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sickness

Summer Ends For Kafka

(Kafka & Ottla in Zürau)

In Kafka In The Castle I fill in the missing diaries of Franz Kafka. Here, Kafka learns of the tuberculosis that will eventually kill him. He gets to have ‘time off’ from his job at The WorkersAccident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia in Prague, and also to escape his day-to-day life. He plans a vacation with his sister Ottla in a village some distance from Prague.

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

06 September 1917
Even though I wait for the summer to be over, I am always surprised by the abrupt transition.

One Wednesday it can be uncomfortable to walk the streets in the afternoon, but on the weekend it seems I should put the windows down at night. Now, I have these other desired passages thrust suddenly upon me, but for all my longing I am woefully unprepared.

I am back in my parent’s apartment, but it is only for another week. Then, I am going to Zureau to be with Ottla.
I have been granted three months leave from the Institute. The Director is most concerned about my state, and speaks of my invaluable contributions. He seems to mean it. Would not hear talk of my resignation.
So, I get to follow Ottla out of Prague – almost with carte blanche.

And there is nothing more to be done with Felice. I may have written her my last letter. What good is a tubercular for a husband? But – to be with Ottla.

To be out of Prague.

To get away from Prague!

[Image] https://i.redd.it/b5admh9jpag11.jpg

Death Takes The Lead In The Final Dance

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My two gals, Alison Alexandra and her friend, Amanda, had a sea voyage. It was a voyage via a freighter, and not a cruise ship. They stopped in the ports where the freighter stops, and they took visits of the town if they so desired.

On one of their times on shore, they decide to visit a Police Museum. One of the exhibits is a Death Mask of a hanged murderer. They take great interest in this, noting the repose of the face.

This incident is based on an event in my own life. I melded parts of my experience into my characters afternoon visit during their day ashore. This had not been on my mind when I started this particular chapter..
 
I once taught a workshop on Supernatural writing. For my workshop I took advantage to take my students on a field trip to see the death mask of a historically known poet. The death mask was conveniently on view in a display case in a near-by building. The poet was Bliss Carman, and among the tales told of him, was that his death mask was the only thing remaining of him in this city of his birth. His ashes, buried with great pomp, were actually the ashes from a railway, gathered by his lover who wished to have his real remains stay with her.

None of my students had even heard of ‘death masks’, let alone seen one. I invited them to

incorporate the idea into their writing exercises. Some did, some did not.

However, it’s possible this visit to Death elicited the following story from one of my students.

My student and her husband had purchased a new house. Cleaning and renovations eventually took them to the back loft area, which was piled high with decades of accumulated detritus from a long life.

They cleared out beds and boxes and newspaper piles and magazines and bundles of clothes and on and on. Near the end of this process, my student noticed a “clump of something” on one of the wooden beams of the loft.

Getting ladder and flashlight her husband climbed to see what it was.

It was the end of a number of knotted bed sheets.

 
And, since Death can lead its merry way in so many ways, here is a segment of a Bliss Carman poem which sums up to me, oh, so much.
Bliss Carman (from) Across The Courtyard

Somehow she had acquired the chill
Of worldliness; I missed the thrill
Of eager radiance she had
When we were comrades, free and glad.
Some volatile and subtle trace
Of soul had vanished from her face,
Leaving the brilliancy that springs
From polished and enamelled things.
The beauty of the lamp still shone
With lustre
, but the flame was gone.

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.

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