Franz Kafka is usually viewed as a dystopian writer. . But the most interesting aspect of the stories for me is not the nastiness that you find in his stories. It is the reaction by the characters to that nastiness. The discussion of it. The consciousness of it. For the characters there is no escape, they know it, and they talk about their suffering.
More broadly, one could argue that this type of awakening to horror is a part of our modern sensibility. Perhaps this image by Bacon captures the feeling as well as any
The Pope — supposedly Christ’s representative on earth — is revealed as part of the horror.
What is the horror? It is a shattering of myths. A shattering of the idea that a benevolent force, either God or King or country, has been guiding us to a better future. We woke up to the idea that these myths blinded us to ugly reality. War. Dictatorship. Degradation. Forces that reduced the dignity of man. The title of Robert Graves’s autobiography, written in 1929, “Goodbye to All That” says it all. Humanity may be a dead end species.
More recently, we have a more vivid incarnation of that story line in the film, The Matrix, where humans are not living their lives at all. They think they are, but in fact, they are just enmeshed in a computer generated simulation. They exist in tubes of goo, kept alive solely for the electricity their bodies generate. A few remaining rebels seek to free the rest of humanity from the machines. And at the end of a whole series of movies, it is difficult to tell who won the war, if anyone or anything.
So, is this the end of the line? Having woken up, so to speak, to this type of shattering experience, is there nothing more to say? Are we now without new stories to tell? The current fascination with fantasy based tales suggests to me that some have given up on reality. For them, stories are useful only as escapes from it. Stories take us to places where we can be part of more epic sagas even if life basically sucks.
I am not persuaded, however, that this will last. A new story line will emerge. And it will be about re-discovering meaning in reality rather than escaping from it. We will find an aligning narrative for the 21st century and it will transcend the consciousness of horrors of the 20th century.
What is it? What will rekindle our faith in the future – the real future? It is not the gadgets that are falling into our hands. At the end of the day, these are just tools or toys. Our faith in the future will be rekindled form something that comes form inside us.