I’m troubled by this casual treatment of rape for two reasons.
Perhaps my excursions into the global wilderness spring from the childishness that Bishop identifies in her poem. Bishop, a true citizen of the world, asks questions of travel that reflect years of exploration. She grew up in Nova Scotia, spent half her childhood in Boston, graduated from Vassar and traveled Europe while living in New York, moved to Key West, relocated to Brazil for 14 years, and then taught at Harvard upon returning to the States. She stayed in places long enough for wonder to pass, doubt to emerge, and wisdom to triumph.
The comparison of a speck of ink to the brakes on a 4,000 pound vehicle might sound extreme, but my devotion to punctuation is hardly radical on the spectrum. Hungarian novelist Péter Nádas, a far more esteemed (if less jovial) grammarian than myself, once grew so distressed about the authenticity of his punctuation that he claimed to want to die. His contemporary author László Krasznahorkai professed to avoiding periods because “periods are for God.” In my favorite authorial statement on punctuation, German theorist Theodore Adorno stares into these small black dots and sees history flicker: “It is history, far more than meaning for grammatical function, that looks out at us, rigidified and trembling slightly, from every mark of punctuation,” he writes.
Reading “The Metamorphosis” this summer was my first encounter with Kafka. I was subletting an apartment from a couple who had “The Metamorphosis” on their bookshelf, and I pulled out the novella on a weeknight when the New York humidity left me lazing next to their fan. I was less troubled reading about Gregor’s transformation than about his family’s reaction, which haunted me first in its resignation and then in its cruelty. Why did his parents so helplessly accept their son’s misfortune? How could they not ask questions? Why did their aversion to the beetle override their empathy? I realized that in Kafka’s literary Coliseum—my metaphor for the author’s strange, bleak arena in which surreal events overtake innocent characters—the victim is only half the spectacle. The audience, sitting back and watching the unbelievable unfold, becomes its own unsettling display. I closed the book, but my discomfort lingered.