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Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka: The Poet of Shame and Guilt

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Franz Kafka
    Book Description:

    Franz Kafka was the poet of his own disorder. Throughout his life he struggled with a pervasive sense of shame and guilt that left traces in his daily existence-in his many letters, in his extensive diaries, and especially in his fiction. This stimulating book investigates some of the sources of Kafka's personal anguish and its complex reflections in his imaginary world.

    In his query, Saul Friedländer probes major aspects of Kafka's life (family, Judaism, love and sex, writing, illness, and despair) that until now have been skewed by posthumous censorship. Contrary to Kafka's dying request that all his papers be burned, Max Brod, Kafka's closest friend and literary executor, edited and published the author's novels and other works soon after his death in 1924. Friedländer shows that, when reinserted in Kafka's letters and diaries, deleted segments lift the mask of "sainthood" frequently attached to the writer and thus restore previously hidden aspects of his individuality.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19515-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    InThe Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky evokes a painting that shows a peasant immobile in the snow, lost in contemplation. The man is not aware of any thinking; he lets impressions accumulate in him, imperceptibly, without knowing to what end. After allowing these impressions to grow over time, he will possibly leave for Jerusalem in search of salvation or burn down his native village. Maybe, he will do both …¹

    There is some resemblance between this moujik and Franz Kafka’s “K.” inThe Castle, as he reaches the apparent end of his voyage, late on a wintry night. “The village,” Kafka...

  5. Part I “Prague Doesn’t Let Go …”

    • 1 The Son
      (pp. 17-38)

      Kafka left his family home barely a few months before his death from tuberculosis in June 1924, at age forty-one. And, symbolically, even this separation did not last long: in Prague’s new Jewish cemetery, Franz, his father, Hermann, and his mother, Julie, are buried under the same tombstone. At the base of the stone, a plaque commemorates Franz’s three sisters, Elli, Valli, and Ottla. And yet …

      “In the family,” Franz wrote to Elli in 1921, regarding the education of her son Felix, “clutched in the tight embrace of the parents, there is room only for certain kinds of people...

    • 2 “The Dark Complexity of Judaism”
      (pp. 39-65)

      “You ask me if I am a Jew,” Kafka wrote to Milena Jesenska in May 1920, soon after the beginning of their correspondence. “Perhaps this is only a joke, perhaps you are only asking me if I belong to those anxious Jews, in any case as a native of Prague you can’t be as innocent in this respect as Mathilde, Heinrich Heine’s wife.” Thereupon, Kafka tells Milena the amusing story of this very naïve Mathilde (Mirat), who was convinced that Heine’s friends in Paris were all Germans—and she did not like any of them (Heine himself was a converted...

    • 3 Love, Sex, and Fantasies
      (pp. 66-94)

      An iconic Kafka photograph stares from the dust covers of several biographies and illustrates an endless number of other publications. The gaze directed at the camera is sad. The face, fully viewed from under a bowler hat set somewhat askew, is young (Kafka was twenty-five when the picture was taken); the lips do not impart even the faintest hint of a smile.

      Some reproductions uncover a further part of the same photograph: next to Franz sits a beautiful dog. Kafka with a dog? How could he keep one in the rather densely populated familial apartment of those years? Only the...

  6. Part II “The Reward for Serving the Devil”

    • 4 Night Journey
      (pp. 97-117)

      On September 25, 1917, half a year or so after writing “A Country Doctor” and a few weeks after being diagnosed with a lung infection (soon to be identified as tuberculosis), Kafka noted in his diary: “I can still have passing satisfaction from works like ‘A Country Doctor,’ provided I can still write such things at all (very improbable). But happiness only if I can raise the world into the pure, the true and the immutable.”¹

      What did the second sentence mean? How did Kafka imagine “the pure, the true and the immutable”? Did he consider “A Country Doctor,” the...

    • 5 The Writer and His Worlds
      (pp. 118-146)

      “You have no idea, Felice,” Kafka wrote to her on July 8, 1913, “what havoc literature creates in certain heads. It is like monkeys leaping about in the treetops, instead of staying firmly on the ground. It is being lost and not being able to help it. What can one do?”¹

      Can literature save him or destroy him? Or save him by destroying him? Kafka doesn’t know. “All I possess,” he told Felice in June of the same year, “are certain powers which, at a depth almost inaccessible under normal conditions, shape themselves into literature, powers to which, however, in...

    • 6 An Ultimate Quest for Meaning?
      (pp. 147-162)

      At times Kafka wrote with elation, even in an ecstatic mood, with a sense of quasi-mystical experience. On the day of his arrival on January 27, 1922, to Hotel Krone in Spindelmühle, in yet another effort to improve his health, he noted: “The strange, mysterious, perhaps dangerous, perhaps saving comfort there is in writing…. A higher kind of observation is created, a higher, not a keener type and the higher it is … the more independent it becomes, the more obedient to its own laws of motion, the more incalculable, the more joyful, the more ascendant its course.”¹

      A few...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 163-180)
    (pp. 181-183)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 184-187)