|Martina Steckholzer @ ArtSlant/|
James Hawes on the secret life of Prague @ Eurozine.
It is axiomatic among artists – they declare it with particular vigour when applying for cultural subsidies – that wonderful creative acts can mythologise an entire city, propel it into the realms of the symbolic. In our postmodern world (so goes the happy theory) such apotheoses can have mighty (if vaguely defined) benefits to the general citizenry: "Joyce's Dublin" and "Kafka's Prague" are most often quoted as proof. Actually, it was the cities that helped make these writers so popularly famous, not the other way around. Joyce had no need to put his unloved home town on the map of the world. Whilst he was writingUlysses, it did so itself, in spades and to the infinite aid of Joyce's novel, whose first readers thus found themselves introduced not to an obscure regional city, but to a new-fledged capital, site of a terrible beauty, the names of whose buildings and streets had already made themselves bloodily familiar. Franz Kafka owes the dubious privilege of his coffee-mug fame as a Middle-European Nostradamus (which so obscures the true delights of his social satires) to the fact that the city he longed all his life to escape became the fulcrum of Europe's twentieth-century tragedy twice in the fifty years after his death – having already (in a way which Kafka himself found highly irksome) become the focus of its ill-founded hopes during his lifetime.read more