Of Scissors

In 1917, Kafka crafted a fable around mid-east conflict in an ingenious short story called Jackal and Arabs (full text online). Judith Butler provides a brief commentary on it, writing in London Review of Books’ Who Owns Kafka?, she remarks,

Kafka understood that there were conflicts emerging in the region. Indeed, his short story ‘Jackals and Arabs’, published in Der Jude in 1917, registers an impasse at the heart of Zionism. In that story, the narrator, who has wandered unknowingly into the desert, is greeted by the Jackals (die Schakale) a thinly disguised reference to the Jews. After treating him as a Messianic figure for whom they have been waiting for generations, they explain that his task is to kill the Arabs with a pair of scissors (perhaps a joke about how Jewish tailors from Eastern Europe are ill equipped for conflict). They don’t want to do it themselves, since it would not be ‘clean’, but the Messiah is himself apparently unbound by kosher constraints. The narrator then speaks with the Arab leader, who explains that ‘it’s common knowledge; so long as Arabs exist, that pair of scissors goes wandering through the desert and will wander with us to the end of our days. Every European is offered it for the great work; every European is just the Man that Fate has chosen for them.’

There are many other interpretations, to date, but in my opinion what Kafka does, in absolute simplicity, is this: unfold, and by doing so, bring forth the history for a different mode of understanding. The ultimate interpretation is left to the imagination of the reader; you don’t call it Kafkaesque for no reason. A masterwork by the master of literature — political, critical and surreal.


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