The Curious Legacies of the Brothers Grimm


Richard Marshall in 3:AM Magazine:

Nabakov on Kafka (approximately):’Kafka’s private nightmare was that the central human character belongs to the same private fantastic world as the inhuman characters around him. Kafka’s tragedy was his struggle to climb out of that world and into the world of humans. This is what killed him.’

The tales given to the world by the Grimms read as correlatives of that Kafkaesque struggle. Their ugly beauty is hasped to pity facing charmless, evil days. They are tales with uncanny insect voices living at their boundaries, each an impression of terror, misery, hatred, logic, cancellation, prohibition, fertility, growth, illness, potential, animals, children, cellars, schools, swarms, sex, death, revenge, possession and known via a sort of telepathy nuanced into reading but expanding from the inside-outside of an open mouth to dust. Why pity? Because beauty dies. These tales are of a stranger life than the one that needs respectable sanities.

If there is an erstwhile hope that all would be physics and art it’s a hope that is a force from out some other place, one where faith healers, witches, magic and engineers of body-hair, frogs’ eyes and blood droplets conjugate verbs and kill victims to materialize it. What the open mouth tells is in a supercharged vernacular of spatial patterns of wholeness and simultaneity. This works like a language of divorce, one that includes everything in the very process of division and severance. Everything is hyphenated and so simultaneously conjoined and separated, or like Manley Hopkins’ word ‘buckled’ from his ‘The Windhover’, just a single world both ‘joined up’ and ‘broken apart’ braced at a poem’s spine. These doubled selves rip up and shape-shift to fathom themselves, like sigils of a daemon. The unforgettable equation that Ted Hughes calculates to reveal the device of Shake-speare’s own name – ‘On the catastrophe and heel of pastime’ becoming ‘The point and impact of the tempered word’ to ‘The shock and spear of will’ enables Shakespeare, having ‘converted the parts of his name to active images, as in the ‘Sonnets’ and ‘As You Like It’,’ to develop this heraldic device ‘… as a structural means of expressing his antithetical selves as a dialectical ‘system’ in iconic form…’ which , as we hear in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ gifts us;
‘union in partition;
Two lovely berries moulded on one stem;
So, with two seeming bodies, but one heart;
Two of the first, like coats in heraldry,
Due but to one, and crowned with one crest.’

The Grimms have been appropriated by U.S. America because defying the inhuman is as urgent there as anywhere else and its unhinged power leaves behind the innocent and the beaten. What Zipes has done in these two books is remind us that there’s a need for the naked struggle of Kafka, where speech goes to extremes without strategy, without masks, without calculation. The tales of this first edition are as much a part of an old weird Americana as bluesman Howling Wolf singing ‘Going Down Slow’ where, as Greil Marcus notes; ‘… decent people they will have to conceal as much envy as delight…’:

‘Go dig a hole in the meadow, good people
Go dig a hole in the ground
Come around all you good people
And see this poor rounder go down.’

More here.