"A Serious Man": Job - God = Kafka

Watch this (can't embed): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGRrnRvMpTU

A quick though on the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man, a film that slayed me, evacuated me, left me shaking.

They took the story of Job but eliminated the back story — Job, a man of faith, becomes the object of a wager between God and Satan. That back story gives reason to the madness Job endures. Take away God and what are you left with? A shit storm.

But more than a shit storm per se we're left with something more horrifying, more horrible than a world that is as senseless as it is brutal. We're left with the brutality of an invisible, unapproachable, and incomprehensible sense.

What makes "A Serious Man" so brutal is that our poor non-hero, Larry Gopnik, finds himself at the mercy of terms that make no sense to him but seem to make sense to everyone else. He is mired in a discourse that determines him and his role and yet he has no access to these terms. Not only can he not change these terms, he doesn't even know what the terms are. Every move he makes to make sense is thwarted as insane, ludicrous, unacceptable.

He is thoroughly outside the discourse — and yet there is no outside. Hence, the horror: there is no escape, no alternate set of terms, nowhere to run. All we have is the Jolly Roger.

And this — this lack of an outside coupled with no access to an inside — is the horror of Kafka. It is not just the horror of a world without God to make sense. It is worse: it is a life without God that nevertheless does have a sense — a rigorous, hegemonic, over-determinative sense. Only you have no access to it and are offered neither respite nor escape.


kat said...


A passionate listener & fan of yours has recently turned me onto your recorded lectures from Berkeley—I'm finding them deliciously provocative & thrilling.

I came across Nietzsche's idea of "amor fati" last summer while entrenched in Rilke poetry, journeying the overlap of philosophies—Rilke to Nietzsche—in a slim library book by Richard Detsch. Chancing on the written distillation of amor fati literally saved my life that summer. Transitioning from theatre performance to law school resulted in countless drafts of personal essays, which, with the new awareness of amor fati, became less about accounting for "why theatre then law?" to "why, what, & how is the act of Becoming at all?" Attempts at proper personal essay became a blog.

As "the lack" of living widens, thickens, deepens, fills & dries up, I have to examine anew the act of becoming. Re-reading these essays, I recognize an exciting fusion between them & what is investigated in your lectures. Below is a link to the essay performing this fusion, most rapidly, I suppose. I offer it as some kind of gesture, though of what, I don't entirely know.


simply, thank you

kat mandeville

Daniel Coffeen said...

Hey KM,

Thanks and thanks for the comment/note and the link. There is something truly beautiful and hilarious in you trying to find the gesture of love while being yelled at for not getting it.

Amor fati continues to provoke and inspire me; it resounds, resonates, infinitely.

so thank you,

Irami said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Irami said...

"Accept the mystery"

-Clives father, unbowed by the law the non-contradiction.

By the way, have you seen "Gone Baby Gone"?