Notes on Kafka’s "Josephine the Singer, or the Mousefolk"

At the very end of Kafka’s story, “Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk”, the narrator says that “the people will get over the loss of her” after her disappearance. Besides, the story ends as the narrator remarks that “they are no historians”. Indeed, their society has a sense of history and memory, as the narrator reminds: “Although we are unmusical, we have a tradition of singing; in the old days our people did sing; this is mentioned in legends and some songs have actually survived, which, it is true, no one can now sing.” However, the art of Josephine doesn’t correspond to it. Maybe it is too ordinary, that it very much seems not like art, since a work of art is supposed to be in precise distinction with daily life, yet Josephine’s singing is too much interwined with life, it seems like piping. Josephine takes the act of piping, a daily habit of the mouse folk, and makes it a work of art. In her art, Josephine “defamiliarizes” the act of piping. She doesn’t simply imitate it, her art isn’t mimetic; rather she turns something ordinary, something that people aren’t even aware that they are living with, that they possess, into a work of art. In doing so, she helps people recognize themselves, since most of the time we live without awareness of what we’re doing in our daily simplest behaviors. Josephine provides that awareness to the society. Maybe this is why the mouse folk appreciate Josephine who sometimes stands almost “beyond the law”.
However, the mouse folk refuses Josephine’s request of exemption from daily work in order for her to just sing. They refuse to grant her recognition as an artist who is immune to daily work, like the others. As I mentioned above, the narrator says that they have some legends and old songs, which means that they have a sense of memory and that they maintain an oral tradition, if not written. The fact that “they are no historians” reveals that they do not study their society in a disciplinary manner; that they do not create written accounts of themselves, they do not “study” themselves, they do not do auto-ethnographies of themselves. They are not the objects and the subjects of any disciplinary studies; they refuse to “mythologize” their society so to speak. Since they are no historians, they have no sense of the “archive”. And since they have no archive, they can easily get over the loss of Josephine who is only “a small episode in the eternal history” of the mouse community. Josephine won’t be archived, and her art will be forgotten. Yet there lies a paradox; the narrator of the story is already undertaking an archiving of Josephine’s art to the extent that we cannot hear her voice but can be aware of her story. The narrator becomes a historian in a sense.
One last point: Josephine is a revolutionary. The mouse community is the anti version of our society as they have no sense of archive, auto-ethnography and history. Since they have no sense of archive and history, they also have no sense of “progress”. They ultimately live in what Nietzsche calls as “eternal recurrence”. And Josephine is a revolutionary; she disappears by her own will, not by the will of the non-archival, un-historical society. Is Josephine the Übermensch that Nietzsche harbingers? For, it seems like she pretty much actualizes the quest for will to power.

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