Milan Kundera on Kafka’s Horror of the Comic

Fragments from the essential The Art of the Novel.

On the horror of the comic:

When Kafka read the first chapter of The Trial to his friends, everyone laughed, including the author.

Philip Roth’s imagined film version of The Castle: Groucho Marx plays the Land-Surveyor K., with Chico and Harpo as the two assistants. Yes, Roth is quite right: The comic is inseparable from the very essence of the Kafkan…[A] joke is only a joke if you’re outside the bowl; by contrast, the Kafkan takes us inside, into the guts of a joke, into the horror of the comic

In the world of the Kafkan, the comic is not a counterpoint to the tragic (the tragi-comic) as in Shakespeare; it’s not there to make the tragic more bearable by lightening the tone; it doesn’t accompany the tragic, not at all, it destroys in the egg and thus deprives the victims of the only consolation they could hope for: the consolation to be found in the (real or supposed) grandeur of tragedy.

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