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Kafka

Kafka In His Writer’s Burrow For World Book Day

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A burrow offers security and comfort, and Kafka found both in his sister’s tiny house on the Golden Lane.

Ottla – his sister – had rented it so she could spend time with her lover and not be bothered by parents and comments. Her lover was a Christian and ready to go to war. Time was precious.

However, she rarely had opportunities other than the weekends, so she offered Franz the use of the tiny house for most of that time. And use it he did, though he never stayed the night.

Through fall, winter and spring Kafka wrote a whole book of short stories. For one single block of time, it was one of his most creative periods.

When I visited, even under Communist rule, it had been converted to a book store. Of course (which he would have appreciated) there were no books by Kafka for sale. Today he is displayed in the windows.

It was only when I went thorough the small rooms, and looked out the window into The Stag Moat, that I realized how important the house would become in my novel about Kafka. It was cozy – even with the space cramped by tourists. It had been little altered and I easily imagined Kafka looking through the same glass and walking through the same doorways. No doubt stooping because he was tall. Research met reality.

One of the last stories Kafka wrote, during his final year in Berlin, was called The Burrow. A version exists and is published, though a longer version is supposed to be among his ‘missing’ papers.

In it, a tiny animal keeps incessantly burrowing to keep away from an enemy. A vague noise convinces the animal to burrow deeper, and deeper, and deeper.

Something Kafka himself attempted to do.

(image)https://i.pinimg.com/736x/87/34/8a/87348a86cd918068ad4e09c1b813c3cf.jpg

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My Letter To Franz Kafka

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Dear F:

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 which 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 that you throw up you hands to ward off the snake. Sometimes loosening 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

Valentine’s Day And Kafka And Love

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(Kafka and his fiancée, Felice)

Contrary to popular belief, Kafka had a very full love life. He was rarely without a lady friend during any part of his life. When one left, another soon took her place.

This is a part of a letter he wrote to Felice, the woman he was engaged to – twice. I think it fair to say that she was long-suffering. I would think that the sentiments Kafka expresses might have given her second thoughts. Perhaps that is partly why there were two engagements.

Think what one will about Kafka’s romantic abilities, he was a chick magnet. Right to the end. After his funeral his last lover had to be restrained from leaping into his grave to be with him.

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11 November, 1912

Fräulein Felice!

I am now going to ask you a favor which sounds quite crazy, and which I should regard as such, were I the one to receive the letter. It is also the very greatest test that even the kindest person could be put to. Well, this is it:

Write to me only once a week, so that your letter arrives on Sunday — for I cannot endure your daily letters, I am incapable of enduring them. For instance, I answer one of your letters, then lie in bed in apparent calm, but my heart beats through my entire body and is conscious only of you. I belong to you; there is really no other way of expressing it, and that is not strong enough. But for this very reason I don’t want to know what you are wearing; it confuses me so much that I cannot deal with life; and that’s why I don’t want to know that you are fond of me. If I did, how could I, fool that I am, go on sitting in my office, or here at home, instead of leaping onto a train with my eyes shut and opening them only when I am with you?  … Franz

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While in the first year of his ‘love-of-a-lifetime’ affair with Felice Bauer,  he met “The Swiss Girl”. In his diaries she was only referred to as W. or G. W. They were together for ten days in a spa on Lake Garda.

She was a Christian. He was thirty, and she was eighteen. However the relationship (apparently sexually consummated) made a great impression on him for the rest of his life.

Research over the years  finally revealed who she is, and Google search even provides photos. Her name is Gerti Wastner.However, very little else (as far as I can find) is known about her.

Where did her life lead after an encounter with Kafka?

Here are some of Kafka’s actual diary entries about the incident.

 

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20 October 1913

I would gladly write fairy tales (why do I hate the word so?) that could please W. and that she might sometimes keep under  the table at meals, read between courses, and blush f

22 October 1913.

Too late. The sweetness of sorrow and of love. To be smiled at by her in the boat. That was most beautiful of all. Always only the desire to die and the not-yet-yielding; this alone is love.

Translated by Joseph Kresh

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And in the spirit of Valentine’s Day and Kafka, I’ll add a bit from my Kafka In The Castle

27 February 1917

A letter from F. I am beginning to think that we do not really see the people in front of us. F. has changed from a vibrant companion to a banal drudge. But, of course, she has not really changed. She is neither of these things, but rather a combination. She is a person living through her life, and what I see reflected are my wants and fears. I want F. to share my tiny house, but I am ever fearful she might say yes.

04 June 1917

Sometimes – with F – a kiss could make me feel I was becoming part of her. And she into me. I retreated.

05 June 1917

Had I not retreated, I would have given up myself. This is what is expected from love. My thoughts and emotions would be continually extracted. I have no way to replenish them, so I would eventually be hollowed out. And I would collapse.

05 July 1917

I will meet Felice – it is what she wants. It is what must be done. She is coming to Prague, and will no doubt fit in perfectly. My parents approve of her – more, I suspect, than they approve of me. She’ll be insulted by this tiny house – it will be found wanting and crude. Some of those annoying qualities she hints about me.

Kafka Greets February, The Shortest Month Of The Year

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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.

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01 February 1917

A particularly tedious day at the office, which stretched like a bridge over an abyss.

Perhaps to mock yesterday’s comments – the month so short and the day so long.

I am sometimes afraid of the white, and sometimes of the black, but my deepest horror is for the destroying grey of life.

When it is grey and senseless, it starves your feelings of oxygen, and then you really and truly die.

It is said that Jesus raised the dead (though I never understood why), and our own Prague rabbi created the Golem to help out in this world.

All I can do is scratch ink upon the page.

Kafka Walks In A Winter Storm

Tree in snow blizzard

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. 

 

04 December 1917

I imagine the weather experts will howl about today’s storm the way it still howls around our ears.

Their complaints will ring with vindication. Racing unchecked across field and pasture, it strikes with a force I am unaccustomed to in Prague. Ottla was hesitant to let me out into it, but she bundled me into my winter gear, with a scarf just below my eyes.

It was too violent for me to venture far, so I just wandered around the village. I’m sure that if anyone did see me, fingers made circles as they pointed to their heads.

“The Herr Doktor,” they would warn their children. “Do not go after an education like that.”

In The New Year, Kafka Ponders His Teen-age Lover

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[Kafka’s teen-age lover, Gerti Wasner – The Swiss Girl]

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.

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03 January 1917

I still have fantasies about the Swiss girl – although not the type one might suppose.

(My father says I already have too many fantasies, and that I deal with them “too long, and too often” – he is certainly right.)

I make a mixture of what I shared with the Swiss girl, and what I imagine we would be like today.

This is certainly more fantasy than not, for what would being together have done to us?

Done to her?

But in this tiny house – could she not join me? Be here by the window, as I write this?

She was so young, and such a girl.

But I fear that I was never such a boy.

New Year & Kafka Meet In Prague

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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.

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31 December 1917

The end of the year. The end of a love. The ebb of a life. Even the Empire can not last much longer.

 

01 January 1918

It is strange how we are expected to wake up on a Tuesday morning – just as any Tuesday morning – and be full of hope because it’s the first day of some arbitrarily appointed year.

I walk the streets and it is still Prague.

(image)https://cloud10.todocoleccion.online/coleccionismo/tc/2013/11/19/12/40061270.jpg

Kafka Writes On New Year’s Eve

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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. 

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31 December 1916

The festivities down in the city are certainly subdued, which makes me one with the coming of the year. There were a few shots fired into the air – which is a mockery, considering what is happening in the world. And some dismal fireworks.

Max wanted me at his party, but even he saw little point in celebration, and his entreaties were totally for form.

I understand form quite well – most of my life consists of doing the expected.

Mouthing the proper words.

My letters to Felice have turned to such vehicles of propriety.

In such a way do all our days, and then our lives, acquire the necessary postmarks.

(image)https://images.cdn1.stockunlimited.net/preview1300/happy-new-year-2018_2078851.jpg

Kafka Aims At The New Year

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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.

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26 December 1916

The saints and the sinners can sometimes sing together.

 

27 December 1916

Ottla says I am staying here too late into the night. But she is implying more. I am certain she is soon to tell me that I should stay in her tiny house all night. Sleep here. Have things prepared and ready so I could go directly to the office in the morning. But the office must be more than just distance from this place.

 

28 December 1916

Another wretched letter to F. A response to anguish and accusation. Perhaps Ottla is only half right. Perhaps I should shut myself up into this hovel from morning to night and then night to morning. Let the snow pile to the rooftops, and become as hidden and secure as any mouse in its burrow. And if I dare push my snout through the snow to snuff at the air, they can all be standing with shovels at the ready to pile me in deeper. That would be best.

I can not take love, and I certainly can not give love. Not what is expected, and certainly not what is needed. To express what I feel is indeed like yelling through a mountain of snow. It is absorbed. It is deflected. It is diffused. By the time my love reaches the real world, it is a ghost which – although it can not be seen – can still cause a person to shiver. If I did not know that for a couple of times – especially with the Swiss girl in Italy – my love had possessed a body, I would bar the door forever.

(image)https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/image/policy:1.5268806:1510056106/image/gettyimages-2662796.jpg?$p=692ce63

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