Fiction Collective Two is an author-run, not-for-profit publisher of artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction.

Why I Don't Write Like Franz Kafka


Why I Don't Write Like Franz Kafka
by William S. Wilson

Paperback
2002
Price: $14.95

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In a 1978 New York Times book review, Kenneth Baker described Why I Don't Write Like Franz Kafka as: "…the most powerful New American fiction I have encountered in years. A demanding, exhilarating work." Nearly 25 years later, FC2 is proud to reissue this classic collection of short fiction by William S. Wilson that seems even more relevant today. It touches on controversies over the role of science in our lives and deals with cosmetic surgery and the medical uses of human embryos, heart transplants, and regenerated genitalia. And that's only the beginning.

The story "Metier: Why I Don't Write Like Franz Kafka," implies that Kafka responded in his fiction to questions that no longer need to be asked in fiction. The epistolary story, "Conveyance: The Story I Wouldn't Want Bill Wilson to Read," is an intimate letter from a woman who had wanted to write fiction and who now challenges Wilson's reaction to her report of a tragedy. "Interim" chronicles the imaginary reforestation of Scotland and "Anthropology" turns on the actual moment in Structuralism when Claude Levi-Strauss relocates the ear to the back of the head in order to interpret a myth.

Written with cool precision and a subtle touch, these meditations and metafictions will continue to reverberate for decades to come.


"...a demanding, exhilarating work." —New York Times Book Review


"...an ear for the frightening or ironic music in words...that should have the likes of...Barthelme looking to their laurels." —Kirkus Reviews


"Wilson's lucid and witty reverence for the fascination of the irreducible makes his 'experiments' an irresistible comprehensible whole." —The Baltimore Sun


Excerpt


MARRIAGE


I wake, though not as after sleep. Each muscle of my body is articulated. An anatomy lesson. I can feel intersections of pain, and across my chest a concavity around which I breathe uneasily. I think to myself, it must be the valves. My mouth is open and dry, my eyes closed and sullen, my fingers muffled and blunt. I feel one hand with the other, and they rub like a shroud against a shroud, for both hands are bandaged. I raise a hand to my face, and again bandage rubs against gauze. I glide, my body spins into the outline of pain, and then its empty aura. I sleep, bandaged and enfolded.

I hear distant voices asking questions, voices asking tenderly, commanding gently, voices professionally asking and answering remotely. A man's voice, a woman's voice, a man's voice asking questions, a woman's voice answering, and then amplifying her answer. I feel unequal to myself and lapse into sleep.

Awake again, I am contracted to the present. Feelings stick to me. Pain adheres. I can tell from the skin on my face that the bandages are gone, but my eyes are closed and I can't pull the lids open or locate the muscles that would raise my eyelids. My hands are bandaged, my eyes will not open, my mouth is dry. I want to speak, but I cannot move my tongue beyond rha, arh, uh, runh. Someone's body pushes lightly against the side of the bed, a few drops of water touch my tongue, my mouth is absorbed in its own stale tastes. It's my side. I have found the pain. It is in my side, and I isolate it and define it, and arrange the other pains around it. I tell myself that pain is information, that I am learning to map the spaces of my own body. Then my body's feelings cascade toward my side, and pain pours over its outlines and erases them.

Ruhn, I say, arhn, and someone drops water into my mouth, wet fingers touch my forehead with a cloth; dry cotton probes my ears. I cannot hear the voices clearly, and cannot lift my body to turn. Then hands lift my hands, unwrap the bandages, and I reach out to stretch my arms. My left hand touches another body.

A hand removes my hand from that flesh, a blanket and sheet are pulled up, and my hands are folded on my chest and patted. I can feel the edges of the blanket and sheet squeezed in my left hand, which makes a fist. I bite my lower lip. Pains unfurl from my left side.

The pain does not hurt me so much as what I know. The body beside me in the bed is the body of the only woman, and my body lying next to hers—my eyes sewn shut like a falcon's, my tongue tied down with surgical thread, my hands baffled by uncertainty-is keeping her alive. She is grafted onto me, and through the extension of my veins and intestines, joined to hers by a hinge of flesh, she shares my life. The pains in my legs subside, the pains in my muscles fade, and I stop picturing myself as a pounding, asymmetrical heart about to burst. I know what I am doing, and I can bend my elbows, breathe deeply, and rock my head slowly from side to side, splashing peripheral light into the central darkness.

Nothing needs explaining, I know what to do. As the pain recedes, as days or nights pass, as I am spoken to, I know what my task is. One day arms lift and turn me, awaking pain which clarifies the awkward shape of my body. I sit on the edge of the bed, my legs over the side; slippers are hung on my feet, and then I am pushed until my feet touch the floor and I stand up. We stand up. My hands are untied but motionless. A hand pushes on my back, I shuffle forward. The slippers scratch at the floor, and I learn from their sound to pick up my feet. I am glad no one in that room can see me as I see myself in lineaments of pain.

I am backed onto a chair, and then I, then we, then she and I are wheeled, sitting on a double chair, down a hall way, through abrupt echoes, across the passerelle between wings of the hospital, and into the solarium. I know the room, or I knew it once, as wicker furniture, dusty artificial anemones in a vase, and a cool tile floor. When I sat in that room before, I looked down into the street below, at the windows of the stationery store, the coffee shop, the florist. I used to go into shops where I was recognized to make small unnecessary purchases.

But now we are wheeling into the sunlight, and out of the sunlight, and one day we wheel ourselves, and then one later day we wheel across to the solarium, are helped out of the chair, are helped to learn to get out of the chair together and without help, and we learn to walk, to sit, to turn toward each other and away from each other without strain. One day we walk without the chair, we stroll across the corridor, and from that day I look forward to the hallway windows which provide serial gradations of sight.

Then one day, without warning, down in the elevator and out to the street, with noise crowding my movement, and camera flashbulb lights pinking in my eyes, and I know my self only as a desire to scream contained in a body which is screaming. I feel that my body is audible, my heartbeat visible, and the registrations of my pain tangible, but I am certain that no one notices. I try and fail to feel brave, and then by an effort I subtract myself from the scene, leaving a mere shape in the laminations of light on a metropolitan street at midday.

The other days repeat a few formations, a series of rehearsed movements, inversions and reversals. But one episode from the night will put the woman in a better perspective. I have been sleeping, and am awakened by a woman's hand on my chest, her breath against my neck, her lips to my skin, and an earnest pressure that is almost a pain in the hinge that extends from my side into hers. The fingers touch the hair on my forehead, trace my nose and lips, and draw along my chest. But I know well enough the operations necessary to my body if it is to support both our lives, and the hand that searches down my stomach and approaches across my thigh touches vacancy.

I have shown no sign of being awake or aware, and have felt almost nothing. She kisses my shoulder and eases her self back until she is lying flat again. I would not measure the months or years since then, but my heart is swollen now, my body seems to have ripened inside, and then overripened. I am almost too heavy to be lifted out of bed, and surely can not sustain two lives much longer. I know what this means for me. I will miss sitting in the solarium, I suppose, but except for the solarium, I can't say that I have cared where I have been or when, or what I have eaten. I was bothered once by wet feet, and my nails were allowed to grow too long. I scratched the backs of my hands until they were infected. When the nails were trimmed the hands healed. The irritation on my hands was interesting as long as it lasted. Now I can feel in her like the pull of tides something con cave longing for convexity. I am strong enough to feel in her body a need which my body is too weak to satisfy. One day we will sit together on the chair again, I will focus far behind my eyes, and then we, then she and I, will be wheeled away and I will sleep into detachment.