Aboard the Kafkamachine

For the French psychoanalyst Félix Guattari, the oeuvre of his favorite author Franz Kafka will always be effective, because it updates itself constantly. To him Kafka’s writing is a »literary machine,« steadily working, pointing way beyond the world of its emergence, and processing questions that are strikingly relevant for today – and that will be in the future. Based on this idea of an expressive »Kafka machine,« which habitually brings up contemporary issues out of the disjunctions, overflows, and accelerations in Kafka’s work, the project Kafkamachine was founded.

Three groups, Mollecular Organization (Helsinki/Finland), Ueinzz Theatre Company (São Paulo/Brazil), and Presques Ruines (Paris/France) collaborated on the basis of Kafka’s Amerika (also known as The man who disappeared) and traced the movement of the story’s main character by doing a boat trip themselves. In 2011, members of the groups travelled by ship from Lisbon/Portugal to Santos/Brazil. The trip started in Lisbon with a re-announcement of Kafka’s Great Nature Theatre of Oklahoma. Aboard the ship they worked on a collective performance, trying to avoid any division of functions within the group. This also means that the author doesn’t exist anymore – all is scripted by the »Kafka machine.«

Brazilian performance artist Cássio Diniz Santiago speaks about the tasks and evolutions within the heterogeneous group that assembled people with different backgrounds, professions, and biographies who are linked by their sheer openness to enter an undefined territory…


How to realize a project in the absence of a clear, consistent authorship and any hierarchical structures – all that in a very heterogeneous group, where relations are of course conditioned by previous experiences and hidden hierarchies?

What emerges when very different individuals are placed inside a ship with the same material conditions, sharing their time and space?

What elements are producers of inequalities?

Is it still the power of the word that rules?

Is image still the trading currency for existential statements?

Do all the (hidden) presuppositions of the experiment insist on appearing like a ghost haunting the new possibilities of cooperation?

A multitude can never fit inside a single approach. Before making any proposition it is important to map the needs and wishes of each person involved in the experiment. By these means, it is possible to work out the aesthetics that appear on the existential plane. It can lead to a path of creation through a new pitch, a new designed territory of affects and relations.

But when the collaborations start to arise, and the collective perspectives start to show up, sometimes demands for an assertive leadership emerge – which in turn can be reflected as capabilities to preserve the diverse creative approaches within the group. Kafkamachine is an experiment that allows this reflection.

One possible way to deal with the multitude is to recognize and accept the singular potential of each one, also the idiosyncrasies. This potential can reside in minimum actions, gestures, and attitudes. Sometimes, it can be a collection of insignificancies that affects the whole group and the next steps of each path chosen.

To find out how to make the existential territory more livable is the main goal of Kafkamachine, and also for everyone that participates in the trip.


The Trip

Inside the ship it is very difficult to reach a sense of belonging. It is not only caused by the movement of the boat and the instability on the sea, but also by the ship being prepared to spoil people, to entertain, to occupy the whole time with meaningless activities.

Probably because of that, each participant of the trip establishes a sense of belonging to his or her own concepts, memories, and wishes, creating a kind of refuge against all that fake happiness and decoration, and that post-modernist way of reproducing the whole world in one single place.

There is this retraction, but at the same time, some requests and inquiries start to come up within the group, but it was gestated by individuals outside of the collective contour and communicated from inside.

In this situation, the other becomes an imaginary other, a projection. So, the collective contour is used to reinforce the individual boundaries, since the other is only an object of the subject.

Alterity demands a questioning of the concept of the other we carry inside ourselves. Therefore, human relations and partnerships are always in crisis because each one can always recognize the other as a part of themselves.

It was stated that Kafkamachine was an experiment without defined functions, no separation within the collaboration: There were no directors, actors, set designers, organizational designers, therapists, patients, writers, or any kind of functions.

However, in practice, some tasks and functions needed someone to assume its responsibility. Without this, the entire project would have been impaired. Urgent needs like the care of the patients, the logistics of meetings and rehearsals, the preparation of scripts to shoot, the support for actors, the technical solutions, the managing of collaboration, and so on were fundamental to the progress of the experiment.

Some of these questions needed a set of conditions to be realized, but the conditions were blurred by misunderstandings of the necessary engagement in an experiment like this.

It is not easy to deal with new conditions or approaches during an ongoing experiment like this: without a common language in the whole group, far away from home, the experience of being in the middle of the Atlantic ocean inside a floating shopping mall with parks of recreation.


The Arrival

When there is no author, is there no responsibility? Or, in these conditions, is everybody responsible for everything?

The movement of the author is also the movement to get out of himself, to lose himself inside the other, the other of writing for example, the movement that stuffs classifies and kills the author. What kind of invention of the author can destroy or overcome his own making? And let the author change skin like a snake?

When there is no shared utopia, the rate of undeclared elements and intentions increase. The question of authorship can be extended to the question of the author’s intentions. And with the intentionality, the political consequences arise.

In the context of today’s cult of personality, what move can you make – of body, of creation, of technology, of words – that is not yet committed to the perpetuation of the self and its own maintenance?

Does the energy get lost when the collective experience is transformed into an individual commodity affecting all?

These are the new issues that have arisen for those who allowed themselves to dive in this open structure, and for those the embodiment of the collective experience was left out.

Authorship can be thought about from the heart of the concept of individual because it attends social demands of survival, but, simultaneously, terminates the generating process of shape by the canonicalization of the aesthetic and individual. And if art is mainly in the eyes of the beholder, how can we think of a coherent form of organization? Could we think of a hybrid authorship?

In the German language, we can put words together creating new words. Could it also be possible to put the pronouns together creating new pronouns? Like a tribe in Amazon where in between »I« and »You«, exists »I I You«, »You You I«, »I I I You«, »You You You I« and so on – reaching the first person plural without the inherent arbitrariness of a trading language.



Drawings by Cássio Diniz Santiago.

Quotes by Franz Kafka, Amerika, 1927.