Born tl;dr Die

We all die, and we all die alone.

 

    I had no meaning in my life,

                                                      meaning instead was imposed

by the very existence of my life.

 

Not upon the world but in my family,

by the invisible chains of familiar blood

which gave a future to my nearest.

 

So

I carefully stepped

(one at a time) Down the stairs of life

 (with one breath at one step) Knowing that at the end

 

Lay only the untenable truth of my own death.

 

I swallowed hard

And I held the hand of my mother and my father

And took that first step

 

I became a person with(out) meaning.

 

(She held a trembling hand

She spoke with an effort

but what She said…)

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Kafka Revisited

I think this photograph turned out alright!  I love how the Penguin Modern Classic of Franz Kafka’s ‘The Castle ‘ ends as he left it, the last sentence hanging incomplete.  It tantalises the reader to think of what Kafka possibly had planned for the conclusion of the novel but, as the introductory essay in the Modern Classic notes, it also adds an air of completeness to the novel as a whole helping to fit the overall theme of the novel perfectly.

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My photograph of the last page of Kafka’s 1926 novel ‘The Castle’, taken with a Pentax S1a camera on colour film.  Perhaps not as clear as I’d like it to be, but I love the highlighting the ‘she spoke with an effort’ part which, I think, adds an air mystery.

I have one more novel to read by Kafka and that is ‘The Trial’, a copy of which sits on my bedside table.  In truth I am loathe to start reading it, partly because I have so many other books on the go at once, but truthfully because it would be the last major work of his that I have not read.  Although I’ve never found Kafka’s writings an easy read his work is a rewarding read, burrowing deeply into themes that permeated the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Nature of Existence

“‘Off already, sir?’ he said. ‘Are you surprised?’ asked K. ‘Yes,’ said the landlord, ‘weren’t you interrogated, then?’ ‘No,’ said K. ‘I wouldn’t allow it.’ ‘Why not?’ asked the landlord. ‘I fail to see’. K. said, ‘why I should allow myself to be interrogated, why I should play along with a joke or bow to an official whim. Another time I might have done so, likewise as a joke or in response to a whim, but not today.’ ‘Yes of course, I see’ said the landlord, but it was merely polite agreement, lacking any conviction.”

From ‘The Castle’ (1926) by Franz Kafka.

Kafka 1915

My parents recently returned from a visit to Prague, in the Czech Republic, and presented me with a gift of Franz Kafka‘s ‘The Metamorphosis’.  It is a beautiful edition of the short novella, wonderfully bound with obvious care taken to present the work in the historical context in which it was wrote.  I have a deep fondness for Central Europe, and hope to travel to the Czech Republic myself one day, but this gift helped highlight the literary scene in the early 20th century, before the rug of peace was well and truly ripped from under Europe in 1914.

As I re-read ‘The Metamorphosis’ it became clear that I had not appreciated the tale on a previous read many years ago.  The disgust of which Gregor Sama’s family feel about him in the weeks and months after his ‘change’ renders the reader uncomfortable as we learn of Gregor’s own views on his new life climbing walls whilst starvation slowly sets in.  Kafka never wanted his ‘vermin’ illustrated and the original edition, published in German in 1915, required careful consideration translation of the language used when it was published in English a few years later.  Having finished ‘The Metamorphosis’, I delved back into my book shelf and read a few more of his short stories and excerpts.  His work often deals with the themes of alienation, family conflict, isolation and psychological suffering.  His substantial works, including ‘The Castle’, ‘The Trial’ and ‘The Judgement’, often deal with the above themes and the roles that are thrust upon the characters.  Frustration is borne out of a maddening bureaucracy in ‘The Castle’, possibly influenced by the domination of Kafka’s own all consuming insurance job, whilst family conflict can be found throughout most of his fictional works.

By chance I’m currently reading Albert Camus‘s ‘The Rebel’, a philosophical essay on the role, meaning and context of rebellions throughout the past 300 years.  It is a heavy going but enlightening read, and builds upon themes discussed in his previous novels, ‘The Plague’ and ‘The Stranger’ (heavily recommended!).  Kafka, it is noted, heavily influenced existentialism, and this is reflected in the works of Camus and his contemporary friend and sparring partner Sartre.  (Although it perhaps should be noted Camus is noted more for his opposition to nihilism and his closer links to the philosophy and debating of absurdism).

Influenced by terrible and sad tale of Gregor Samsa, I began a quick little painting portraying an allusion to the ‘vermin’, and the title and publication date of Kafka’s tale.

'Kafka 1915', an acrylic and gesso painting on stretched canvas.   Available to buy from here on Etsy,

‘Kafka 1915’, an acrylic and gesso painting on stretched canvas by the author.  (Sold! Well given to free to a friend in Belgium).

The tale of Kafka himself is perhaps to throw light onto the dark material that he wrote.  Although publishing little during his lifetime, Kafka gained fame relatively soon after his death.  Before dying of tuberculosis at the age of 40 in 1924, he ordered his friend Max Brod to burn his remaining unpublished body of literature and letters.  Thankfully Brod disobeyed this last demand of his dear friend, and helped publish the short stories, unfinished manuscripts and letters to widespread literary acclaim.  A prolific letter writer during his life, Kafka has left behind a substantial amount of letters describing his lifestyle and demonstrating his writing commitment.  Lauded by the literary establishment and by the public as a true innovative writer of the early 20th century, Kafka would surely be happy with his status.

  • Nightmarish rather than surreal‘, a talk on the works and themes of Kafka by David Foster Wallace.  Well worth a listen, as he explains Kafka’s plain and elegant writing style.