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Kafka Advises How To Deal With The End Of The World

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[Illustration by Kafka]

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in his lost diaries.  Here, as the learned Doktor of Laws, he has been asked to speak to the citizens of the small village of Zurau, where he is living with his sister. He is talking about the end of the Empire the townsfolk have been living under all their lives. It, and the civilization they know, is soon to be swept away. Will their lives go with it?

He speaks the truth, and he avoids the truth.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

15 January 1918

This war. They wanted my opinions about this endless war. These earnest, honest men, awaiting the words from the Herr Doktor of Prague.

I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason. Even in these troubled times, the law allows a man to answer questions. Assuming that the law prevails.

The law was present in the form of the policeman, attending this questionable gathering while still in uniform. He doffed his hat as he shook my hand. I would rather have him in our midst, than lurking in the hall. We have nothing to fear from him.

“Will the empire last?” This was first from their lips. And they must have needed to hear the words, for even the Emperor must know that all is lost. The Old Order, having fallen into the hands of dull and witless men, must succumb. The complacency of the age must be purged – but that has not yet happened. That awaits the next generation – and the destruction will be furious. But I do not tell them this.

I am skillful in what I do not tell them, for the truth is beyond their power to persuade or control. (Their next questions would have been more difficult had I not curbed the truth further still.) “What will happen to Zurau? What will happen to us?” And they have every right to worry. To suspect. When a society crumbles, it is those at the bottom who get crushed. But I told them that Amerika seemed a just power – not bent on retribution.

I did not tell them that a victor can do as he wants.

And I told them that we live in a secondary part of a secondary empire – the powers of destruction will be concentrated on Vienna and Berlin. I did not tell them that during the death of a snake, the spasms of the tail can be lethal.

And I told them something which could really be of help. I told them, in this coming year, to grow more food: fatten more beasts: prepare, preserve and put away. Fill their cellars and barns to bursting with food and fuel. Buy some things now, which they can use for barter later if the currency becomes worthless. Look after their families and lands. Look after each other.

 

16 January 1918

I did not tell them that war is the end result of injustice and arrogance, and that it is oftentimes necessary. I did not tell them that when the natural balance is upset by human action, the cost of righting it must be made in human payment. I did not tell them that a country where neighbour is cruel to neighbour is a country mean for war.

 

17 January 1918

I did not tell them how the Jews will always suffer in time of war. How we will be searched out, then driven as far as the east is from the west, and then be persecuted. How there will never be safety for us. Yea, even unto the land of Israel.

Black Death and End Times

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Their world was ending.

They knew that from the toll of the church bells. They knew that from the stink of death. They knew that from the carts of seeping corpses being pushed through the streets. It was The Terrible Pox.

The Black Death.

Heat made the stink worse. The screams themselves became more terrible in the summer heat. Screams caused by the boils, and the black blood flowing through veins. The fetid vapours rose, and the drivers of the Death Carts puked from the stench.

There was nowhere to go, and no one to help. The monarch, the nobles, the bishops, and the wealthy, all fled to the country. They locked themselves into grand castles, yet they still died. The doctors, who knew no remedy, also died from their futile efforts.

Neither the poor nor the rich, the young nor the old, women nor men, were spared. They screamed and clawed to their death, and rats fed from their bloated bodies.

Towns and villages became armed camps. Strangers were turned back at the outer limits. Those suspected of the Plague were locked in their homes, sometimes to be burned. People were clubbed, a few were shot, many were buried before they were dead. There was no sorrow, and no mercy shown to any who were a threat.

The living were frantic to prove they still had life.

They ate and drank and danced and fucked as often as their bodies would allow. They were afraid to sleep, so terrified of that fake death with the real all around. They beat on drums, rang the bells frantically, shouted and sang and swore and cried. They rode horses wildly through the streets, until the beasts fell from exhaustion. They pillaged the vacant homes of the rich, looted stores and wine shops, and paraded in the jewels and fine clothes they had stolen. Women and girls and boys were raped and sodomised by strangers and kinfolk alike.

They did anything for action, anything to prove they were different from the rotting corpses in the carts, which trundled through the streets toward mass graves. They played all the more, and when some fell slavering in their midst, they were kicked into the gutters and forgotten.

It was a time for witches and charlatans. People would believe anything, take any quackish product, if it promised to save their lives. Ghosts walked the land while crops rotted from neglect. It was the end of the world for those who knew no better.

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