In a brutal antithesis, worthy of some ancient Gnostic, Franz Kafka wrote, “The Bible, sanctum; the world, sputum.” In this formulation, the world is something spewed out, a vile off-scouring—quite literally, a “shit-hole” (Scheißtum)—a matrix of infected matter, over against which stands, as its polar opposite, the Word, pristine and incontaminate. Of course, the tuberculosis from which Kafka suffered all his life, and which killed him in the end, gives the second half of his dictum a certain savage poignancy. The distance between sputum and sanctum, only accentuated by the assonance, must be immeasurable; and yet, if this is so, where are we to live? The cruelty of the paradox is not that it disparages the world in favor of the Bible, but that it leaves us no in-between we might comfortably inhabit. Even so, as any attentive reader of Kafka knows, the Bible stands in a subtle continuum with that world of his...

 
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