Short Prose by Fabio Morábito

Kafka and Jealousy

Many were scandalized to hear that Kafka’s novel The Castle is a love story. They would respond that the central issue in the book, as in all Kafka’s works, is loneliness, banishment, never-ending delays, impotence, and guilt. And yet, the love story between K., the surveyor, and Frieda, the young barmaid, is the cornerstone of the book. Love, or at least sexual attraction, pervades the novel, even involving Klamm, the mysterious and elusive castle official, and not even the grayest and most sinister government clerks are spared from it, like Sordini, who tries unsuccessfully to seduce Clara, a female creature worthy of her own novel. Frieda, Clara, Madam innkeeper, Olga, Pepi and her two friends: the list of romantic or impulsive women who appear in the book is long. The surveyor K. speaks with all of them, falls a bit for each one, but he doesn’t (perhaps with Frieda, but we aren’t sure) in the end consummate his carnal desires. Where is the much-touted loneliness? K. is never alone, he is continuously accompanied, and despite being an insignificant individual, his arrival in the village causes a whirlwind of passions that affect the inhabitants of the castle themselves. The novel advances from one revelation to another, which are almost always erotic or sentimental confessions, and amorous quarrels between K. and Frieda, which, behind their highly correct language that at times turns them into caricatures, is an exploration of implacable jealousy. Like in Flaubert, Proust, in Svevo and in many others, jealousy is Kafka’s secret theme, where he finds the proof of our existential powerlessness: we are never certain of the other’s love because we are never certain of knowing what it is and we always beg for signs and signals that allow us to acquire the other’s soul. It is the same situation that the surveyor suffers in front of the castle: there it is, visible, a stone’s throw from his inn, always on the point of opening its doors but, for one reason or another, out of reach.

Relay Race

The point of the relay race in ancient Greece was to soften as much as possible the baton passing from one runner to another, to give the impression that the race flowed smoothly, effortlessly evolving, as if carried out by a single super athlete, and not by four ordinary mortal athletes who shrewdly distributed their efforts. You weren’t supposed to wake the gods from their sleep, and it’s likely that the piece of wood that served as the baton represented one of those gods, which had to be passed from hand to hand with great care so not to rouse it from sleep. It was immensely risky and in some cities if a runner dropped the baton they were all put to death, unless they won the competition. So, from the beginning that race seemed to represent something forbidden, a human ruse against divine power. To this day, the quality of this ancient drama remains, and dropping the baton underscores the multitude of our days with a demoralizing cry in which it’s not hard to hear the shout that in other times must have accompanied this disastrous mishap, the most disastrous of the Games. Even today, in that singular way the runner receiving the baton anticipates the arrival of his partner and, running and looking forward, extends his hand backward to receive the precious gift the other entrusts to him, it’s possible to notice the magical, yet disturbing gesture that has always been a part of this competition. This cunning gesture is the gesture of a thief. None of the runners look at the baton, but simply feel it in their hand and run away with it; the tension suddenly dissipates and from that moment on the most important thing is in front of the runner, pure speed, the flight to the finish line or to the next awaiting runner. Here emerges a completely free animal that has stolen the divine fire and runs to pass it on to the others, burning in one breath his own portion of land so the gods, always drowsy but in the end vulnerable, do not notice the trick of which they were the object.

The God Pan

The god Pan is credited with the invention of the siesta and masturbation. It’s significant that these inventions come from the same divinity. Both practices go against custom and what is socially desirable, since masturbation represents a loss of valuable energy and the siesta is a waste of time. In fact, masturbation is like a nap for sex, and the nap, that deep light sleep, is an imitation of real and refreshing sleep. In both cases the principle act gives way to what is secondary or circumvented. Instead of procreating we ejaculate alone, without rhyme or reason, and instead of sleeping deeply we linger in the anteroom of sleep in the full light of day. The siesta is the dream of thieves: they sleep in the middle of the day to be able to act at night when everyone else is sleeping. Masturbation also has something to do with theft: it squanders a resource, the orgasm, destined for the conservation of the tribe, not only in regard to the conception of new individuals but as the reservoir of instinctive strength that binds the group together. It is therefore no coincidence that Pan, the great masturbator, is the god of the vagabond, of those who no longer keep any promises to anyone. The siesta is the vagabond’s night: brief, anomalous, he’s content with twilight and doesn’t produce real dreams because the loner has no one to share his dreams with. One dreams within the tribe, always dreams in the company of others and the vagabond, left alone with his dreams, doesn’t distinguish what he dreams from what is real, much like the artist. In every artist there is an outcast of the tribe and in all art, because of its mixture of reality and dream, there is a halo of twilight at noon, an unwarranted siesta, refusal to procreate and vicious self-absorption. In all art, therefore, there is a guilty seclusion and a dose of shame or shameful solitude. Pan, with his horns and his goat hooves, is the living portrait of shame and of the miracles that shame, which is the mother of introspection, is capable of generating: melancholic exhalation, Pan’s wonderful flute.

Cover Your Ears

There are few gestures of greater helplessness than covering your ears with your hands. It’s a gesture that likens us to children because it is a gesture of terror, as seen in The Scream, Edvard Munch’s painting where a man covers his ears to keep from hearing the cry that we don’t know may be bursting from within him or from outside, so that we see someone plunged inside a cry that, judging by the indifference of the other figures in the painting, only affects him, that only he hears. In fact, covering your ears is already a kind of screaming, the initial stage in the scream and the manifestation of a break in our being. We wouldn’t expect to find a gesture like this in a classical music concert, and yet, a few days ago, in one of these concert halls, while listening to a contemporary piece written for flute and clarinet, a woman beside me employed this gesture when the flute delivered its most acute note. She did so by lowering her head in a sign of suffering, and once the shrill note passed, she lifted her head again to enjoy the music and at the end applauded enthusiastically. Was it because she was relieved? However it may be, her gesture of covering her ears in a place where it is assumed that we are going to open them wide gave the piece an unsuspected depth. Perhaps the composer had been looking for a note like this, a crude sound that would batter us to remind us that before being an aesthetic experience, music is an acoustic experience, a noise, something that we easily forget in a concert hall. The audience must continuously be shaken awake, pull them out of their torpor and remind them that they have ears. Pan, the god who invented the flute, was the same god the Greeks feared because of the horrendous shriek that he would wail at those who roused him from his siesta. Therefore, no musical instrument is harmless, each possesses an injurious note, just as there is no music completely subdued by the walls of a room, and I wonder if in the woman’s enthusiastic applause there might also have been that malignant note that had made her suffer and, especially, if her applause would have been less enthusiastic in the absence of any such note.

The Sirens

We know, when his many-oared ship sails by the calm island of the sirens, Odysseus orders his crew to put wax in their ears so they won’t hear the ominous song that no human being can resist, and he ties himself to the mast so he can hear it without danger of throwing himself into the sea. So he won’t throw himself into the sea when he hears the siren song that no human being can resist, Odysseus, we know, when his boat sails calmly by the ominous island, orders his crew to tie him to the mast and row with wax in their ears. While they row calmly with wax in their ears when his boat sails by the ominous sirens whose singing no human being can resist, his crew, as we know, tie Odysseus to the mast so he can hear it without the danger of throwing himself into the sea to reach the island. Tied to the mast of the ship while the sirens, as we know, sing on their island with wax in their ears, Odysseus hears the quiet rowing of his crew without danger of throwing himself into the ominous sea that no human being can resist. So they don’t throw themselves into the sea at the sight of the mast in pursuit of Odysseus’s crew, the singing sirens for whom human beings, as we know, are irresistible, tie themselves to their island while they hear the ominous boat rowing along without wax in their ears. Instead of resisting the ominous song of his rowing crew who, as we know, are not what are called sirens but an entire mast in the ear, Odysseus calmly throws himself into the sea as soon as his boat passes an island. The ominous Odysseus who, as we know, the sirens leave reeling, each time the boat passes an island puts wax in our ears and requests that we tie him to the mast in case he so happens to hear their song and we, his crew, really feel like throwing him into the sea while we calmly row! When I place the ominous wax in their ears my ship’s crew will throw me overboard, with or without sirens, tired now, as we know, of their Odysseus, the calm sea, the oars, the mast, the islands and that beautiful song.


Fabio Morábito

Fabio Morábito was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1955 to Italian parents. He moved to Milan when he was five, and when he was fifteen moved to Mexico City, where he currently lives and works in the Autonomous University of Mexico. Morábito is the author of four poetry collections; two novels, including Caja de herramientas (Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1989), which was translated into English by Geoff Hargreaves and published by Xenox Books in 1996; five books of short stories; and three books of essays, including El idioma materno (Sexto Piso, 2014). He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Premio Nacional de Poesía Aguascalientes, the Premio White Raven, and the Premio Antonin Artaud. Morábito is also a prolific translator, and has translated the complete works of Eugenio Montale and Aminto de Torquato Tasso into Spanish. Though much of Morábito’s work has been translated into French, German, Italian, and Portuguese, relatively little has been translated into English.

Curtis Bauer

Curtis Bauer is a poet—his most recent book is The Real Cause for Your Absence (2013)—and a translator of poetry and prose from the Spanish. His most recent translations include Eros Is More by Juan Antonio González Iglesias (Alice James Books, 2014), From Behind What Landscape by Luis Muñoz (Vaso Roto Editions, 2015), and Faint Blood by Jeannette L. Clariond (forthcoming from Word Works, 2018). He teaches creative writing and comparative literature at Texas Tech University.

El idioma materno. Copyright (c) Fabio Morábito, 2014. English translation copyright (c) Curtis Bauer, 2017.