Saturday, June 25, 2011

Kafka's Cicada?

Today I heard a "To the Best of Our Knowledge" podcast on which (in which?) Brian Kane discussed Franz Kafka's "The Burrow" (Der Bau in German). Kane talked about his work concerning Kafka's exploration of the idea of acousmatic sound through the thoughts of a mole who is unable to get away from a high whistling sound he is unable to locate. The discussion goes in the direction of musique concrète, and the fact that Kafka thought of music as sound: where other people heard music, he heard only sound. It was certainly interesting, and it is certainly an unexpected pleasure for the NPR podcast world to include something that pertains to music.

I wonder if the story might be more insect-specific than acousmatic-specific (and Kafka certainly had a thing for insects). You have probably already figured out where I am going from the title of this post. Perhaps the whistling sound that Kafka's mole might have heard was a brood of cicadas, and perhaps the mole was hearing it through the ground. I know (from observing my yard) that when there's a cicada hatching there is extensive mole activity. Moles feast on the cicada larvae, particularly when they are fully-developed and just ready to emerge out of the soil. What do cicadas do after they emerge (the ones that get away from the moles)? The males make a constant screaming sound (that, when muffled by earth could be considered an annoying whistle that never seems to stop).

I like the idea of the cicada in the larval phase satisfying and nurturing the mole, and in its mature phase annoying and confounding the mole.

All the periodic cicada data (I like the sound of that--cicadadata) I have found concerns North America, and most of it centers around Illinois, where our brood of cicadas have finally ended their 13 year life cycle (it took about six weeks for them to make it from their emergence to their collective death). I imagine that there must be periodic cicadas in Austria. Perhaps if we find that somewhere around 1924, the year that Kafka wrote this story, there was a periodic cicada emergence where he was living, someone might prove my hypothesis correct!

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