Kafka Executes Josef K.

Josef K. is arrested for no reason at the beginning of Kafka’s The Trial, and at its conclusion he is put to death for no reason as well. Kafka, who worked by day as a lawyer at a Prague insurance company, was well able to illustrate not just the absurdity and inscrutability of bureaucracy, but also its deep cruelty and […]

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Kafka’s Great Fable: “Before the Law”

From Kafka’s novel The Trial: Before the Law stands a doorkeeper. A man from the country comes to this doorkeeper and requests admittance to the Law. But the doorkeeper says that he can’t grant him admittance now. The man thinks it over and then asks if he’ll be allowed to enter later. “It’s possible,” says the doorkeeper, “but not now.” […]

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Kafka’s Diaries

  My recent post about Thomas Wolfe elicited a handful of comments like, “I loved to read him when I was young, but as I get older he no longer holds up.” My own versions of Wolfe are people like Hesse and Dostoevsky, but Kafka has remained one of those authors I latched onto in high school who has never lost […]

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The Unfinished Kafka

Reiner Stach, in the middle entry of his three volume biography of Franz Kafka, writes, “Anyone who studies bibliographies today will envy Kafka’s earliest readers, who knew very little about his life and could enjoy his work as literature and not as an accumulation of autobiographical codes.” (186) Stach’s biography (and its beautiful translation into English by Shelley Frisch) seems to give us Kafka as if from that very perspective: for while Kafka’s life and writing are clearly interwoven, there is no sense of stretching or forcing the life or the writing over each other. The second volume at least is less concerned with “what of the life got into the writing” than it is with “what kind of life did the writing emerge from,” and for that and many other reasons is easily one of the most enjoyable biographies I’ve read in a very long time. My earliest reading of Kafka included this remark from George Steiner, on Kafka’s fable “Before the Law”: “The knowledge that it was written … by a gentleman in a bowler hat going to and from his daily insurance business, defies my grasp.” Stach’s book allows that defiance to continue, and deepen, and is just as much the biography of a writer as it is of a young man from Prague in the years leading up to World War One, as he struggles with the pressures of family and career, and the possibility of marriage. […]

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