"Odradek is the form things
assume in oblivion."
- Walter Benjamin
Odradek is a publication about uncanny life.
Kafka’s Odradek, the subject of The Cares of a Family Man, has been labeled a critique of capitalism, a spiritual entity, a Freudian representation of repressed memory, a symbol of our lack of purpose in life, and more.
The only overarching commonality of these many literary analyses of The Cares of a Family Man is that the Odradek is an eerie life form– almost recognizable, almost metaphorical, something that transcends the material world while also unabashedly reflecting it. Walter Benjamin wrote that “Odradek is the form which things assume in oblivion.” Odradek’s appearance is like that of an inanimate object– “a flat star-shaped spool of thread “ – yet he also has two small rods that act as legs he can stand on, lending a human appearance. The object looks like a remnant of something. But “nowhere is there an unfinished or unbroken surface to suggest anything of the kind; the whole thing looks senseless enough… in its own way perfectly finished.” And though the narrator of The Cares of a Family Man feels the need to condescend to Odradek, talking to him as if he were a child, Odradek is undeniably sentient and bears a spiritual sort of intelligence known only by the liminal objects that vacillate between the world of the living and the world beyond.
We as readers are left a bit baffled as to what is so disturbing about this harmless and, according to the narrator, useless creature. Why does the family man particularly care about Odradek anyway? In the last paragraph the narrator’s anxieties reach a pinnacle:
I ask myself, to no purpose, what is likely to happen to him? Can he possibly die? Anything that dies has had some kind of aim in life, some kind of activity, which has worn out; but that does not apply to Odradek. Am I to suppose, then, that he will always be rolling down the stairs, with ends of thread trailing after him, right before the feet of my children, and my children's children? He does no harm to anyone that one can see; but the idea that he is likely to survive me I find almost painful.
Odradek's perceived immortality is what makes him the perfect example of uncanny. The idea that our belongings will survive after we are gone, that they will go on to lead lives outside our possession is a somewhat disturbing one. This fear is made evident by objects that seem to defy their inanimate nature, that seem like they might already have secret lives outside our grasp. These are the sorts of objects explored in this publication.
Sculptures by Kate Clark
Photos by Patrick Grady
Hannah Hightman created Odradek as an outlet to express her love for eerie, haunted, otherworldly things and a desire to explore the life of inanimate objects. At the moment, she writes all of the content for Odradek. She has previously written for The A.V. Club, V Magazine, and GARAGE.
Em Sieler is a new media and lens-based visual artist in New York, NY. They are currently studying Visual Arts and Computer Science at Columbia University.
Patrick Grady is a video producer based in Brooklyn. A Rhode Island native, he has had an interest in taxidermy since childhood. The log cabin aesthetic that comes with the art form is a feeling he tries to exemplify in all his work and this project was a big step forward for this ideal.
Khanh Le (Kay) is a visual artist whose art practice deals with an array of interests across disciplines. Their work is an attempt to explore sociocultural matters and the connection that lies within the inherent nature of things, so to speak, and to benefit their own amusement.