Marius Goldhorn Oklahama, 3666
Many assume that Franz Kafka’s fragment “Das Naturtheater von Oklahama” (Nature Theatre of Oklahama) was intended as the final chapter of the unfinished novel “Amerika”. Author Marius Goldhorn takes a closer look at the text. He sets the ending of “Amerika” in 3666 and recounts a working day for protagonist Karl in the 37th century, starting with sage and a rye bagel.
Karl opened the blinds, his face damp. As an author he lived in one of the top floors of a tower block, a luxury he would never have thought possible. He had nothing when he came to Oklahama. He looked out over the city, in between the glass towers in which everyone was waking up – the actors, film directors and authors – were the drill rigs of Devon, they were always in operation. Huge black pointed structures made of steel, like obelisks, with a flare at the tip. All that oil, deep in the earth beneath the city, had made Oklahama rich, and facilitated its position as a theatre city in the first place, a privilege not held by many cities. All the inhabitants worked for the city, the whole of Oklahama was a huge natural theatre. Four million employees in a theatre, an old theatre. It had been continually extended.
Karl’s first role as a seventeen-year-old was the role of a junior high school student, and then a short while later an exchange student from Europe, which is after all where he really came from. From Europe, this mountainscape torn apart by bombs. Later he played a law student at the University of Oklahama, and then a lawyer. During a campaign to take on sixty new actors, one of the five producers noticed his narrative talent and he was appointed as an author in a writing room. He could hardly believe his luck and he continued to bask in the happiness of this moment. This beginning continued to reverberate, even though Karl would have liked to know how much time had passed since then.
The same as every morning, Karl put on his grey suit and rode down in the elevator. He was able to walk to the authors’ centre, a tall granite building with a golden statue of Chief John Ross in front of it.
The same as every morning, there was a stench of petrol and fire in the street. It smelled like that every day; it was the refineries. People went past, they looked familiar to him, without him ever having spoken to any of them. Karl put his mask on. Thousands of years ago, people worked on oil rigs, in refineries and on production lines, it was actually hard to imagine, thought Karl, as he dodged a delivery drone.
The baker actress was already standing on the Polygon Plaza at her stand and sold Karl a rye bagel for 3.6 million dollars. She smiled at him. He attempted to smile, too. He went over the red steel bridge across the sculpture park by the Chickasaw Cultural Center.
Down below the actors were getting ready to perform a scene, the same every day, a horrific scene in which the corpse of a hanged Black man is watched indifferently by white Americans. No one should forget the history of Oklahama. The many Blacks, as well as many Cherokee, Creek, Seminoles, Choctaws and Chickasaws who had been killed by whites before the Nature Theatre came to Oklahama. The five producers made sure that murders committed by white people would never be forgotten for all eternity. Karl was obsessed with this period and sometimes he wished all in secret that he had lived 2000 years ago, not as himself but as a Chickasaw on a racing horse, over the shuddering earth, until he cast aside his spurs, for there were no spurs, until he threw away his reins, for there were no reins, and he saw in front of him the closely-mown heathland without the horse’s head and neck. But of course he never said anything like this, being someone else was considered an insult in Oklahama. Everyone had their role, and everyone had to fulfil their role. And Karl’s role as author was to write plotlines for the theatre city.
It was unusual, thought Karl, that he as a white man was able to occupy such a senior position in the theatre city. In fact he was even a minority twice over, being both white and European. He loved Oklahama, his job, freedom, support, home, all of this was interconnected as if by a sublime magic, but something was following Karl, a shadow. He didn’t really feel like a white person, he thought, but when he looked at his hands as he opened the tortoiseshell box containing cigarettes, he thought, yes, it is what it is, they are white. But by then this strange bond that he felt was very old.
He stood in front of the golden statue of Chief John Ross and smoked. The same as every morning, Ben the cleaning actor polished the statue with a chamois leather to stop a layer of grime building up on the gold.
Karl’s eyes were scanned, he was permitted to pass, he took the glass elevator to the twelfth floor, to the writers’ room. The other authors, Kyla, Thebe and Daniela were already waiting for him, the same as every day, and Karl came into the room with a plate, upon which he had placed the rye bagel. He sat down at the round table.
“What are we writing today?”, asked Thebe, the same as every day.
“Yes, what shall we write today”, asked Daniela. Karl thought about his death.
“I’ve been thinking today”, said Karl quietly: “We ought to have someone dying, only in the script of course, so only on stage. Maybe that would be something a bit different, wouldn’t it?”
Thebe cleared her throat self-consciously.
“But Karl, we’re all dead already.”
The three of them looked questioningly at Karl. Karl thought for a moment. His forehead was hot. He flared his nostrils and suppressed the urge to cough. He didn’t really know how to answer that.
“No, Karl, we should do something really mundane, the same as always”, said Daniela.
“When did we last have a white protagonist, Kyla?”, asked Thebe.
“I don’t know, Thebe, I’ll have to check the records”, said Kyla.
Kyla leant on the table with folded arms and fell into an archive sleep, giving the appearance of being unconscious. Everyone was silent, and Karl drank some tea. Whatever had become of him, thought Karl, that others were working for him.
After a few seconds, Kyla regained consciousness: “Not for a very long time.”
“A protagonist just like you, Karl. Don’t you have any ideas about that?”, said Thebe.
“Can’t we perhaps have a white person dying?” asked Karl, and whispered: “Please.”
“Let’s start in the morning, the same as always”, said Kyla in irritation.
“Fine, fine.” Karl looked at the clock. There were still a few hours left until the devils were due to hover over the city and sing the inhabitants to sleep. There was no way he wanted to do overtime and use a sleeping pod here in the office. He hated these sharing pods, simply the idea that someone else had been sleep-talking in it drove him crazy. And he wouldn’t have any sage for the morning.
“Well then,” said Karl and cleared his throat.
“I’ll take notes,” said Thebe and flipped open a display. Karl took a quick breath so he wouldn’t have to cough:
“I woke up in my sleeping pod and ate my insect breakfast.”