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If Kafka Welcomes Spring, Can Summer Be Far Behind?

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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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08 April 1917

I seem to end in the most absurd situations. This afternoon, before Sunday dinner, Ottla took me away for some gardening. Rooting around in the earth, with the frost barely gone. Only Ottla could find such a plot of ground in Prague, or expect me to grub about in it like some hungry animal.

It was obviously some sort of communal land – such places are popular during this war. There were even families at work. Children also. One small boy was caught between his interest in the garden, and his desire to be a small boy. And what a dilemma it was. He’d work in the ground for awhile, following the example of his mother, then suddenly race around, exploring like a small boy. He came over to Ottla and me, and hunkered down beside us. He shook his head with a sigh of exasperation, and reached over to put his hands on mine. “Mummy says that’s wrong,” and with great patience and determination, began to show me how to prepare the earth. I thought there could be no better proof to Ottla of how inept I was.

I followed the movements of his hands, and between us, we dug quite a hole. At last the little fellow stood, obviously satisfied. “I go now,” he said, and ran away to see some other entertaining oddity. Ottla hadn’t laughed for fear of offending the boy, but she didn’t show such restraint when we were finally alone.

It fell to me to find the flowers.

Such things prove God’s sense of humour, for I have no interest or understanding for flowers. There was a fellow at university who could talk about flowers for hours. Otherwise, he was quite pleasant to be with. So it seems a joke that I would find them, between a pile of rubble and the wall of a house.

I had been exploring, much as the little fellow had done. In fact, he was running past when I found them, so I showed him also. They were white, with frail leaves close to the ground. Quite nondescript. But the boy was fascinated. He put his face close, although he didn’t touch them.

“Can I tell Mummy?” He obviously thought they were my flowers. “Yes,” I said, and he ran to get her. She followed him as he chattered all the way, and then she too hesitated, looking at me cautiously. “Perhaps your wife would like to see them,” she suggested. It took a moment to realize she was referring to Ottla. The flowers had become my possession. “Yes,” I said, “And tell anyone you like.”  “The first flowers of Spring,” she said, and she went to tell the others, taking care to stop at Ottla first.

Tiny white flowers.

I can still not believe the looks upon their faces, as they crowded around. Even the children were silent.

The relief they showed.

 

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Kafka Saves A Worker And His Job

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Franz Kafka  (in the daytime) was a government employee who looked after the welfare of workers for the Imperial government. He was on the side of the workers – among other things, he is credited with inventing the hard hat.

In my novel about him, Kafka In The Castle, he has an encounter with a worker who needs assistance. This is how he would react.

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.

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Kafka Has A Dream About The Dead And Decay

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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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21 March 1917

Dreamed I was standing in a galleria with him. In a town in Northern Italy. We could see across the rooftops, to a plain slipping gently toward the foothills of the mountains. The day was clear – a cool spring morning – and the touch of sun was welcome on our skin.

He pointed to a laden waggon passing beneath us. A curtain of dust rose from its wheels as it squeezed through a narrow lane. We watched it for awhile, then he turned to me, his body a silhouette against the vivid sky.

“I enjoyed my funeral. I wish we could have talked about it after – it was one of those things to share.”

“We did share it,” I pointed out. “I was there.”

“But I was not,” he said.

Then he eased himself over the balcony, and without effort, we were sitting in the back of the waggon, perched upon boxes and equipment. We rattled out of the village toward the countryside.

“I loved the outdoors,” he said. “I still remember my last walk in the fields.”

We moved slowly through the country side, the waggon rarely being jostled along the rutted road. The teamster must have been an expert, but he never turned his face to us. Intent upon his business, I suppose.

“You forget that I am dead; for which I thank you.”

“Sometimes I do,” I replied.

“It is at those times, I sometimes think I’m still alive.”

He occasionally pointed to things behind me. Once there was a rabbit. The countryside spread endlessly, without another person in sight. I mentioned this, and he nodded.

“It will be crowded at our destination. But I’ll want to meet my wife.” He then leaned toward me, across the waggon. “You helped me, you know – in our final dance.” He smiled, then sighed, then pointed beneath me.   “My destination is close, I must return.”

I looked down, and saw I was sitting on a coffin – the polished brown one of his funeral. I moved, then bent over, prepared to open it. His fingers touched the wood beneath my hand.

“No. Do not look. You would not like what you found.” His smile seemed forced, there were more teeth showing than usual. “I embrace my new world. But for you, I am well and truly dead.”

Kafka Dreams Of God & Fate from “Kafka In The Castle”

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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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04 March 1917

I dreamed I was a prophet. The prophet Amshel, which is my Jewish name. And, I could talk to God.

And I was looking at myself in the mirror. And I was looking back at me. I mean, Franz was in the mirror, looking back at me – the me of Amshel – who was looking in the mirror. Except, I was as much me looking out, as I was me looking in.

The wall behind the prophet was painted red, while the one behind Franz was of brown wood. They both could raise their fists at each other, and sometimes did. In unison, of course. That was the law.

“Certainly, you may speak to God,” said Franz. “What is there in that? Everyone speaks to God – in sentences, in actions, with their lives. No one is more talked-to in the Universe than God. But what a prophet needs, is to have God speak back.”

And then God spoke, from somewhere behind the mirror, but He did not speak to Amshel. He spoke to Franz.

“You are on the wrong side,” said God. “Speak to me,” said Amshel. “Wrong side of what?” asked Franz. “Of the mirror,” answered God. “Don’t speak to him,” shouted Amshel. “He is from the world of vipers.” And Amshel raised his fist, but Franz had to hold up his fist in turn. “I am not the prophet you seek,” said Franz, and pointed his finger at the mirror. “There is your prophet.”

And Amshel was also pointing toward the glass. “Not him – you don’t want him.” He then turned his hand toward himself. “I’m the one you want.” But Franz was just as vehement, as his thumb arched toward his own chest. “Not me.” For emphasis, he placed his hand over his heart. “In this, God, you have erred.”

And his words echoed those of Amshel, who also had his hand upon his heart. “In this, God, you have erred.” And the two faces stared at one another, their fingers clutching at the garments they wore.

But God was silent.

Some Minutes In Kafka’s World

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A couple of days ago, I wrote about finding a particular (and peculiar) edition of Kafka’s book, The Metamorphosis, in a bookstore. I went back yesterday to have another look. This is what happened.

Having seen this plain cover, hardback “The Metamorphosis”, I wanted to take another look, and track down the publisher. There had been ten or so copies left, and I assumed there would be no trouble in doing this.

However, when I started to search on the SALE table where I had seen it, there were none present. Odd enough in itself, but now, on the same table, there were a dozen different copies of ‘“The Metamorphosis”, still hardback but with a dust jacket. There was an image of Kafka (or, at least, a form all in black) modeled on one of the extant photos of him. There was also text: “What on earth has happened to me?” Across the top was the word METAMORPHOSIS and across the bottom was FRANZ KAFKA. The colour of the dust jacket was a blue/green.

I might – on the very outside of possibilities – had thought that all the copies I had seen previously would have been gone … but, I never envisioned a new set of different copies of the book.

I queries a clerk (who had not been present the previous day) about those other copies of Kafka.  All he could say was that the displays in the store had been changed the day before.

Yes, I even did go to look on the shelves (in addition to the display tables), to see if the plain Metamorphoses might be there. It was not. Nor any other books by Kafka, neither.

So, I wandered in my own version of Kafkaland for a few minutes, before I departed. And – of course – I was left thinking: had the original, plain books have their own metamorphosis into the new.

(image)http://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0380/6785/products/TOTE-1021_franz-kafka_Totes_1_760x1000.jpg?v=1540350870

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(Original cover of The Metamorphoses)

Well … perhaps not the book. Most of what Kafka wrote was not published in his lifetime. Of course, most of what Kafka wrote did not survive his lifetime. It is estimated that be burned 60%-75% of all that he actually wrote.

But, one of the books he did have published was The Metamorphosis. He took such an interest in it that he made special requests about the cover art. He wished that the vermin into which Gregor Samsa turned, not be depicted on the cover. He was adamant about it.  His wish has not been kept over the decades, but there isn’t much you can do once you are dead.

This came to mind when, yesterday, I passed a book store offering various discounts and bargains. Three books for $16 – that sort of thing. And, a vast array of books, from Tom Sawyer to contemporary thrillers to scientific non-fiction.

But, on a prominent corner shelf, was a stack of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Hardback. Published last year in Britain. Going for $15. A plain, brown cover with no book jacket. Author and Title. That was it.

And, the thing is, I was tempted to buy it.

I imagine I have read the story ten to a dozen times. Over the years I have had three or four copies.  I am slowly divesting myself of more and more possessions. Yet, I gave it a good look-over. Clean pages. Easy to read. No cramped text. No illustrations.

It would have made Kafka proud.

 

Book And Lyrics By Franz Kafka

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(Original cover of The Metamorphoses)

Well … perhaps not the book. Most of what Kafka wrote was not published in his lifetime. Of course, most of what Kafka wrote did not survive his lifetime. It is estimated that be burned 60%-75% of all that he actually wrote.

But, one of the books he did have published was The Metamorphosis. He took such an interest in it that he made special requests about the cover art. He wished that the vermin into which Gregor Samsa turned, not be depicted on the cover. He was adamant about it.  His wish has not been kept over the decades, but there isn’t much you can do once you are dead.

This came to mind when, yesterday, I passed a book store offering various discounts and bargains. Three books for $16 – that sort of thing. And, a vast array of books, from Tom Sawyer to contemporary thrillers to scientific non-fiction.

But, on a prominent corner shelf, was a stack of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Hardback. Published last year in Britain. Going for $15. A plain, brown cover with no book jacket. Author and Title. That was it.

And, the thing is, I was tempted to buy it.

I imagine I have read the story ten to a dozen times. Over the years I have had three or four copies.  I am slowly divesting myself of more and more possessions. Yet, I gave it a good look-over. Clean pages. Easy to read. No cramped text. No illustrations.

It would have made Kafka proud.

 

A Gypsy Instructs Kafka About The World And Truth

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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. 

08 June 1917

A Gypsy confronted me today, and I was in the mood for a bit of sport. Her age was difficult to tell – certainly a decade older than me. In her swirl of shawls and dangling jewellery, heavy make-up on her face, she could almost have been in disguise. She peered at me with an intense sigh, attempting – I am sure – to penetrate my own disguise.

“You are a Jew,” she said.

“And you a Gypsy,” I replied.

She seemed pleased with my response, for her professional smile became real.

“You state the obvious,” she said. “As becomes a Doktor of Laws,”

I replied. “But to your eyes, do you not state the obvious?”

“Are you going to banter with a poor old Gypsy woman, instead of barter? That would make you suspiciously like one of us.” She said this with a growl in her throat.

“The Gypsy and the Jew,” I said, feeling the challenge which I so miss. “Perhaps an opera – but I think it’s been done to death.”

“They will try to do us all unto death,” she said harshly, and turned away.

I had the fear she was going to leave me without another word, but what she did was to spit fulsomely onto the street.

“They can’t kill us all,” I said, but I knew she heard the doubt in my voice.

She slowly faced me again.

“So. Even a Doktor of Laws can have hope. That is refreshing – but foolish.” She took my hand and felt my palm roughly with her thumb, although all the while her eyes never left my face. “You are going to travel.”

“Travel is a vague word. One can go on many types of voyage.”

“And reach many destinations,” she added, still holding my hand. “If you take away my vagueness, you take away my trade.”

“Then let me pay you for your services right now.”

This transaction would make her loose my hand, which is what I wanted most of all. She had frightened me, for her eyes and face were full of truth. I know the truth. I know it when it presents itself, stark and unobscured. I search out truth endlessly, yet still can flee at its approach. As in her eyes. But she gripped me more fiercely, and pulled my hand up.

“The coin, Herr Doktor.” Her voice was now soft. “The coin can wait.”

She at last lowered her eyes and looked closely at my palm. She rubbed the lines and whorls of my skin. She touched her finger to her lips, and spread the moisture along my hand.

“Your lifeline, Herr Doktor,” she took a quick look in my eyes, “of Laws. You deceive with the youth upon your face. Is that not so?”

“If your eyes stop at the mask, then no, the years have not etched themselves deeply.”

“Not on your face, Herr Doktor of Laws.” Her grip was intense. “But on your palm…” She hissed. “You will soon embark upon that final voyage.”

She released my hand, rubbed her fingers across her sleeve.

“But you will not go in haste. There will be many stops along the way.”

Suddenly her face was full of the most beautiful smile, and her laughter was genuine.

“I see you do not complain of vagueness now.” She held out her hand. “The coin, Herr Doktor of Laws. This time I have truly earned it.”

I dug deeply into my pocket, and feared that I may have overpaid her. But, perhaps, that is not possible.

(image) https://thegraphicsfairy.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Gyspy-Lady-Bird-Hat-Image-GraphicsFairy.jpg

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

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

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