I had the shittiest English education. Okay, maybe that’s hyperbole, but I can’t name more than five novels we had to read in high school. In college it was worse. I went to an engineering school, so besides the six or so credits of English literature I had to take, my required reading consisted of computer science and calculus textbooks. Perhaps this is a failure of my memory more so than the educational system (I did inhale in college more than once), but to make up for this perceived lack I periodically take a break from speculative literature and delve into the so-called Canon.
The Canon, which pompous elitists seem to think consist of mostly white, European men, notwithstanding, my latest venture has been into the works of Kafka, a white, European man. I’ve read a few stories of his here and there, but I am ashamed to admit that I only read “The Metamorphosis” for the first time last week. I enjoyed it. It seemed to me to be a man’s descent into madness and eventual suicide. But I’m not a fan of some of his cryptically metaphorical works like “Description of a Struggle,” which seemed to require a course in Jungian archetypes to decipher.
I don’t believe he’ll be added to my list of favorite authors, though I do appreciate some of his aesthetic flourishes. (However, what, may I ask, is so offensive about paragraph breaks, Mr. Kafka?) And while I do think he is excellent at character, I have come to the conclusion after making my way through about half of his collected short stories that one cannot write a story in metaphor alone. Yes, metaphor may provide the framework for a story, but it cannot be the entire story. The story must stand on its own even if the underlying metaphor is not apparent to the reader.
I don’t believe in absolutes, so I’m wondering if anyone has any experiences with stories that work entirely on a metaphorical level, i.e. stories where plot may be non-existent, and yet they satisfy as stories?