembled a finger, it's simply my way. I mean nothing by it. If you'd digits to type with, I'd tell you to try it.
But still, this attempt to be merely convivial can backfire sometimes and make me seem trivial. And then, I am forced to make mollifications by dryly reciting my qualifications.
See, I'm a doctor who chiefly helps insects particular, a recap just briefly of my vitae curricular. One patient of mine, a tubercular chigger, was referred by a june bug who'd shrunk, then got bigger. I made the arrangements and booked him a trip to a mulberry thicket for that flea with the grip.
And there did he rest and sip syllabub tea. But the thicket's the ticket for curing a flea. A potato bug who would eat nothing but onions, a millipede suffering from 2,000 bunions. A night crawler who could crawl only by day, a mantis who lost the volition to pray. A fruit fly whose flying resisted fruition are just a short list of the kinds of conditions I've treated. And all were made well double-quick. I'm the one who they call when a crawly is sick.
But cockroach to human, or vice or verse? What a mystery, a new one confounding. What's worse is I've leafed through the pages of yellowing journals. Through thoughts from the sages I've sifted for kernels. And no one, it seems, has devised an approach for how to return to a man from a roach. For the nonce, I'd advise some geranium juice. But stop if it turns your extremities puce. And I will consult with my college chum Bruce. Till then, stay strong, Samsa. Your loyal friend, Seuss.

Gregor Samsa:

Dear Doctor, please forgive me for my presumption. But I fear you may not appreciate the gravity of my situation. I am a hideous monster, and I'm only getting worse. Earlier today, my own father lobbed a basket of apples at me, one of which is still embedded in the soft flesh of my back. Our charwoman, too, has grown weary of my grotesque, physical appearance.
And whereas once she entered my room with good-natured shouts of, "Come out, you old cockroach!" when I hid beneath the couch, now she threatens to crack me on the crown with a chair when I crawl too close. At your word, I am prepared to have my dear sister, the only one who seems to be able to stomach me, pack me into a wooden crate with air holes and ship me to your office.
My fate rests in your hands. Please, doctor, you are my only hope. Yours, G Samsa.
Dr. Seuss: Oh, Samsa, descriptions like that are invidious. It's human and callous to call yourself hideous. I reckon among those of similar breed, you're actually handsome, quite handsome indeed.
Remember when tempted to heap self-reproach that he who formed lilies created the roach. But now to this new factor with which I must grapple. You say you've been wounded, that now there's an apple that's currently making its home in your back. Is it in the soft tissue? Did your carapace crack?
I've questioned my colleagues and asked my attorney about your perhaps maybe making the journey to see me and thereby see your problems ended. Alas, the consensus is not recommend.
The trip is too long, and they would not allow a cockroach through customs. Plus, I don't see how it would any way help ease your suffering and pain. The cost of the postage alone is insane.
But do not lose hope. Disregard the above. I have news. I've engaged the services of a carrier jubjub bird flying to you and in his beak berries, one green and one blue. Chew the blue 30 times, and the green 30, too. In a week's time, you'll see that you'll be good as new.
Now, rest and eat lots of magnolia custard and rosehip souffle and some dew drops with mustard. And pay special mind if you're starting to blister. Wash the area daily. You mentioned a sister? Is she the one there who might broker a truce? Samsa, please take good care. Concernedly, Seuss.

Gregor Samsa:

Dear doctor, I feared at the beginning of this ordeal that I was no longer me. And now, I know this certainly to be the case. At first, I thought my change had to do merely with the physical, with this horrifying metamorphosis. But now, I see that it is much deeper than that.
I used to wonder in my idle moments in a train carriage or an unfamiliar hotel bedroom when I was still traveling for my work, what might I do if ever my scant good fortune ran out? "Well, Gregor," I used to think to myself, "that would be easy. If I ever became a burden to the family, I would simply walk out the front door and throw myself in front of a team of carriage horses."
You have told me to stay strong, not to give up, as if the two were opposite things. But I'm afraid you are mistaken. We both are. Sometimes, to give oneself up one must be strong.
In thanks for your friendship, I have composed for you a rhyme. It's the first one I've written since my boyhood. And you'll have to pardon me if it isn't very good.
You shall be remembered as the doctor who tried to determine what turned Gregor Samsa to vermin. Forgive me. I was not able to get any further. Goodbye, dear Dr. Seuss. Samsa, I am-sa.
Dr. Seuss: I read your last letter with no small alarm. It sounds like you're fixing to do yourself harm. I know that you feel like you've got nothing left, like your time has run out, you're abandoned, bereft of all hope, that you've been forced to bear it in silence, your family's scorn, their indifference, their violence.
I take it the jubjub bird failed to arrive. So how, my dear friend, will we keep you alive? I'd recommend exercise, plenty of fruit, but finally cede that such bromides are moot. Samsa, I need you to martial your will. There isn't a purgative, poultice or pill or anything else on the pharmacy shelf that will make you so healthy as much as yourself.
You think your new body has made you a bother. You hold yourself guilty while blameless your father. Gregor, we'd all die if physical beauty was needed for others to render their duty.
Ever since our first letter, I've had this strange notion that I'd make you better, ignoring the ocean that makes up the distance that renders you Seussless. But despite my persistence, I've been worse than useless. I'm astonished at times when I think of the past, of my thousands of rhymes, of how life is so vast. I'm left, then, to wonder how anyone gleans a purpose or sense of what anything means.
It's not ours for the knowing. It's meaning abstruse. We both best be going. Your loving friend, Seuss.

Grete Samsa

Dear doctor, I found your letters among my brother's things when my parents and I were cleaning out our flat in preparation of moving. It is my sad duty to inform you that Gregor died some three weeks ago, perhaps from his injury, an act for which my father blamed himself for days on end, although I doubt it.
I think Gregor may well have starved himself to death. When the charwoman found him, she pushed at his body with the handle of her broom, and he slid across the floor with no more weight than a dried leaf. Before our charwoman disposed of him, I took one last look and saw that Gregor's shell had cracked open. And just underneath were little wings. He was a beetle, not a cockroach as we had feared. A beetle, nothing more. Even the word is lovely.
I know that ever since his childhood, Gregor had always had very vivid dreams of flight that left him happy in the morning. If only he himself had known, I kept thinking. At any rate, dear doctor, I thought you should know what befell my poor brother and to thank you for all your efforts in his behalf. If you should find yourself ever in Prague, please consider yourself most welcome in our home. Sincerely, Grete Samsa.

I'm sure you've guessed this is a comedy and not real, especially since Gregor Samsa is a fictional character from Kafka's "Metamorphosis."  The link is: 
 http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/470/transcript

(That story was written by David Rakoff, who was Seuss, and Jonathan Goldstein, who was Samsa. David has got a new book coming out next year, a novel written completely in rhyme. Jonathan's new book, I'll Seize the Day Tomorrow, comes out in October.)








Additional thoughts: as I considered the ending added to the above I wasn't satisfied.  The problem for poor G. Samsa was not simply that he didn't realize something wonderful about his new situation, such as the ability to fly, but the inability for others to recognize his humanity in his new form.  To add a potentially happy ending that was missed due to his death sort of cheapens Kafka's short story.  Nevertheless, it is a humerous interchange and a clever idea for a set of letters. 

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