A collection of fragments related to the writings of Franz Kafka. If he was able to see aspects of the world taking shape a century ago, what might his work suggest now? It strikes me that it has to do with that space where absurdity and brutality meet.
Milan Kundera, The Art of the Novel:
What are the possibilities for man in the trap the world has become? To answer this, one must first have a certain idea of what the world is. One must have an ontological hypothesis about it. The world according to Kafka: the bureaucratized universe. The office not merely as one kind of social phenomenon among many but as the essence of the world.
‘The Thrasher’ in The Trial:
During the next day K. could not get the guards out of his mind. He couldn’t concentrate on his work, and to get it all done he had to stay a little longer in the office than the previous evening. When he passed the lumber-room on his way out, he opened the door, as if out of habit. He was completely taken aback by what he saw there instead of the expected darkness. Everything was unchanged, was just as it had been when he had opened the door the previous evening: the printed forms and ink-bottles immediately behind the door, the thrasher with his cane, the guards, still fully dressed, the candle on the shelf. The guards began to moan and called out, ‘Sir!’ Immediately K. slammed the door shut and thumped it with his fists, as if that would make it even more firmly shut.
Zurau aphorism #29:
The animal twists the whip out of its master’s grip and whips itself to become its own master-not knowing that this is only a fantasy, produced by a new knot in the master's whiplash.
J.M. Coetzee, ‘Translating Kafka’:
Kafka writes, for instance, of officials who revel in their despotic power over petitioners, “against their own will [loving] the scent of wild game like that.” Though he was the least ideological of writers, Kafka had an acute feel for the obscene intimacies of power. Hinted at in his striking metaphor is a bestial, predatory appetite in the officials, sometimes submerged, sometimes baring itself.
Vladimir Nabokov, Lecture on ‘The Metamorphosis’:
Now what exactly is the "vermin” into which poor Gregor, the seedy commercial traveler, is so suddenly transformed? It obviously belongs to the branch of “jointed leggers” (Arthropod), to which insects, and spiders and centipedes, and crustaceans belong. If the “numerous little legs” mentioned in the beginning mean more than six legs, then Gregor would not be an insect from a zoological point of view. But I suggest that a man awakening on his back and finding he has as many as six legs vibrating in the air might feel that six was sufficient to be called numerous. We shall therefore assume that Gregor has six legs, that he is an insect…
I should imagine him to look like this:
In the original German text the old charwoman calls him Mistkafer, a “dung beetle.” It is obvious that the good woman is adding the epithet only to be friendly. He is not, technically, a dung beetle. He is merely a big beetle.
The Diaries of Franz Kafka, January 1915:
I had arranged an excursion for Sunday with two friends, but quite unexpectedly slept past the hour of the meeting. My friends, knowing my usual punctuality, were surprised, went to the house where I lived, stood there for a while too, then went upstairs and knocked on my door. I was very startled, jumped out of the bed and attended to nothing but getting ready as quickly as possible. When I stepped out the door fully dressed, my friends backed away from me in apparent fright. “What do you have behind your head” they cried. Ever since I had woken up I had felt something hindering me from leaning my head back and now I groped with my hand for this hindrance. My friends, having pulled themselves together a little, cried “Be careful, don’t hurt yourself” just as I grasped the hilt of a sword behind my head. My friends came closer, examined me, led me into the room to the wardrobe mirror and stripped me to the waist. A large old knight’s sword with a cross-shaped hilt was stuck in my back to its handle, but in such a way that the blade had slid with incomprehensible precision between skin and flesh and caused no injury. But even at the point of penetration on my neck there was no wound, my friends assured me that the slit necessary for the blade had opened there completely bloodless and dry. And when my friends now climbed onto chairs and slowly pulled the sword out millimeter by millimeter, no blood followed and the opening on my neck closed, leaving only a scarcely perceptible slit. “Here’s your sword” my friends said, laughing, and handed it to me. I weighed it in both hands, it was a precious weapon, crusaders might well have used it. Who tolerated old knights roaming around in dreams, irresponsibly brandishing their swords, piercing innocent sleepers with them and inflicting no severe wounds only because their weapons first of all probably glance off living bodies and because faithful friends are also standing on the other side of the door and knocking, ready to help.
Kafka in conversation with Max Brod, 1921:
hope enough, infinite hope, — just not for us.