Kafka - a short biography.

 

                                                                          Kaj Bernhard Genell 2019

 

                                                                                www.kajgenell.com

 

 

 

In Europe around the year of 1900 the double monarchy of Habsburg was still intact and wealthy. It was compounded of about fifteen different nationalities and it was run since 1848 by the emperor Franz Joseph. The capital of Franz Joseph´s monarchy was Vienna. Franz Kafka – on the other hand - grew up in the capital of Bohemia, Prague, almost in the midst of Bohemia, which is now the Czech Republic. Prague was I those days culturally widely overshaded by Vienna. In the year of 1900 Prague had about 40.000 German speaking inhabitants, while the majority, the Czechs themselves were c:a 400.000.[1] These groups lived almost segregated. Different groups existed "with and against each other",[2] Czechs and Germans, Christian and Jews in the same city.

         In Prague 9% of the population were Jews. The Jews – like the Kafkas - were from time to time often looked upon with mistrust by many citizens of other decent.[3] Prague was a more complex city with regard to class than Vienna was at this time. In Vienna, with its 1.7 million inhabitants, where the group of Jews rapidly had grown, anti-Semitism was much more a trouble than it was in Prague. In Prague there were socioeconomic bonds that in general prevented anti-Semitism, except in economically severe times, when the Jews were blamed, like they had been for centuries.[4] The class inequalities in Bohemia were enormous, like they were in the empire and in Europe as a whole. Official business, government and institutions were mostly run by German speaking people, while commerce in general was handled by Czechs and in the Czech language. Jews in Bohemia were either German or Czech speaking, but they all spoke Yiddish and many of them in the countryside could actually read Hebrew. The Jewish ghetto of Josephstadt, which was the biggest in Europe, and probably the oldest, had been dissolved in 1848, when Franz Joseph was crowned and the Jews had acquired their full rights to marry, etc..

          Prague, by various reasons, had acquired a unique and dense atmosphere and this early was reflected in its literature. Within Czech literature, which stood very close to the classic German one, was a big genre, marked by mysticism and often called “Ghost literature”, which might be traced back to Rabbi Yehuda Loew [5] who wrote the famous fable of the strange Golem. Loew lived around 1600 and his works were made into pastiche by G. Meyrink,  E.E. Kisch, and others. Golem was a small creature made of clay that in this myth came to life when a rabbi, Maharal, put a small piece of paper[6] with God´s name on it in the mouth of Golem.[7]

          Prague at this time had a German university with about 17000 students and two German theatres, and Kafka could enjoy August Strindberg´s Miss Juliet, several Ibsen dramas, as well as Shakespeare´s Hamlet, Lessing´s Nathan der Weise, Schiller´s, Goethe´s, Molière´s plays, and those of G. B. Shaw and Arthur Schnitzler. Kafka perhaps attended Verdi´s Rigoberto, listening to Caruso in the main part.

        The picture of the town of Prague varies a lot with its descriptors. Max Brod, a true conservative, asserts that the mood of Prague was naïve, and that it was close to disturbing when the Zionist M. Buber started his newspaper, where FK came to be a minor contributor, there, or when Karl Kraus came to town to lecture. Karl Kraus was the founder of Die Fackel in the intellectually vivid city of Vienna. ”Prussia is very generous as far as muzzles concerns.” Kraus pointed out. And:” Austria is the isolation cell, where you are allowed to scream.”. Kraus in Prague spoke in front of a roaring, excited crowd in the student club, ”Die Halle”. The great satirist of both political and cultural matters, not least of newborn psychoanalysis, came to this small cultural club more than fifty times, from 1910 and on. We do not know if Kafka listened to Kraus in person but it is very likely he did so. Kraus had left Judaism, just like f. ex. Wittgenstein did. Kraus later became a forceful opponent to the famous Viennese founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl. Prague did not, like Vienna, have any radiant cultural figures with the stature of Kraus´, persons that fundamentally could stir society and stimulate to social change. The influence of Kraus upon Central Europe was huge, which many important intellectuals, such as Freud, Musil and Arnold Schonberg, later bore witness of. Max Brod, FK´s friend, would later characterize himself, together with Franz, as Prague-Austrians, which tells us a lot both of the two young authors as well as the situation.[8] Time was definitely marked by the bourgeoisie and consequently by a moral of double standards. Oswald Spengler, called ”der Untergangster” by Kraus asserted in his Untergang des Abendlandes that every culture was subject to annihilation and that History of Culture, which was his field of study, was physiognomics, and that culture was an organism. Kafka was part of the German bourgeoisie in Prague during this turbulent time. He rapidly came to be a part of Modernism.[9] As a citizen he never became a revolutionary activist; his early sympathy for anarchism and various socialist movements was known only to a very limited circle of friends.

 

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            Franz Kafka was born in 1883. Franz [ Anschel ][10] was the only son to the son of a kosher-butcher from the countryside. Herman Kafka, was of Western Jewish decent and a successful merchant. His wife, Julie, b. Löwy, of Eastern Jewish, was the daughter of a wealthy wellknown Prager brewer. Herman was a member of the counsel of the Jewish community and a member of the only synagogue in Prague that provided a service in the Czech language, which was the only language Herman ever fully mastered. Franz never got any orthodox Jewish education, since this was not compliant with the always determined Herman´s vision of the future of the Jewish people in Europe. Kafka had three sisters, Valli, Elli and Ottla and they had a French governess, Mademoiselle Bailly, from early years and learnt to read French fluently. The family, who generally had three servants in the house, also had a children´s nurse by the name of Anna Pouzarová, not much older than the children themselves, a nurse/playmate that Franz was very fond of. [11] G. Rieck asserts that the entire authorship is strongly marked by this “forbidden love”. [12]  Franz grew up in a bilingual home, but he went to German schools. He never grew completely familiar with the Czech language, and he wasn´t able to write literature in this idiom.

        As a boy Franz came into conflict with his father. The son got locked out on the balcony in the night for a minor offense, and this was probably both a decisive and a traumatic experience. [13] Young Franz never showed any interest in the family business, all the more in art and literature, and hence Herman often used to treat young Franz with sarcastic irony. Julie Kafka is hardly at all mentioned in the diaries, while the father is almost permanently present in these. Franz always sought confirmation from him, but hardly ever got any. He felt physically inferior to his father, and in connection with feelings of inability to live, the father more and more stood out as an example of human beings extremely fit to live.

      As far as we know the emotional climate of the Kafka family was neither warm nor cold. There was not much dance and music in the home. Herman liked to play cards in the evening, and when his friends were not available Julie played with him. Herman seemed to have lived for his business and his family. Religion meant nothing to anybody in the Kafka family. One can get a glimpse of what Kafka´s boyhood and the surroundings in Prague where he lived looked like from the prose collection Betrachtung, where the bittersweet and the unattainable can be seen as themes. During high school young Franz took a pronounced negative attitude to romantic verse. But he was on the contrary very moved by the romantic saga, the Kunstmärchen. Kafka was not a prominent scholar, but more of an average student. He got his exam 1901, and he began to study law at the Ferdinand-Karl’s-Universität without any particular interest in the subject. As a lawyer he was later however able to devote himself to writing in his spare time. This was his idea from very early on. Kafka would many, many time during his lifetime stress the huge importance and meaningfulness of the possibility of indulging in writing, and he was from the start totally mesmerized by literature and words. Kafka as a teenager wrote a lot. He seemed to have been born with a very fluent literary style. Emil Utitz, who had been to school with Kafka, later, in a letter to Wagenbach, gave a vivid and memorable description of FK: "If I were to say something characteristic concerning Kafka, it would be, that it wasn´t anything special at all with him." [14]         

          Kafka was introduced in high school to the philosophy of the very popular philosopher of his time, Franz Brentano[15].Kafka appears to have been susceptible to the kind of observations on the problems of perception, often called philosophy of mind, around which Brentano had evolved his psychology, as well as to the ethics and meta-ethics, found in Brentano's work. It is striking how there are ideas very much alike Brentano´s regarding the mental experience in Kafka´s Description of a struggle (1909) as well as some notes in the diary from 1913. B. Smith and J. Ryan are both finding signs of an impact of Brentano upon Kafka in a passage in Kafka´s early work:

 

              "I continued my wandering. But since I as a pedestrian feared the troubles and strains of climbing the steep path, I made it more and more smooth, and then made it sloop down towards a distant valley. The rocks disappeared according to my will, and the wind ceased to blow... ”[16]

                                               

      The content of the passage from FK pen clearly is based upon the ”inner life” of the narrator, upon his fancies and wishes. Kafka here purportedly draws consequence from the philosophy of Brentano, in surpassing it. Brentano stressed the difference between perception and object, and that we are always left with our experience, which we, while we are having it, always at the same time, "obliquely",[17] are consciously aware of. We are thus, according to Brentano, aware of what we are aware of. Kafka could easily have grabbed this idea and developed it in this manner, as is seen in the example. FB was heralding Husserl and Phenomenology. It has been asked whether FB's psychology leads to a paradox in that it is creating the idea of two parallel conscious realms. Essentially Brentano in his philosophy of perception - like Dilthey does - comes into counter-position to the old romantic idealist philosophy. ---------------------- Brentano claims in his meta-ethics that it is possible to find an objectively valid basis for an ethic, but that this ethics, when found, in practice comes into conflict with morality. Brentano still represents value subjectivism, but in the key work Vom Origin sittlicher Erkenntnis ( 1889), - just 47 pages - B. holds the concept of love as the basis for the concept of "right". The antithetical opposition between love and hate plays a crucial role for FB, and he is founding a moral philosophy upon this contradiction as he perceives it. To say that "A is good" is the same as to say: "it is impossible to incorrectly be loving A.". Brentano´s work was reviewed in 1909 in a journal by the philosopher G.E. Moore, and Moore in this article deals with B.s problems to determine what is "good in itself", and Moore finds B. not doing so bad. The objections to the thoughts of Brentano were later to become more and more distinct, for example, those from M. Schlick in his Problems of Ethics. Brentano´s formulation of "what one cannot help but love in a proper way" is highly problematic, since it includes, inter alia, the problem of the "correct" versus "incorrect love".

      Kafka does not mention Brentano at all in his notebooks and it is probable that Brentano was of no major importance to FK, which Freud of course undoubtedly was, but FK still might have got certain important knowledge of moral philosophy and the philosophy of right by dealing with Brentano´s writings, just as Kafka acquired skill in sophistry by reading Talmud.

 

At the university there was a student´s cultural club, the aforementioned “Die Halle”, where one could listen to lectures and discussions concerning political, philosophical and cultural matters. One night on the 23rd of October 1902 a small, nearsighted, hunchbacked, self-confident boy, Max Brod, held a speech about Schopenhauer´s views on destiny at “Die Halle”. Since Brod violently attacked the ideas of Nietzsche in this speech and actually named him “Hochstapler” [18] (scammer) and since Kafka very much appreciated Nietzsche, Kafka afterwards approached Brod and they then violently discussed these matters. A lifelong friendship started with this quarrel. Max and Franz later studied literature together in privacy, readings of Plato and Flaubert. Kafka loved to read Flaubert aloud. Franz and Max even translated parts of Plato, which seems interesting, since the style of Plato might to some degree have affected Kafka’s own style. Kafka, being a solid sceptic and an astute Nietzsche scholar, probably found it very hard to believe in the idea of the good with Plato. During his years at the Carolinum – the university - Kafka also read a lot of memoirs and biographies, which was his favorite lecture all through his life as well as travel books. He also liked the exotic novels of Johannes V. Jensen and he normally read several newspapers and periodicals a day throughout his life, like the Bohemia, Deutsche Arbeit, Der Jude, Der Prager Tageblatt, Hyperion, and Wir. During summer leaves Kafka wrote to his comrades O. Pollak, Baum, O. Kisch and M. Brod. In the letters he told them of his consummation of literature as well as of the beauty of the landscape[19] around the idyllic Triesch to the north of Prague, where Kafka used to visit his uncle, the country doctor. Later on Kafka and Brod were to visit Paris together, two times. When Max, the music enthusiast, chose to go to the opera, Kafka – who seems to have been almost totally insensitive to music - went to a horse race. Other trips took Kafka to Northern Italy, Lugano and Venice as well as to Austria, to Hamburg, Helgoland, Rügen, as well as Marienlyst in Denmark. A lot of time was spent by Kafka, both before and during his sickness, on sanatoriums in the countryside, often in the Central European Mountain massive.

        In Prague Kafka came into contact with Franz Werfel, poet and columnist. Werfel, charming and extravert, for a while came to be one of the heaviest critics of young Kafka. After having read Betrachtung Werfel, who at the time was enjoying quite big success with his writings, claimed with great emphasis:” This book will never be read outside Bohemia!”. He was later proved to be wrong. Werfel, who was extraordinary productive, was part of the expressionist movement, consisting of authors who often came right from the trenches of World War I, writers like Sternheim ( the millionaire ), Werfel, Edschmid, Heym and Trakl. FK also knew Musil, who wanted Kafka to write for Neue Rundschau in Berlin.

        Kafka was an assimilated Jew, if it was possible to be "assimilated" at all in Prague at this time. He was completely irreligious. It seems that he supported a secular Zionism, more than covering such. Max Brod propagated lifelong for Zionism and moved to Israel and ended his days in Israel as convinced Zionist, acclaimed by the establishment, including as honorary citizen. Kafka himself never was won over to the Zionist outlook. Friedlander: "Kafka was never a Zionist.". [20] Kafka's interest in Jewish identity, however, increased with the years - perhaps as his inner desperation grew. Perhaps in line with his surroundings, with the circle of Jewish intellectuals with which he socialized he increasingly became aware of the insulation in Prague, and many of his friends discussed a future ideal society in Palestine. His studies in the Hebrew language were towards the end of his life more intense. He studied this language in two rounds, at first as a 25 year old, and later during the period around 1923 when he was dying. It is difficult to prove, though, that this study had effect on his writing. B. Becker in her thesis investigated the possible Kabbalistic influences in FK´s authorship.

          Kafka had read Karl Marx´ Zur Judenfrage, written in 1844, where the question of Jewish emancipation is scrutinized. This 88 page book has an important discussion on power, on the power of the mass, on the difference between European and American politics and on religion and on human rights and it is extremely well written, which was often the case with Marx. Marx points at an alleged inherent contradiction between freedom of religious belief and human rights. The concept and idea of human rights had earlier been invented by de Beaumont in France. Bruno Bauer – which is the opponent against whom the book explicitly is directed – claims that no emancipation for Jews is possible as long as there are religions. Marx, in turn, asserts that there is no possible emancipation for the Jews before all humans are socially emancipated. [21] In this book there is also a minor discussion of alienation.

 

          Kafka graduated Doctor of Law in 1906. After the usual period of practice, the “Rechtspraktik”, - a prerequisite for working in the state administration - FK got a nine-month employment with an Italian insurance company, Assuracioni Genereali, which was headquartered in Trieste - then belonging to Habsburg, at their Prague office. He soon in 1908 got a more suitable employment[22] as an investigator at the large Arbeiter-Unfall-Versicherungs-Anstalt in Prague. The insurance system in Bohemia was extensive; over 200,000 contractors and about three million workers were affiliated. [23] Officials' number was on this job not less than 250. Only two of these were Jews. He always chose to work part time, but had a good salary and never seems to have had serious financial problems, apart from the last years of his life. In Berlin, living with Dora, he actually was broke.[24]  FK was an ambitious, resourceful, caring and much respected official. FK lived most often with the family in different chilly and noisy apartments in the absolute center of Prague and rarely rented own rooms or apartments.

    Relatively much time for his writing now was created. From 22:30 to 02:00 or 03:00 at night Kafka was occupied with his literary work during his “vintage years”, i.e. the years 1912 to 1917, from the formidable night in the autumn 1912 when breakthrough novel The Verdict was conceived until the outbreak of his TB. He during these years seems to have been indulged in the creative process instead of sleeping. From 1909 onwards he wrote a diary, advised to do so by his industrious, resolute and optimistic friend Max Brod. It is a sporadic diary and lliterary drafts are here mixed with short notes on health status and on practical things, as well as notices about the family.

 

        Kafka was not always focused on literature. [25] He also liked to draw, and he often practiced on his violin[26], and he was fond of gardening and of outdoor life. Because Kafka often wished to be something completely else than a lawyer, for instance athlete - he was a good swimmer, and he could, despite his weak constitution, master a horse in terrain. He from his earliest years cared about his health and practiced gymnastics daily in front of an open window.[27] He had his own rowboat by the river Moldau. He rowed upstream and then let himself float down lying on his back in the boat dressed in his usual suit, gliding under the famous Karlsbrücke, and the other eight bridges. He was always fascinated by naked bodies, beautiful naked bodies; he attended nudist camps, for example, the Baltic Sea and at health centers. He was often strikingly dressed in a thin, very spacious overcoat and a hat and held his head a bit askew. Kafka had an intense gaze. His complexion was unusually dark for a European and similar in hue to many Indians. Kafka never seemed to have attached himself to possessions, such as furniture, clothing, photos, or even books. He did not smoke, and drank neither alcohol, nor coffee, nor tea and he was a vegetarian.

        In 1909 Brod and Kafka went to Italy where they attended an air show outside Brescia. They decided to compete to see who wrote the best record of this event, which was in fact a race, where the famous French aviator Blériot took part. This commentary became FK´s journalistic debut. The newspaper Bohemia displayed on the 28/9 1909 an article with the title Die Aeropläne in Brescia. The article contains among other things reflections on perfection and courage. It is striking in its precision of thought and of expression. There is virtually not a single piece, illogical or imprecise formulation in the works of FK, but everything seems to come from an unusually clear, logical and balanced intellect. He frequently had a solid small group of friends around him, young men he had met in school or at the university: Oscar Pollak, Oscar Baum, Max and Otto Brod and Felix Weltsch. These friends meant a lot to Kafka, and he was very careful not to lose them. They generally met at the cafés in Prague, at the Arco, or Café Louvre, Savoy, Imperial, or the Concordia. Many of them came from families who were well established for generations in the city, and had a longer tradition of high education in their families than Kafka, at least on his father´s side.

      Kafka and his friends also assembled in more private milieus than cafés. At the Prague pharmacy, Zum Einhorn, one Mrs. Berta Fanta had created an outstanding cultural oasis, the rumor of which spread through the city. Visitors here were among others the mathematician Kowalewski, Max Planck and Albert Einstein, and the latter both played the violin, accompanied by Brod on the piano, and spoke of his theory of relativity. He also vividly discussed the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. In the Fanta-house debates about psychoanalysis were frequent. Kafka often was present at the meetings and he there listened to the famous mystic Rudolf Steiner and even discussed his own life with him later at his hotel.

        Probably around 1904 - four years after the appearance of SFs  Traumdeutung - Kafka became aware of the existence of Freud. In 1910 he purchased and read Freud's all new Leonardo da Vinci - a childhood memory, where Freud for the first time uses the term "narcissism". In the “psychoanalyst bible” at the time, Three essays on sexual theory, he discusses the concept of "sublimation". Kafka later read Freud's essay on Michelangelo's Moses statue. The interest in Moses stayed with Kafka, and he commented to the young student Janouch a picture of the Moses statue with the words: "'That is no leader. That is a judge, an austere judge.'". This was not Freud's view of Moses, who saw Moses as a tragic hero, a lone hero who doggedly wore his disappointment over the Jewish people. We can speculate on the "mythology" behind Kafka's world of thought and imagination just as much as we can speculate over the "mythology" behind Freud´s work. In Kafka's case, the answer actually might be: Freud. Kafka owned, what we know, only few books on psychology and on school philosophy. It is known that Kafka studied The Destiny of Man by Fichte. This book was not an unusual volume in the bookshelves of educated people during this time. It is a very educational and well-spoken popular-production of Fichte's own philosophy, in which is displayed current philosophical idealism. Kafka also studied Schopenhauer, Nietzsche's predecessor, together with his sister Ottla. FK probably appreciated the antiauthoritarian approach, and the constant reference to skepticism. He also was deeply impressed by Kierkegaard's diaries, as well as SK's two early works Either - Or and the small book by SK on Genesis 22, Fear and trembling. Kafka himself was very fond of reading aloud in public and often made speeches, which does not match the general myth of him. His way of reciting of his own works, was, as his friend Oscar Baum testifies, peculiar: FK read in a gradually increasing pitch, read the whole short story almost in one breath, and extremely fast, "with blaring tongue".          

      FK, as a young man, was a man full with self-reproach. He was intuitively sensitive in relation to changes in moods around him, - and to everything. Just like Rimbaud. One might today claim that FK suffered from Asperger´s. Brod was a more social character. Brod as a writer was very productive. He had notably published himself in the erotic magazine Amethyst, which Kafka also subscribed to, with Das Tschechische Dienstmädchen.[28] Brod seemed - as I have already indicated - to have a deep fascination with Prague, while he early became determined to move away. What Brod later came to write about Kafka seems to many as part of a "hagiography". Regardless of this, he was a friend, who never let Kafka down and he was virtually inexhaustible in good and bad times, in word and deed.

          When FK was studying law in 1901-1906 he came in contact with a renowned professor of Philosophy of Rights, Hans Gross, and attended his lectures for three terms. Gross' son, Otto, born in 1877, was to become a friend of Kafka´s. Gross junior seems to have been revolting against his father. OG was trained as a physician, served abroad and then became a psychiatrist, settled in Vienna, where he entered in the circles of S. Freud. OG distinguished himself as an independent thinker in psychoanalysis, and Freud himself said that there were only two original thinkers he knew of among his friends: CG Jung and Gross. Gross slid, however, because morphine addiction into a schizophrenic state, and Jung's attempt to cure Otto G. with psychoanalysis was strongly opposed by Otto´s father. Hans Gross wanted to have his son incarcerated in a mental institution. --------- Kafka and Otto Gross first met in 1917. By that time Kafka had already produced what we now know as Amerika and The Trial, as well as published The Metamorphosis. OG, intelligent and communicative, ( his father had died in 1915 ), was interested in everything from psychoanalysis to revolutionary movements. Franz Werfel, Kafka and Otto Gross, who by then had left the Freud circle, grew plans – in 1917 - of starting a magazine, Blätter gegen Machtwillen, but the whole thing stalled due to economic problems and to FK´s bad health. Franz and Otto obviously had conversations about psychoanalysis. It has been assumed that the precocious Gross was the developer of Kafka´s insights in Freud's thinking. Kafka took a skeptical view to psychoanalysis as a whole. Gross' influence on Kafka came relatively late, but may have confirmed certain perceptions, and it might even further have contributed to set FK´s mind and style free. Otto Gross committed suicide in 1920.

          On the 23rd of September 1912, after having completed The Verdict, Kafka wrote in his diary the famous words: ”Thoughts of Freud of course.”

          During October-November this year, the year of the birth of the kafkaesque, chapter 1 of Amerika was written, the piece which soon would be published in a magazine under the title ”The Stoker”( Der Heizer ).

        The wedding between Elli and Karl Hermann was being planned. Karl Hermann had in mind to start an asbestos factory, and needed money: the dowry. Herman Kafka went along with this, but took counsel with his son, the lawyer, about it, and made him promise not only to be part of the company's board, but also to participate in the management of the factory, which had around twenty employees. Thus FK´s father tried to force his son towards a future as supervisor of a factory.... The marriage and the setting up of the factory were soon conducted, and Kafka took part in the legal issues, and he frequently visited the factory, which now was led by a hired engineer. Franz immediately tried to withdraw from the father´s "trap", which of course threatened to take his entire remaining time outside the insurance institution in claims, and - what was for him the overall disastrous matter -: it thus threatened to prevent him from writing. It was precisely in this situation, when he really "hated his family", as Corngold writes, and it is probably the first and only time in his life he did so, that he wrote the great short story The Metamorphosis. He had earlier this year encountered Felice Bauer and they had exchanged a couple of letters, and Kafka probably was determined to marry her, dutifully. It is interesting to read The Metamorphosis against this background. It is not hard to imagine that Kafka saw the situation regarding marriage as a struggle between himself and his father. In the notebooks fantasies of punishment, fantasies to be faced with a large court now appeared. FK felt that he betrayed his family. The asbestos factory business ran into difficulties and it gradually came to cost Herman a small fortune. Franz considered suicide and consulted Max Brod with his problems. Brod wisely talked to Julie Kafka about her son, without letting Franz know.

 

          In the Letter to his father Kafka later accused his father for his misery. Letter to his father is no short story, but an actual letter. Kafka admits to Milena Jesenská, sending her a copy of the letter, that it is full of a lawyer´s tricks. The letter, written in 1919, far away from Prague, was given by Franz to his mother Julie, for further deliverance to Herman, but Julie never fulfilled the wish of her son. Important for the understanding of the letter is to know that it is written by the 39 year old Franz, and that he by this time already had written what we know as The Trial . He now also was severely ill in tuberculosis, and the two engagements to Felice Bauer lay behind him. He had also tried to get permission to marry Julie Wohryzek. Kafka by this time had been through a lot.

           His father, Herman, had, as the son emphasizes in the letter, been too strong to him. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, in their Pour une littérature mineure, puts focus on how Kafka's oedipal situation influenced his works. They assert that he reversed the oedipal situation, and doubly. The first of these suspensions, according to the authors, was one based on three-digit relations, primarily the Prague societal triangle, with FK experiencing his father as a traitor against the rural Bohemian-Jewish-orthodox heritage, the father submitting to the Czech bureaucracy, but Franz was able to preserve his respect and love of the Father, only that the son knew that his father was just as oppressed as he himself was. The second suspension consists in the many transformations of "himself" into an animal, e.g. a dog = "The schizo-animal par préference,". Kafka is seeking, not freedom, but a way out, and he finds this in the non-human: in becoming a beetle. We might compare this identification to other the animal figures into which he likewise transmogrifies himself: the monkey, the dog, the giant mole, the badger, the rat. That these all are symbols of loneliness, that they are marks of an utterly painful, almost pathological solitude and an extreme outsider position, is beyond doubt. Kafka in the famous letter claims that both he and his father are innocent, that they are both victims, and that they are both guilty.

            Kafka seems to have a compassion for his father in the letter. But is this sincere? The relation here of FK, according to the two Frenchmen, is that of a "perverse Oedipus". Here one cannot escape the problem of the so called "authoritarian personality.". The relationship with the father can be divided onto three or four, more or less distinct, levels: [ 1.] The purely emotional. Here we can conclude that Kafka harbored very warm feelings for his father, which basically was mutual, even if the father almost always demonstrated his superiority. FK entertained, even directly, great admiration for his father. [ 2.] Herman required Franz to take over his business and to acquire a reputable position in society (asbestos factory). These requirements were big concerns to FK. [ 3.] His writing always seemed to him to be incompatible with marriage. [ 4 ]: ​​Herman's unilateral pursuit for assimilation in the Habsburg Empire, as well as his lack of interest in Judaism, in the end contributed to the alienation of his son.

        Franz Kafka did not very much like Prague. He often expressed his wish to change location, to move to Berlin, which he actually managed to do in 1923, for his last winter.

        There was always a strong sense of guilt with FK in relation to the father. Herman had worked hard and dedicated his whole life to his family. Kafka's texts are often fantasies of punishment built upon a sense of guilt. That there are sexual elements in these stories seems clear. One can perceive with FK an early attraction to submission, to sadomasochism. Masochism should probably be regarded as a kind of double movement, - just like Žižek sees it[29]  -, as a complex mix of positioning of perpetrators and victims. Deleuze has stressed the revolutionary character of masochism and the humorous element in masochism, noting the irony in sadism both with regard to law and society and the super ego-suppressing humor in masochism. A number of stories and passages in the novels have a theme, which alludes to masochism. In masochism the victim actually talks through the voice of the torturer.[30] Kafka is not at all hiding the sexual element and the Oedipus-situation in his works, but actually very often stresses it. He is in the midst of a taboo, displaying it fiercefully. Kafka stays close to the prohibited, even to the downright painful, and to the painfully pleasurable, but also the pleasurable painful and painfully comical. And in the end he sometimes is, existentially, close to the life-threatening, in his paradoxical fantasies of punishment and on the verge of what he himself probably is able to stand emotionally. Look at FK´s masterful, early prose poem Unglücklichsein, which is as beautiful as a painting by Vasilij Kandinsky!

                  Kafka's heroes are overwhelmingly of a vulnerable and endangered kind; they are in one way or another, tormented, and always looking – but often halfheartedly – for a way out. By a letter, the four-page letter to Max Brod - the so-called "Rat letter"… -, written on December 4th 1917, where the FK reveals his great fear of rats, one can draw the conclusion, that Kafka had an obsessive syndrome, linked with a cluster of deep anxiety and fear of castration, rooted in the Oedipal situation. [31] Freud's famous patient, Rat man, E. Lasker, had read about Chinese rat torture in the same book as Kafka, i.e. in the French anarchist Mirbeau´s Le Jardin des Supplices, which is sometimes referred to as the role model for Kafka's masterpiece In the Penal Colony.[32]

        A crisis in the relationship between FK and his beloved sister Ottla is obviously mirrored in The Metamorphosis, where Gregor´s sister Grete together with the mother tries to clear Gregor´s room, but Gregor refuses to leave the portrait of a lady in fur on the wall. In this story is reflected the deep open conflict between FK and Herman and the entire family in 1912 regarding the asbestos factory. Franz had been asked to help with the factory and to leave the nightly writings aside. At this time FK was actually in an utter rage and thought of committing suicide, something which he also told Brod. Brod noted, that he had never seen his friend that upset ever. It is important to note that the letter to his father never was transmitted to Herman. Since it is here too late in life for a reorientation between them, Kafka tries, in writing this letter, to transgress the problem between them by, as G/D claims, turning the causal relation Oedipus-situation around, by asserting that this Oedipus-situation has its roots in society, actually in a whole neurosis of society. Julie Kafka refused to transmit the letter, probably thinking that this letter could not lead to any promotion of the relationship between Franz and Herman. FK:

          ”You seem to have some clue regarding what I want to say, curiously enough. You said a while ago for example: ´I always liked you, even if I never behaved towards you as other fathers use to, just because I simply cannot – like the others can - pretend.´”[33]

 

        To Louis Begley it is obvious that Franz hated his father. Since FK felt so alien in the world the feeling of connectedness at least to the family therefore always was very important to him. Thus he – I think – never wanted a real conflict with his father, risking losing his great affection. Alongside Herman his sister Ottla was of major importance to Kafka during his entire life. She was born in 1892 and was the youngest of the sisters. She was very close to Franz and she had almost the same looks as FK, with a very dark complexion and deep, intense gaze. She early became interested, like so many Jews, in Zionism and joined a club for Jewish women. She was interested in agriculture and took up farming in West-Bohemian village of Zürau, to the north of Prague, until the end of the war. She married against her father´s will in July 1820 to the Catholic Czech Joseph David and gave birth to Věra, 1921, and Helene, 1923. During summer 1922 Franz spent three months together with the young family in Planá. But Ottla Davidová and Joseph David had an unhappy marriage. She was a very independent woman, unlike her two sisters, a fact that may have contributed to the tensions. Franz and Ottla had throughout life, from early childhood until the death of Franz, a close contact, and held long secret talks, which took place primarily in the house's bathroom and in a park in the center of Prague. In letters to her Franz stands as quick-witted, conscientious, practical, relaxed and natural. Significantly, Kafka would rather read philosophy with Ottla, than with Max Brod. Brod had an attraction to metaphysics that most likely "discouraged" Kafka. Max had very little of the robust skepticism, which was characteristic of Kafka's thought. Ottla´s importance to Franz was huge. It must be stressed, that their intimate conversations was the most life-close and warmest, like Kafka experienced throughout his life. Ottla was, after the death of her brother, totally opposed to the publishing Kafka's posthumous papers, novels and other things. H. Zylberberg, who knew Ottla Kafka, writes:

          ”She never accepted the fact that Kafka´s works had been published as the result of someone´s indiscretion. Franz had left a will, and his deepest and holiest wish, that everything he had written should be burnt should have been obeyed. Due to all this she was very angry at Brod.”[34]

 

                      In October 1943 Ottla accompanied, as a helper, a children's transport to Auschwitz, and soon after she was murdered by the Nazis there. Her daughters escaped when Ottla voluntarily, protecting the non-Jewish husband, separated from his family.

        Part of what we know about Kafka we know through his diaries and letters. Kafka's diary is a selection of brief notes, drafts of novels, etc. - , the notes are mainly about his health, almost a "medical record", and on how very little he thinks he accomplishes as a writer. Notes are like these: "June 5. Nothing written.”; ”June, 13. All day in bed."; "June, 15. All day in bed.” Kafka often suffered from headaches, and spent much time in his life, especially the later part of it, after the outbreak of the lung disease, in bed. He complained of insomnia. When he slept well, he did not write at all! Sleeplessness and sleep is also by FK often put in relation to guilt, e.g. in the correspondence with Milena. In a certain and unusual sense his life was centered round literature, sleep and his dreams.

          During the summer of 1907 Kafka was in Triesch, on the countryside, residing at an uncle´s place. He was enjoying himself, bathing and riding a bike and having a romance with the nineteen year old Jewess by the name of Hedwig Weiler. Kafka was 25 years old at the time. In a letter to Brod Kafka describes her as ”very ugly, small, and chubby, with red cheeks and has two large front teeth, which do not fit in the mouth". One can compare FK´s heartless description of her with one later made of Felice, in which FK thinks Felice looks "like she has a broken nose." FK appears to have excelled in describing the ugliness of girls, at least in his letters to Brod.

          Hedwig was born in Vienna 1888, studied philology and philosophy and she was a social democrat. She later took a degree, became PhD, in 1914. The eleven letters to Hedwig are written by Franz in Prague where he worked fulltime at the Italian insurance company. These letters are neither particularly intimate nor warm-hearted, but have more of a mocking tone. Perhaps they are meant to by humoristic. Hedwig did not think they were. She was very reproachful regarding the “irony” in them. Kafka does not seem very interested in Hedwig, and he seems to have been very depressed at the time. Actually Hedwig calls him a liar in her letters, and Kafka tries in return to transform the fact that he is lying into something interesting. They did not seem to get along at all. Supposedly Kafka felt inferior to Hedwig, both intellectually and emotionally. The relationship with her might have contributed to Kafka´s fear of women. HW survived two wars and died in 1953 in Vienna.

 

The most remarkable and intense relationship that Kafka ever had and the one that had the greatest impact on his literary works, was with the Berlin girl Felice Bauer. Franz went over to the Brod family one evening in August 1912. When he there first saw Felice Bauer, he believed by her looks that she belonged to the servants.[35] The meeting was marked by several misunderstandings and confusion. Kafka would this evening originally edit his debut collection of short prose together with Max, the Betrachtung, ( Looking out ), for Rowohlt´s Verlag, an enterprise which now, because of the guest Felice, instead was left entirely to Brod. Kafka later accompanied Felice to her hotel, gave her by accident his address, and a week later he typed a letter to her, on a paper with the insurance company's letterhead. Here a relationship began, and a giant vampirism from Kafka´s side, one of the most grotesque in the history of literature. Kafka and Felice almost exclusively associated by letters. Kafka demanded challengingly detailed answers to his letters twice a day (!) from Felice. Much of what followed in their relation seems to have happened one-sidedly out of Kafka´s fear of marriage. Kafka monitored himself intensely regarding this fear, living for many years, being the only son, strongly victimized under constant pressure from his family to get married. E. Krause-Jensen:

 

        "Between 1912 and 1917 he writes incessantly to her, now and then taking back what he has just written, the lines he had just sent away, but he obliges her, however, to answer twice a day. He replaces the marriage contract with a diabolic pact; a sort of "vampire business correspondence," as Deleuze and Guattari puts it, an activity that Kafka needs in order to be able to work. 'Motionless', by his table of existence, Kafka sucks Felice´s blood like a spider, weaving his yarn. The only fear he glimpses and perceives, all terrified, through the oversensitive intuition of his, is that he should perish in his own yarn of words, and that the "resort areas" should prove to be dead ends. Therefore he simultaneously is writing short stories on the theme of himself slowly turning into an animal. /..../. "[36]

 

        What now followed was an intense creative period, the most intense of his life, during which Kafka´s stronghold to everyday life was the letters to Felice. Franz Kafka did not engage to her until June 1, 1914. Kafka's fear of marriage can, according to many, have had its base in sexual agony, or even more of a general feeling of not being man enough, or in a different sexual orientation. Kafka wrote The Verdict, The Stoker and The Metamorphosis within a period of just a few months in the autumn 1912. The Verdict was created in one swoop on the night between the 22nd and 23rd of September 1912, a short story which he dedicated to Felice. He recognized this short story as his first mature work, and he read it aloud to his friends and to an open audience at a recital evening only a couple of days after it had been created. In two days (i.e. nights) in November and December he then wrote The Metamorphosis.  After the completion of this “short novel” Kafka devoted himself to writing his “American novel”, the unfinished Amerika. Kafka then suddenly got into a write paralysis. This would now not be interrupted until Kafka engaged to Felice over a year later. During this "latency" Kafka came to realize, even better than before, that he himself was a great writer, but a writer put in a very difficult situation.

        Kafka wrote about two hundred letters to Felice, very self-centered ones. A solid silence, drowned in words, one might say. Judging by them he seems to have been during this period in a kind of constant crisis. The letters lacks fundamentally essential and relevant content. They deal with unimportant details in life. During the first half of acquaintance with Felice FK published Betrachtung. This book was not appreciated noticeably by Felice, but what she thought about literature always was of minor importance to Franz. The catastrophic in Kafka's predicament, and in particular in relation to Felice, can be illustrated by reproduction of extracts from a letter from the correspondence, from what is sometimes called the "dog letter", written in April, 1913:

 

        "My real fear - it can hardly be said or heard anything worse - is that I never ever will be able to have you. That, in the most favorable case, I would be limited to like a stray faithful dog to kiss your hand, distractedly passed, which would not be a sign of love, but merely a sign of the desperation of this animal, forever doomed to dumbness and despair. That I would sit next to you and, which already has occurred, to feel your body's breathing and life at my side, and basically be more different from you than now, in my room. I would never be able to attract your gaze, and that for me everything really would be lost, when you looked out the window or when you put your face in your hands. I am ostensibly allied with you, riding with you all through the world, hand in hand, and, that none of this is true. In short, I will forever remain so excluded from you, even if you were suppress to indulge to me, that it would bring you in danger. "[37]

 

            FK often returned to the dog-theme. Kafka falls away in the letters to FB from the role of capable author to that of a failed suitor, to a complete stranger in relation to human life and existence, to the role of a fleeing animal.

            Example 2. Kafka in the so-called "wooing letter” in June 1913:

      ”You already know of my strange predicament. Between me and you stands - regardless of everything else - the doctor. What this man says ought to be doubted. By decisions like these, medical diagnoses are not decisive. If they were, I would not hesitate to take them into account. I was not sick – as I told you, but I still am. Possibly living under other circumstances would make be healthy, but it is impossible to create these other circumstances. The medical judgment (which, as I have already said, not to me unconditionally is true) remains of character: the foreign judgment. My family doctor, for instance, would in his stupid irresponsibility not see the slightest obstacle, on the contrary; yet another, a better doctor might clap his hands together over his head. Consider, Felice: in view of this uncertainty this can hardly be said, and it might sound strange. It is now too early to talk about it. Later, however, it would be too late; there would no longer be any time to talk about such things, just as you do point out in your letter. But it is no longer time for any doubt, at least this is how I feel, and I am therefor now asking you: Will you, during the above, unfortunately not very extensively, outlined premise, think about whether you want to be my wife? Do you want to? "[38]

 

            He wrote a long pro et contra-list in his diary. He actually wrote to Felice:

 

      "Within me I have always had – and still have – two souls, battling each other. One is roughly the way you want him. (…) The other one is only thinking of his work."[39]

 

           The first betrothal between Franz and Felice lasted between 1/6 -12/7 1914, - i.e. only five weeks. Kafka seems to have changed his mind immediately and he ended up in a state of agony and total despair after the engagement. In a letter to Felice's friend Grete Bloch Kafka revealed, that he found the whole engagement a mistake. Grete told this to Felice and her parents. The resolution of the two families to break up the engagement took place in Berlin in a hotel, Askanischer Hof, in the presence of members from both these families, and the meeting obviously was experienced as a trial by Kafka.[40] On July 29 FK started to write The Trial. This novel seems to be based on material tied to the engagement to Felice.      

          The second engagement was initiated three years later, in the beginning of July 1917, and ended soon, shortly after Kafka realized that he had contracted tuberculosis. One night in August Kafka woke up in his bed noticing that he coughed blood. He was, as he later mentioned, most of all surprised, and then actually delighted, despite the pools of blood on the floor – this because he by instinct knew he could at least sleep now not being bothered by the usual severe headache.[41] He went to work as usual the next morning, after his Czech maid, horrified at the sight of the blood-stained floor of the apartment, having exclaimed: "Poor Herr Doctor, with you it's soon running out!”. Not until the afternoon of the same day he actually went to his doctor! Later Kafka wrote the following lines:

 

      "There is only one disease, neither more nor less, and this sole disease is hunted blindly by Medicine, like one is hunting an animal through endless forests."[42]

                                                                           

      Kafka's tuberculosis would, largely untreated, undulate back and forth, sometimes forcing him feverish to bed, sometimes almost completely subsiding, - yet sometimes giving hope to disappear, other times re-issue despair at deterioration. In letters to Milena Jesenská three years later he would, more bantering, be talking about the disease and its outbreak. One can imagine the difficulty in the situation that arose, with fits of tuberculosis including recurrent bouts of fever, in devoting himself wholeheartedly to such an advanced writing as his. Maybe he wove part of his thought of the disease into the writing itself. One can also speculate on what effect Kafka's tuberculosis had mentally on Kafka. I am referring to the psychological effects, the change of moods etc., which this disease sometimes brings. [43] Numerous are Kafka´s own thoughts, speculations about the disease in his letters and notes. It is quite clear that he seems to have considered that its outbreak originally had to do with the continuous mental struggle that was going on inside him: marriage or writing. He wrote in The Diary about how “the brain covenanted with the lung behind my back."…[44]  On tuberculosis he wrote to Felice: ”The blood does not come from the lung, but from a well-aimed blow from one of the fighters."

 

        Kafka did not feel strictly bound by any oath of allegiance to Felice during the periods of engagement, but he several times during this time met with other women. During a trip to Riva in northern Italy he spotted an 18 year old Swiss non-Jewish girl, Gerti Wasner, which he immediately got attracted to. They spent several days together. Franz composed thrilling tales in the evenings, which he read to her at breakfast at the hotel. Kafka avoided strong girls and often sought himself to very young ones. Perhaps FK often liked asexual advances. He found pleasure in having relationships in the form playmate-playmate. He was also the sort of man who from a young age clenched to tight friendships with men, often for life. He cherished these contacts well. Often he in the middle of his romances fell deep into melancholy, which can easily be interpreted a sign of a life-long depression.

      The second engagement to Felice Bauer also ended in 1917 due to Kafka´s tuberculosis. Felice then in 1919 married and had a child the following year. She died in New York in 1960, 77 years old, after having sold all Kafka´s letters in an auction to pay her medical bills.

 

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          It has been hypothesized by Friedländer[45] that Kafka would have been almost totally uninterested in women, and that Kafka would instead have had an attraction to children of both sexes. Shame consistently is a motive in Kafka's writings and shame is a quite natural thing in connection to pedophilia, Friedlander asserts. This opens up a plausible view of unexpected tragedy. It contributes to a plausible understanding of a prerequisite of FK´s work regarding the possible concealment of desire, and hence of a duality concealed. It might also in part explain his negative attitude to marriage. Some concrete passages might be referred from the works, passages that points in the direction of Kafka being attracted to children. There is an abundance of "quasimodo" creatures in Kafka's texts, of helpers, young boys and rowdy girls and so on. One can imagine that Kafka had a penchant for non-adults, for the eternal adolescent, like himself. And at the same time FK regarded himself as barely human. According to third parties, e.g. K. Wolff, FK himself reminded of an eternal teenager. A book about pedophilia which Brod lent him made him completely out of equanimity. He then also compared the reading of such literature, - somewhat surprising, confusing and perhaps illuminating - with the reading of psychoanalytic writings. In the diary Kafka often leaves descriptions of the beauty of very young people, especially young naked boys.

        This reasoning by Friedländer can be looked upon in contrast to Brod´s biography, with its high strung description of Kafka as almost a miraculous saint-like man.

        If one often connects Kafka with the notion of masochism, this may well be linked to other sexual acts, which Kafka is known to have practiced. He told Max that he liked to be punished by women. That FK together with the prostitutes in brothels in Prague would have realized his innermost fantasies that altogether met his sexual needs, is not likely. They could provide nothing of the sort.

 

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         Kafka was mesmerized by the new technology of Modernism, and perhaps he did not realize in the same way as Nietzsche did the dangers of this technology. Nietzsche clarifies the human situation in modernity, how Man replaced God with technology, and with science, progress and Liberalism. It has, for N., thus come a “revaluation of all values” ... People in the West after Dostoyevsky, Kierkegaard, and Marx may be seen as spiritually lost, as Blanchot[46] would much later formulate it. F. Kafka however did not react quite like Nietzsche. He reacted more "unphilosophical". We might ourselves acknowledge how these texts, through their "sympathetic-antipathetic" approach, depicts the attitude of modern ambivalence. In the novels, one might find critique of civilization, for instance in The Trial and the Amerika. In Amerika - a Dickens´ pastiche, according to F.K. himself -, it is in the details that this is most appalling. Kafka admired Dickens and the use of the "unexpected detail", a stylistic device, which is also frequent with H.C. Andersen, which with the latter by the sharp-eyed Kierkegaard was called the "unnecessary detail of Andersen´s”. [47] Kierkegaard regarded the use of detail in Andersen as pointless. Kafka in some respects anticipates Orwell´s 1984 [48]. What was then the big reaction of Kafka´s in his relation to the main historical and cultural events of his time? Was it one of true rebellion, a revolutionary subversive one, or was he an aesthetic, more interested in using his environment and the horrors of his time for his own enjoyment, quite like we know he actually used people around him, like Felice? The authorship of FK has perhaps more to do with Modernity as a spiritual phenomenon, than with the immediate experience of the war and of social struggle. His “soulmate” R. Walser was a more active portrayer of daily social life. Kafka´s The Verdict, as well as Amerika, were both written before the outbreak of the Great War. Kafka´s work only in part, or in aspect, mirrors the political and cultural climate. There was a spiritual emptiness, anguish and a rootlessness which later would be formulated by Lavelles, Maritain, Mounier, Sartre and others in existentialism. This philosophy was mainly about the i