Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 3,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

Kafka + Coldplay 42 = Impossibility of Dying

Ghosts are always unsure. That’s why they are ghosts: beings stuck in the spaces between worlds that, for all we know, are as many as there are stars. What of ghosts that try in vain to convince us that they are really dead? That is Kafka’s Hunter Gracchus. He died after a really bad fall in the woods. Thereafter, everything that followed seemed to have happened in the order one would expect. He lay there on the floor of the Black Forest, bled his life away, died, and the ship of death arrived.  He left behind all his hunting gear, entered the boat, relaxed on the planking, and watched the boat recede from land, heading towards the place where all dead people go. But there was a little glitch. The helms man was distracted, so he took a wrong turn. And ever since, the Hunter Gracchus, has traveled through the waters of the world, stopping at ports and harbors, only to continue on in endless wandering, heading no where in particular. Is he in search of death? But how can one seek death after having died?

Maurice Blanchot, a postwar French writer, has made the point that contrary to what we think, death is the one act that is truly impossible. He does not think of the impossibility of death in the religious sense of a soul that lives on after the body dies.  It is in the sense that death is not an end to existence since we die only to survive. And also that death is an endlessly deferred dream within we are trapped whether we are living, dead, or living dead.   The Hunter Gracchus says of himself, “From being a hunter I’ve become a butterfly.” Whether hunter or butterfly, he will never cross the final frontier beyond which lay death.

In a song by Coldplay, titled 42, we encounter a similar figure, a dead person who is not quite sure if he is a ghost or not, but who has nevertheless made it close to heaven but has, however, been refused entry. Instead of sailing endlessly from port to harbor like the hunter in Kafka’s story, he has somehow returned to the world of the living but lives right inside their heads. “Those who are dead are not dead, they are just living in our heads,” the first to lines of the song says. The idea that death is not the end of it all is not new. But that is if we think of the life that follows death as a form of transcendence. What if you give the dead back their bodies and imagine them dwelling in our heads? What does it mean to say that our heads are mausoleums, cemeteries of sorts for the dead who did not die at all? These dead that persists in our heads, are they merely memory? I doubt.

Photo Credits:

Kafka by Luc Devroye

Coldplay: Midwest Sports Fans

Listen to Coldplay’s 42

Tags: , , , , ,

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

Win Copies of Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf in Narrative Landscape Press’ Ongoing Competition

marlon james - Black leopard, red wolf

Narrative Landscape Press, the Nigerian publishers of Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf, recently announced a competition which will see successful […]

Rania Mamoun’s Short Story Collection, Thirteen Months of Sunrise, Forthcoming from Comma Press, Is a Complex, Moving Illumination of Contemporary Sudan

rania mamoun (2)

Manchester-based independent publisher Comma Press will be releasing the Sudanese writer Rania Mamoun’s short story collection Thirteen Months of Sunrise. […]

2031 | Y’I Oche | Fiction

Highway 1200 x 630

  “It’s becoming too dangerous,” Laila said with a pardonable expression of fear. For a minute she sat stone silent, […]

Enter for the 2019 AFREADA x Africa Writes Competition, with a Writing Prompt from Chigozie Obioma’s An Orchestra of Minorities

afreada-obioma graph

With the 2019 Africa Writes Festival coming in July, AFREADA magazine has announced its third annual contest in partnership with […]

Nozizwe Cynthia Jele, Nthikeng Mohlele, Imraan Coovadia Lead Diverse Longlist for Sunday Times’ Barry Ronge Fiction Prize

cynthia jele, nthikeng mohlele

Sunday Times newspaper has announced the longlists for the Alan Paton Award and the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize. Founded in […]

Submit to the $12,000 Graywolf Press Africa Prize for Novel Manuscripts, Judged by A. Igoni Barrett

igoni a. barrett

The 2019 Graywolf Press Africa Prize is now open to submissions. The award, launched in 2017 by the publishing house […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.