|From Harley Gaber's 1993 Collage Series Entitled "Kafka and Hitler"|
In the second half of Ricardo Piglia’s book, Respiración artificial, the protagonist, Renzi, travels to a border town to meet his uncle, Maggi. It becomes clear that Maggi is nowhere to be found, hinting at the likely reality that Maggi is actually one of the disappeared enemies of the Argentine state. It is possible that Maggi was forced to flee Argentina or that some other, more violent, outcome has befallen him. In the absence of his uncle, Renzi begins a conversation with Maggi’s friend Tardewski, a Polish exile. Their dialogue is extensive and rich with subversive theorizing and storytelling, which essentially displaces actual conversation as to the possible whereabouts and political injustices that have likely silenced Maggi. This dynamic between Renzi and Tardewski is filled with words, while simultaneously being silent. Piglia successfully re-creates a space between these characters that is filled with a passionate mixing of emotion and discourse—while at the same time conjuring the gaping elephant in the room—the violent absence of Maggi.
In particular, the pages in which Tardewski describes the encounter between Hitler and Kafka can possibly be read as a call to action for Renzi—and perhaps even the larger intellectual community. Tardewski seems to be making the case that Kafka, because of his literary intuition, possesses a special inkling into the destructive and evil potential of Hitler as a young man: “Kafka... era capaz de oír durante horas… El hombre que sabe oír, por debajo del murmullo incesante de las víctimas, las palabras que anuncian otro tipo de verdad” (263). For this reason, after his encounter with Hitler, Kafka raises a subtle alarm that “El [Hitler] había dicho ciertas cosas y yo pensaba en ellas y es muy posible que debido al recuerdo de esas palabras se haya deslizado alguna torpeza, alguna sucesión que sólo en secreto sea extraña” (260). This fictional representation of Kafka is able to theoretically pick up on the subtext and danger of Hitler’s words, he has the power of hearing that Tardewski describes. Renzi also acknowledges the power of words in this section of the text, saying “esto es precisamente lo peligroso. Las palabras preparan el camino, son precursoras de los actos venideros, las chispas de los incendios futuros” (260-261). Here, Renzi is problematizing the materiality of words and their capacity to violently change the world. Words are the chispas or sparks, which will ignite the future. For this reason, the literary thinkers, here represented by Kafka, have a special gift to see the possible dangers that seductive words can pose when placed in the wrong hands.