This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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Franz Kafka

Kafka’s Gregor Samsa awoke one day to see—or perhaps feel, but feeling often dictates what we see—something disgusting. He had turned into a giant insect. But it is hard to tell whether it was his transformation that caused his disgust or rather his self-disgust that caused his transformation. And his family’s repulsion at the metamorphosis only mirrors his own. It isn’t their fault. It is no one’s fault, in fact—and that’s the heart of the matter. Gregor decays and dies as senselessly as he lived, without being able to identify any culprit—any evil mastermind—not even the devil. No evil spell was cast that ruined his life. There is no explanation at all. In fact, he does not even seem to look for an explanation—he takes it for granted that there isn’t one. He is an insect, and he is disgusting. His shame is therefore justified as a matter of fact, and so is the shame of his family at the existence of this creature which they cannot co-exist with.

That is Kafka, the master of the absurd. He took it all with great humor, of course, and his humor made of his imagination a showcase—but it did not make him a rare case. He was an exceptional character—an exceptional writer—but he was not of an exceptional spirit. Gregor Samsa, the insectoid-man, represents something of an everyman for the modern soul.

John Updike said that Kafka epitomized the modern mind-set through his “sensation of anxiety and shame whose center cannot be located and therefore cannot be placated; a sense of infinite difficulty within things, impeding every step; a sensitivity acute beyond usefulness, as if the nervous system, flayed of its old hide of social usage and religious belief, must record every touch as pain.”

He felt immersed in slavery “under laws invented only for him.” His malaise is not difficult to identify—it is simply the subtle and generalized malaise of the modern world, and although concentrated in him it was not born with him. It is the anxiety of Kierkegaard, except he is perhaps more honest and plain with it than Kierkegaard. Philosophers have difficulty with honesty.

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