Literary Mixtape: Josef K


If you’ve ever wondered what your favorite literary characters might be listening to while they save the world/contemplate existence/get into trouble, or hallucinated a soundtrack to go along with your favorite novels, well, us too. But wonder no more! Here, we sneak a look at the hypothetical iPods of some of literature’s most interesting characters. What would be on the personal playlists of Holden Caulfield or Elizabeth Bennett, Huck Finn or Harry Potter, Tintin or Humbert Humbert? Something revealing, we bet. Or at least something danceable. Read on for a cozy reading soundtrack, character study, or yet another way to emulate your favorite literary hero. This week: Josef K.

In the beginning of Franz Kafka’s The Trial, 30-year-old Josef K is arrested for an unspecified crime. He is not taken to jail, but informed that he is arrested and told to wait for further instructions from the Committee of Affairs. He is in some ways the Everyman: a working stiff befuddled by the bureaucratic mire into which he is suddenly submerged. However, as author James Hawes explained, “Kafka’s master-trap is to make us accept that Josef K’s point of view is objective, narrative fact. In fact, Josef K is no timeless Everyman but a specific satirical character: a thoroughly modern salaryman with a goal-oriented, easy-to-clean mental world who is obsessed with office power-plays and visits a prostitute once a week.” We had forgotten about that prostitute part. Regardless, we think Josef K would listen to the soundtrack of a repetitive, Kafkaesque existence, perfect for trudging and waiting in line. Here’s what we think he would visit the court, visit Titorelli, and die like a dog to.

“The Show Must Go On” — Queen We imagine Josef K singing this song to himself as he trudges towards yet another bureaucratic nightmare — or just another day as a bank teller. “Another hero – another mindless crime/ Behind the curtain, in the pantomime.”

“(Still) Terminally Ambivalent Over You” — The Real Tuesday Weld As much as K tries to convince the reader that he’s a strong figure, he reveals himself to be rather weak willed, generally choosing to sit around and wait to see how things shake out rather than make a decision, preferring the “safety of the solution resulting from the natural course of things.” It will not serve him well.

“Circling” — The Octopus Project If you’re not a fan of quasi-hippy electronica, you too might find this 11 minute song to be a little bit Kafkaesque. However, we think Josef K would like the repetition and weirdness as he went about the same day every day.

“The Grey Ship” — EMA A song for waiting for something to happen. “Nothing and nothing and nothing and nothing/ I got the same feeling inside of me/ Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing”

“Battle Hymn of the Republic” — John Philip Sousa If he lived in America, that is. Josef K is nothing if not a cog in the machine (and we know for a fact that Kafka loved JPS, so that may have colored our thinking a bit), even while being persecuted by some enormous and unimaginable authority.

“One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces” — Ben Folds Five This is aspirational music for Josef K, who basically thinks he’s better than everyone without any evidence in his life to support such an idea.

“Spring Round Dance” — Igor Stravinsky Stravinsky’s music is famous for its repetition, and was described by Theodor W. Adorno as possessed of “rhythmic procedures closely resemble the schema of catatonic conditions. In certain schizophrenics, the process by which the motor apparatus becomes independent leads to infinite repetition of gestures or words, following the decay of the ego.” That sounds like some Kafka to us.

“The Scientist” — Coldplay This is what the everyman listens to, right?

“World Spin Madly On” — The Weepies While this song is perhaps as emotional as Josef K gets, he is ultimately a self-loathing observer, rather than a participant in the world, or even in his own life, and as such, we think he might relate to this track.

“Pyramid Song” — Radiohead There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt. There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt. There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt.