Kafka, Scorsese, and More

Franz Kafka.

Though it may not be difficult to accurately diagnose the central faults of Donald Trump in the language of great literature, Franz Kafka’s insistence that “it’s only because of their stupidity that they’re able to be so sure of themselves” in The Trial may do the job better than most other classics, especially among those not dedicated to the tendencies of loutish populists. Frankly speaking, The Trial more so explores the desired scenarios of authoritarians like Mr. Putin who have operated far more effectively, far more ruthlessly, and for a far longer time than Trump. The protagonist, Josef K., does not know what crime he is accused of, the nature of the trial he must face, and the identity of the agency prosecuting him. Justice in the world inhabited by Josef has lost its blindfold; authoritarians prefer that their civilian population wear it instead.

It’s a pretty safe bet to assume you’ll never understand what demented society to a point of near no return. In testament to one of the few qualities of mankind that can apparently survive throughout a truly oppressive state, pungent sexual themes dance around the dark corners of Josef’s trial, even as he struggles to understand the demonic lawyers and violent strongmen perched around him. And indecent as the sexual acts might be, they’ll ultimately be mirrored in Josef’s gruesome fate.


If you haven’t watched it by now, do yourself a favor and give Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas the justice it deserves. It’ll never be a Godfather, part one or two, but the tale of wise guy Henry Hill’s rise to power in the New York mob’s golden age has a whole lot that Francis Ford Coppola never scratched. For one, the movie has Ray Liotta and his trademark laugh — no need to trust us on this one, just go watch the movie and you’ll see what everyone means. It’s also because of this movie that Scorsese can boast directing what might be the most famous long tracking shot, or “oner,” shot in Hollywood history: a backdoor but steadfastly glamorous, if a little bit unctuous, entrance into the Copacabana nightclub by Henry Hill and his doe-eyed date.

This is also a story about privilege, earned and inherited. Hill continually obsesses over the perks of being a wise guy and the impossible prospect of becoming a “made man” for fault of only being half-Sicilian — until drugs send him into a new obsession. Joe Pesci’s colorful and perpetually enraged Tommy DeVito is a friend of Hill’s and about as insecure as they come about his humbler origins. Robert De Niro’s Jimmy Conway very apparently grows a knack for assuming everyone is out to ruin what he has accomplished. Considering the end of the movie, he may have been on to something.


Uncovering the Canaries came as a bit of final geographic renaissance for the West. Previously recorded during classical antiquity, the picturesque location of these Atlantic islands which sweep out westwards from the Saharan coast were lost over the course of the dark ages. The expansion of trade and maritime practices in the 14th century, however, led to the Canaries’ accidental rediscovery by lost Genoese sailors and eventually their conquest in the early 15th century by the Castilian crown. Bringing the tiny territory under Christian control was no matter of insignificance — the young nobles who defeated the island’s natives became the earliest versions of what would become the conquistadors. In doing so, they formed a  bridge between the great crusaders who attempted to push Christendom eastwards and the new generation of fighters who would forcefully spread Christianity westwards.

Still, toppling the Inca and Aztec peoples took more than just bored hidalgos: Spain’s push into Central and South America first required a bold Italian navigator to erroneously chart a course westwards to India and instead accidentally discover another set of islands for the Spanish crown (though this time the discovery was totally new to Europe, and much more lucrative for the Iberian kingdoms). Christopher Columbus’ last port of call? None other than La Gomera, one of the Canaries; he departed from the island with replenished supplies and an eye for adventure on this day in history, September 6th 1492.