Donavan’s Brain

Catch & Release or Notes of an American Idler by Donavan Hall (@theangler)

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

An ‘odradek’ of Ampurdán. I wish I could claim such a familiarity with the works of Franz Kafka that when I encountered reference in Vila-Matas’ A Brief History of Portable Literature to the strange objects known as odradeks I would have said, Ah ha! A Kafkaesque reference. Of course, V-M instructs his talented reader in the true origins of the mysterious odradek which in his story display amazing powers, and act as familiar spirits to the writers of portable literature. Vila-Matas himself possesses an odradek which was made for him “a year ago” by Jordi Llovet, so he reports in his Café Perec column in El País.

The work odradek comes to us via Vila-Matas from a story by Kafka, “The Cares of a Family Man” (a translation and commentary by Anya Meksin are available on The Kafka Project). Odradek in Kafka’s story, even though it is made up of inanimate things (a spool, bits of string, a piece of wood cut into the shape of star) it can move and speak; and when it laughs, “it sounds rather like the rusting of fallen leaves.”

In his article, V-M says that the word odradek may have been borrowed from a brand of motorcycle circulating in Prague at the time. He also mentions that the Prague-born writer Johannes Urzidil, in an article, “Von Odkolek zu Odradek,” perhaps jokingly, connected the word odradek with a baker, a man named Odkolek, who apparently was known to the Kafka family.

The family man in Kafka story is concerned about Odradek and that the strange object will going on about its business lurking in stairwells long after the family man is dead and buried. Odradek cannot die because it is not (technically) alive. The family man speculates, “Anything that dies has had some kind of aim in life, some kind of activity, which has worn out; but that does not apply to Odradek… He does no harm to anyone that one can see; but the idea that he is likely to survive me I find almost painful.”