Charlie Tyson at Bookforum:
FRANZ KAFKA’S LAST STORYwas a fable about art and labor. “Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk” is a tale told by a mouse who, with marked erudition and fair-mindedness, reflects on an extraordinary community member, the singer Josephine. At times of danger or emergency, the news will spread that she plans to sing. The community assembles, and Josephine, delicate and frail, stands before them in song, her arms spread wide, her throat stretched high. The tones emanating from that delicate throat are, according to some, not singing at all but rather ordinary piping—if anything, weaker and thinner than the sounds all mice make. It is peculiar, the narrator considers, that “here is someone making a ceremonial performance out of doing the usual thing.” But her art has a strange hold on all who listen. It turns the ordinary materials of speech into something transcendent.