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Kafka Lights His World On Fire

libo-quemandose1

 

My novel. Kafka In The Castle, fills in Kafka’s missing diary entries. This is how I imagine Kafka’s best friend, Max Brod, reacts to one of the many times Kafka burned his own manuscripts.

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

19 April 1917

Max was horrified when I told him about last night.

“You burned your stories? Are you crazy?”

“I wrote them, so I must be.”

He smiled at that. Max’s anger can be easily deflected, for it is never deep. Max is a very good man, and cares for me more than I do myself.

“And the novel? The Amerika novel?”

I told him that many chapters of that must have been burned. Probably right from the start – they were no doubt the first things I grabbed from the chair.  “Anything else?”

“There were a couple of plays. I remember pages of dialogue.”

Max’s voice became hollow. He might no longer be angry, but neither was he happy. “I didn’t know you had written any plays. You have secrets even from me.”

“I keep secrets from myself. Don’t be offended.”

“What else?”

I could picture him writing down an inventory.

“Some diary entries – those were deliberate.”

“And was that the end of your pyromaniac obsession?”

“Of my own work – yes.”

He looked at me questioningly – he didn’t need another secret.

“There were a couple of bundles of letters from Felice. Neatly tied with string. They burned slowly. I have not had such warmth from her for a long time.”

 

[image] https://quelibroleer.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/libo-quemandose1.jpg

A Birthday Present For Kafka – Party On!

kafka_mimi
(sweet baby Kafka)
03 July is Kafka’s birthday and –  I forgot.
I could say (without any honesty) that I am distracted by COVID-19 and all the changes (some of them fundamental) which are happening around me. {I had my own two week self-isolation to deal with}. BUT Kafka not only lived through the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918, he contracted the disease. And he survived, even though he already had the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him six years later.

But, this morning, a Twitter respondent from across the Atlantic reminded me. I have already thanked her. So, I will repost my Kafka Birthday blog.

First, is the letter I have written to him (as yet, unanswered).
Second, is the diary entry I gave him for his birthday, from my novel, Kafka In The Castle.

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

My Present / Your Future

Still in this World

A Life Away

Dear F:

You would find it perverse to be wished a “Happy” birthday, but your response would be gracious. Such is the reality you understand, and how you deal with it. I have found that your reality is actually real.

Although it will give you no pleasure – well, ‘little’ pleasure – you are correct in all your observations.

Governments become the tools of the bureaucracies which run them. It doesn’t matter what type of Government, from the monarchy under which you lived, to the right wing horror of fascists that called themselves socialists, to the inept socialism pretending to be ‘for the people’. All three governments held their sway over the city where you spent your life. All three oppressed the people they ruled. All three looked after themselves first.

Writers are either writers or they aren’t. The urge to write encircles one like a snake around its prey. Feed it and it won’t quite squeeze you to death. You can not ignore it – even at your peril. It is with you every hour of every day, ever inquisitive and (sadly) always looking for something better.

Love is a see-saw of extremes. Every high guarantees a low. Every low reaches for a high. Every high reaches for a high. When these hills and valleys are eventually levelled, they are still desired.

Sex is highly over rated. The thing of it is, even rated fairly ’tis a consummation devoutly to be had. Yes – I know – you appreciate Shakespeare. On a par with Goethe, even if you can’t bring yourself to say the words.

People are just one damned thing after another. Of course, so many people have brought you blessings, you throw up you hands to ward off the snake. And sometimes – some few times – it loosens its grip.

There is no castle with walls thick enough to hide against the perils of being human. Which is why you never tried.

Except the grave, of course.

Except the grave.

Yours,

D

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

03 July 1918
 
The anniversary of my birth.
 
In celebration of the day, I did not make it my last.

Kafka Sees A Ghost’s Shadow From The Window

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An Excerpt from my Kafka In The Castle, where I fill in all of his missing diary entries. Kafka never avoided life – if anything, he perhaps plunged too deeply into it. But I think he never felt he was a part of what went on around him. He understood reality too well.

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

01 June 1917

I have been on the outside, looking in – the darkness of the night behind me, the fog resting close upon the harbour.

I’ve watched diners at their ease, the fire colourful through the grate, the rich hue of the glass raised to the lips. And my own face, peering back at me as I look in, reflecting like a ghost’s shadow from the window.

And the very next night, I have been on the inside, looking out – seated at the very table I had previously observed.

The fireplace at my back, its warmth more than welcome. And I glanced out at the harbour, its fog higher than the previous evening, but not yet obscuring the lights of the ships. Their portholes wavering.

And, as I brought the red liquid to my lips, I saw my own face dimly doing the same in the window, imposed and distant between me and the fog. And I felt as alone as I did the night before.

Whether I was sitting or standing; whether in the warmth, or in the fog – I was still me.

Always K.

Always observing.

Does Hope In Life Cloud The Reality Of Death?

quote-plenty-of-hope-an-infinite-amount-of-hope-but-not-for-us-franz-kafka-242320

An Excerpt from my Kafka In The Castle, where I fill in all of his missing diary entries. Perhaps because the summer heat is getting to him, his patience is thin with those whose hope outstrip the realities of life and – particularly – death.

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

17 June 1917

I am told that you can’t lose people, that “…they will always be with you in memory.” Max is heavy with this type of comment – as if the hand of sentimentality brushed off his coat before he set out on each day.

Both the intelligent and the slow of wit seem to be struck dumb by this nonsense. Emotion, I suppose  – hope, I suppose – has no place for reason among its folds. But, if you can not touch, or have expectation of being touched, then the people and places are as gone as yesterday.

There is no way to travel back, and the future beckons with only an empty gesture and a hollow laugh. Bowing low at the open doorway to usher you in, but the room is empty. And will remain ever so.

When they are no longer there to hold their hand out to you – well, then they are no longer there.

 

(image) https://izquotes.com/quotes-pictures/quote-plenty-of-hope-an-infinite-amount-of-hope-but-not-for-us-franz-kafka-242320.jpg

When They Poured Across The Border / I Was Cautioned To Surrender ~ L Cohen

ctm-0806-canada-us-border

I crossed the border yesterday, in this time of Pandemic. On an intercity bus. Restricted to nine passengers. At least I had a seat to myself.

The last time I crossed a border under threat of reprisal was decades ago. I entered (and left) Czechoslovakia (as it was then called) by train. I had gone to Prague to follow the footsteps of Kafka. Then the concern of authorities  was all about smuggling. Dire consequences that could put you in prison. And, on my way back out of the country, I was subject to a random search. Open my luggage, and spread what items the soldier decreed upon the seat and aisle, as he poked and prodded. He took interest in an object ( I forget what it was) which quite quickly could be seen to be a commercial souvenir. Thankfully. My careful packing had then to be shoved helter-skelter back into my luggage. Better a jumble than a jail.

So, crossing the border in the same country in this time of Pandemic was not as filled with anxiety, though anxious I still was. Although travel restrictions are being loosened and (at least in this neck of the woods) the Curve is being flattened,

Death stalks the Land / and keep washing your hands.

I did change my seat once, because a passenger changed seats to “have a better view”. That seat was across the aisle from me.

I was handed a form to fill out by the bus driver at a transfer station (nearly empty of people) to give to the border guards if they asked. Apparently they did not ask for it all that often. Where are you coming from/where are you going to. Name. Full address. Reason for travel. Do you have any symptoms?

So, with mask in place (well … a lot of the time  – though always when off the bus) I had a reasonably pleasant trip on a reasonably pleasant day. Lots of elbow room. There was an hour’s delay at the actual border. When it was the turn for the bus, no officer actually did board to check us out. Or take our forms. However, the driver handed his PA microphone out the window so the officer could tell us that: “Anyone breaking the fourteen (14) day quarantine upon arrival was subject to a $1,000 fine.”

I’ve got thirteen (13) days left.

 

[image] https://cbsnews2.cbsistatic.com/hub/i/r/2018/08/06/8ae2e881-5500-4b09-876f-e1cf5bdecaad/thumbnail/1200×630/bda4ff327e62a7e92030aad7cc2e1693/ctm-0806-canada-us-border.jpg

Kafka As A Jew At Work

In Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. There are some estimates that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote. 

23 January 1917

The Director talked to me today. About not having sufficient people to run the Institute, and the other shortages caused by the war. And he asked my advice.

And I gave him good ideas – pointed the way. I do know my strengths – although far more familiar with my weaknesses.

And as the Director talked to me, he looked at me. In the eyes – as he so often does.

But he did not see me.

Not the I which I carry around inside myself. Not the K.

He saw an adequately dressed government official, Herr Doktor of Law, a Jew (I think he really does not mind), who knows well the operations of the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia in Prague. Has, indeed, risen to the rank of Deputy-Secretary.

And that is who responded to the conversation. Made comments  Smiled at the Director’s dry humour.

I watched this Jew with interest, and his act was flawless.

 

Kafka Never Slept In This Prague Hotel

hotel-century-old-town

When I visited Prague to research my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I went to many of the places that were part of  Kafka’s life. One such place – the small house where he wrote a whole book of short stories – became a setting for a third of my novel.

However,the building where he was employed, The Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia in Prague, I only saw at a distance across a Square. It was not a happy place for Kafka, though he was very successful at his employ, and rose to an administrative position of importance. It was not really much of a setting for my novel.

 

That building is now a fancy hotel, and Kafka’s office is a room for rent. It is even designated The Franz Kafka room, and contains mementos. It is where I plan to stay when next I visit. I hope there is not a long list of folk wishing to spend the night there, too. It even includes a restaurant named after his fiancée, Felice.

 

Following is some information about the hotel, and some photos of the room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The hotel is situated in the heart of Prague, next to the Old Town Square, where the famous medieval astronomical clock is mounted on the southern wall of the Old Town City Hall. The Neo-Baroque building was built in the 19th century by Alfonse Wertmuller, a famous architect in Prague. It was formerly the office of the Workers’ Accident Insurance of Kingdom of Bohemia, where Franz Kafka worked as an insurance clerk from 1908 to 1922. His spirit can still be felt in the hotel, as his bronze bust welcomes guests in the lobby in front of the majestic stairs.
hotel-century-old-town
room
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In addition, this is one of the few diary entries I wrote, set in his office building,

 
Excerpt from Kafka In The Castle

16 February 1917

There was a commotion at the office today. It was late morning, and from far below, coming up the stairwell, I could hear a voice bellowing: “Doktor Kafka. Doktor Kafka.” It was a terrible voice, full of blood and darkness.

I got from my desk and went to the door. There were other voices, trying to calm, saying: “He can’t be disturbed.” But the voice was louder, more horrible, close in the corridor.  “Doktor Kafka – for the love of God.”   My secretary wanted me to stay inside, hoped the man would just move along the corridor until the police were summoned.

But – I was curious; the man had my name, and his voice was … terrified.

I opened the door and stood in front of it.  “I’m Kafka,” I said. The man lunged at me, and went to his knees.  “Doktor Kafka?” he said.  “Yes, I’m Kafka.” He reached out, grabbing for my hand.  “Jesus, Jesus, for the love of Jesus – they say that you’ll help me.”

He was a heavy man, and looked as if he had the strength to pull off doors, yet the tears burst from his eyes.  “I can get no work. I fell from a bridge, and my back is twisted and in pain.” He slumped against the wall, looking at my eyes.  “I have a family, Doktor Kafka. A baby not a year old.”  “You were working on this bridge?” I asked.  “Yes.” His voice slid down his throat. “I was helping repair the surface.”  “Then you deserve your insurance. Why can’t you get it?”

He straightened up, and tried to stand. “I have to fill in papers; the doctor can see no wounds; the foreman said I drank; because my brother is a thief, I am not to be trusted.” I held out my hand, and he slowly stood. “I’m telling you the truth, Doktor Kafka.”

“If that is so,” I said, “you’ll get the money due you.”  “I’m so tired,” he said.

I gave instructions to those standing around – no other work was to be done until this man’s case was decided. I took him to my office, where he sat.

He sat – practically without a word – for five hours. I summoned a prominent doctor to look at him. The doctor prodded, and the man screamed. Officials from his village were telephoned. I helped him with the details on the forms. His truth was in his pain. He left our stony building with money in his hand, and his worth restored.

The people who assisted me had smiles on their faces.

A man had needed their help.

Kafka Dreams A Dream In Place of A Dream

franz-kafka-statue-prague
A dream of dreams
Is a dream confused.
 
Do you wake up
Into another?
 
Do you blend
Into reality?
 
Do you pick up
Where you left off?
 
Or leave off
Where you joined?
 
If it’s not making sense,
Is there sense to be made?
 
Did Kafka have the answer.
Or was Kafka the question?
(Image)www.npennydreams.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Franz-Kafka-statue-Prague.jpg

Kafka Had A Father For Life

hermann-kafka1

In Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. There are some estimates that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote. 

Kafka’s father gets a bad (and unwarranted) rap from Kafka and history. Hermann Kafka was emotionally distant, and devoted his life to his business (at which he was very successful). But he did this as much for his family, as for any other reason. He had come from hardship, poverty and want, and he wished different for his children. As long as they didn’t get in his way.

++++++++++++

01 January 1917

              There was a cloud caught in the branches of a tree today, outside my parents home. Or so it appeared. I got up from the cot and went to tell Ottla, but she was clearing the kitchen, tending to the dishes.

So I was radical, unthinking – driven by haste – and told the only one not consumed by labour. I told my father.

“In the trees?” he asked.

I propelled him from his chair, thrusting the papers aside. He followed me, and I could see the surprise on his face.

“Where?” he asked; and I pointed out the window. “But I see nothing.”  

“Oh, you have to lie on the cot.”  

“On the cot?”  

“And with your head just so.”

I pushed him onto it, and he lay, looking sideways.

“But you are right,” he said.

I thought, because of the holiday, he might be humouring me, but then I saw that his jaw hung open, and his face was astonished.

Does the boy never grow, that he can feel so good to be vindicated by his father?

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