Synthesis – Kafka and L. Davis

Writing Assignment: Discuss at least one theme that this week’s readings had in common.
Where do you see this common theme in the reading? Use the text and comment on it.

Lydia Davis
Handel
I have a problem in my marriage, which is that I simply do not like George Frideric Handel as much as my husband does. It is a real barrier between us. I am envious of one couple we know, for example, who both love Handel so much they will sometimes fly all the way to Texas just to hear a particular tenor sing a part in one of his operas. By now, they have also converted another friend of ours into a lover of Handel. I am surprised, because the last time she and I talked about music, what she loved was Hank Williams. All three of them went by train to Washington, D.C., this year to hear Giulio Cesare in Egitto. I prefer the composers of the nineteenth century and particularly Dvořák. But I’m pretty open to all sorts of music, and usually if I’m exposed to something long enough, I come to like it. But even though my husband puts on some sort of Handel vocal music almost every night if I don’t say anything to stop him, I have not come to
love Handel. Fortunately, I have just found out that there is a therapist not too far from here, in Lenox, Massachusetts, who specializes in Handel-therapy, and I’m going to give her a try. (My husband does not believe in therapy and I know he would not go to a Dvořák-therapist with me even if there was one.)

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Franz Kafka, “Before the Law” (Willa & Edwin Muir trans.)
BEFORE THE LAW stands a doorkeeper on guard. To this doorkeeper there comes a man from
the country and prays for admittance to the Law. But the doorkeeper says that he cannot grant
admittance at the moment. The man thinks it over and then asks if he will be allowed in later. “It
is possible,” says the doorkeeper, “but not at the moment.” Since the gate stands open, as usual,
and the doorkeeper steps to one side, the man stoops to peer through the gateway into the
interior. Observing that, the doorkeeper laughs and says: “If you are so drawn to it, just try to go
in despite my veto. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the least of the doorkeepers.
From hall to hall there is one doorkeeper after another, each more powerful than the last. The
third doorkeeper is already so terrible that even I cannot bear to look at him.” These are
difficulties the man from the country has not expected; the Law, he thinks, should surely be
accessible at all times and to everyone, but as he now takes a closer look at the doorkeeper in his
fur coat, with his big sharp nose and long, thin, black Tartar beard, he decides that it is better to
wait until he gets permission to enter. The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down at
one side of the door. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be admitted,
and wearies the doorkeeper by his importunity. The doorkeeper frequently has little interviews
with him, asking him questions about his home and many other things, but the questions are put
indifferently, as great lords put them, and always finish with the statement that he cannot be let
in yet. The man, who has furnished himself with many things for his journey, sacrifices all he
has, however valuable, to bribe the doorkeeper. The doorkeeper accepts everything, but always
with the remark: “I am only taking it to keep you from thinking you have omitted anything.”
During these many years the man fixes his attention almost continuously on the doorkeeper. He
forgets the other doorkeepers, and this first one seems to him the sole obstacle preventing access
to the Law. He curses his bad luck, in his early years boldly and loudly; later, as he grows old, he
only grumbles to himself. He becomes childish, and since in his yearlong contemplation of the
doorkeeper he has come to know even the fleas in his fur collar, he begs the fleas as well to help
him and to change the doorkeeper’s mind. At length his eyesight begins to fail, and he does not
know whether the world is really darker or whether his eyes are only deceiving him. Yet in his
darkness, he is now aware of a radiance that streams inextinguishably from the gateway of the
Law. Now he has not very long to live. Before he dies, all his experiences in these long years
gather themselves in his head to one point, a question he has not yet asked the doorkeeper. He
waves him nearer, since he can no longer raise his stiffening body. The doorkeeper has to bend
low towards him, for the difference in height between them has altered much to the man’s
disadvantage. “What do you want to know now?” asks the doorkeeper; “you are insatiable.”
“Everyone strives to reach the Law,” says the man, “so how does it happen that for all these
many years no one but myself has ever begged for admittance?” The doorkeeper recognizes that
the man has reached his end, and to let his failing senses catch the words, roars in his ear: “No
one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am now going

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