Friday, September 17, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 1.2 (Franz Kafka)


The Basic Kafka
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Kafka, Franz
The Basic Kafka


Purchased at Seventh St. Books in NYC.

I remember reading this while working as a temp at Hyperion Books in Manhattan.

I have two vivid memories from this collection of Kafka's writing. The first is of Kafka's letter to his father, which is one of the most devastating things I have ever read. Sitting in my cubicle in the back corner of the marketing department, I read it over and over. I even tried composing something similar myself.

Looking back it seems this was nearly a premonitory act. Before the year was out, my father would pass away and I would charge myself with writing and giving his eulogy. It feels weirdly as if I sensed his death was imminent and was preparing myself to face it.

I wrote the whole eulogy out, then deleted most of it, leaving only a bare-bones outline to remind me of the stories I'd intended to tell. It was nothing like Kafka's letter to his father, I should note. I found that although our relationship was often difficult and strained we were bonded by a depth of feeling born of our years of warfare. I find that kind of bond to be almost completely absent from Kafka. The gulf between his father and himself appears unbridgeable.

The other thing I remember, which is bothering me right now because I can't seem to find it, is a diary entry I recall reading that was written by Kafka on the day WWI was declared. My memory is that it read:

War was declared today. Swimming in the afternoon.

If this entry exists within this volume, or within the larger selection of K's diaries I'll write about tomorrow, I can't find it. I hope it exists, as it's one of my favorite lines of all time. The wit and concision and surprise in the transition slay me every time I think about it. If anyone knows the source of this quotation, I'd be obliged if you could direct me to it.

AHA! Found it; however, not in this volume. Thank you, Google. I found the date in the diaries: August 2, 1914:

Germany has declared war on Russia -- Swimming in the afternoon.

Phew. I knew it existed. I couldn't possibly have made that one up.

(Postscript: It occurs to me, two hours later, that this is not the edition of selected Kafka I owned in New York. It's possible I lost that and bought this at some later date, possibly in Buffalo, possibly at Rust Belt Books.)

from The Basic Kafka

Dearest Father,

You asked me recently why I maintain that I am afraid of you. As usual, I was unable to think of any answer to your question, partly for the very reason that I am afraid of you, and partly because an explanation of the grounds for this fear would mean going into far more details than I could even approximately keep in mind while talking. And if I now try to give you an answer in writing, it will still be very incomplete, because, even in writing, this fear and its consequences hamper me in relation to you and because the magnitude of the subject goes far beyond the scope of my memory and power of reasoning.

(It goes on for about 75 pages after this.)

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