Franz Kafka On Reading Out Of One’s Comfort Zone

Below is a quote from Franz Kafka on the value of actively seeking out disconfirming evidence, counter-life perspectives, and counter-arguments contrary to your own beliefs, proclivities, and biases. A nice retort to the squeamish who won’t read books that “trigger” them out of their religious or political comfort zones (as recently happened when a Christian university student publicly declared that he wouldn’t read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, which was included on a university reading list of recommended books). Here’s Kafka:

Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow on the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy, as you put it? Good God, we’d be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, at a pinch, also write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe.

Aggrieved students find books dangerous; neoliberal administrators say they’re useless. I’d take the former any day

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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4 Responses to Franz Kafka On Reading Out Of One’s Comfort Zone

  1. People who don’t want to learn don’t want to live … We could help them out

  2. Alan says:

    On the other hand, life’s too short to read garbage.

    • Zia says:

      Part of me agrees with Alan. However, some garbage is easy to spot, but what about the ones that you can’t spot. This is my dilemma every time I walk into Barns & Noble. Of course, if the cover has the picture of a TV personality, I easily classify it as garbage (think, Sean Hannity, wolf blitzer, etc.).

      • Alan says:

        Even worse (and the point intended of this post) is that what makes you uncomfortable may be good for you. Truth is never easy.

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