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Reading good literature is like going into corn mazes on Halloween. The many entrances to the Castle Kafka describes can tell you a lot about how we approach meaning in texts. Literature is meant to confuse and disorient and disturb traditional routes of understanding. Because Kafka was a German-speaking Jew living in Prague, he was a guy without a territory—just hacking his way through corn. That's why his writing is so important. He wrote from the margins of society and uncovered hidden ways to understand the dominant culture.
Kafka's work is disturbing to some because it exposes the darker aspects of dominant culture—aspects that the members of that culture can't often see. He shows the reader the creepy monsters hiding in the corn mazes, if you will. When you read literature by a minority author writing in a dominant language, look for the ways that author challenges long-held definitions and meanings.
Here we find one of our favorite nomadic heroes, Sal Paradise. Sal roams and crosses borders and deterritorializes himself as well as everyone around him. Who doesn't love a good road trip?
A true nomad, Sal is totally open to the margins. At one point, he watches a sandlot baseball game played by African Americans, men and women, Mexicans, and American Indians—a mixed, wild bouquet of humanity. Being a white male and part of the dominant culture, Sal laments his position of privilege—it's a place where change rarely occurs.
Nomadic characters are important literary devices because they open borders and cause the circulation and flow of different meanings from different "territories" to mix and rearrange themselves. The nomad is always mysterious. If you're a member of the dominant culture, the nomad may be exciting—or a little bit scary.
We really like Burroughs's cut-up technique. We know Burroughs was a drug addict and did some crazy, super sketchy stuff, but because he wrote sentences on strips of paper, cut them up, then rearranged the pieces, he participated in a type of rhizomatic creative writing.
Think about the potato. You cut it up, but it doesn't die; instead, it sprouts new growth from one of its "eyes," and you get a new plant. Sentences and words and language are like that, too. They're not whole complete systems that have stopped growing—they're alive. Cut a sentence up, and the pieces can inspire the growth of new sentences.
We love all the wild writing of James Joyce, but Finnegans Wake is something special. This novel has multiple meanings, multiple roots above and below ground that grow horizontally as well as vertically, as well as criss cross and kiss criss and cross criss kiss cross. (That's quote—sort of.)
Joyce's lack of coherent grammar causes the reader to experience a circulation of meaning (or maybe the loss of circulation of blood to the brain). Some of his sentences could contain hundreds of meanings. For some readers, this kind of things is frustrating, but for others, it's totally exciting. We say grammar is not meaning; meaning is in the pieces—and in how the writer and reader pull the pieces apart and put them back together.