Franz Kafka: The Poet of Shame and Guilt (Jewish Lives)
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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.
principle, to accompany Else on her journey back—probably for a short stay with the Bergmanns in Jerusalem. He thus presented his trip to Müritz as a successful test run for the “greater” journey to Palestine. In fact, Bergmann did not want Kafka to come: their house was too small, he would have to sleep in the children’s room, he was too ill … while Else still insisted. It then became known that no additional berths were available on the ship on which she was sailing; when Else informed Kafka of
throughout; “in addition to that, the landlady was sitting by the bed, knitting a sock, a small task ill-suited for her huge frame, which almost darkened the room.”37 Somehow, “the others” are always there in Kafka’s texts. “L’enfer, c’est les autres”—Hell is other people—Sartre has one of his characters declare in Huis-Clos. Kafka had preceded him by twenty years. In its general significance, the others’ gaze aims at reducing an individual to an object. In Kafka’s stories, this ever-present
for me to grow used to the noise in the afternoon. From time to time a crash in the kitchen or in the corridor. Yesterday, in the attic above, perpetual rolling of a ball, as if someone for some incomprehensible reason were bowling, then a piano below me in addition. Yesterday evening a relative silence, worked somewhat hopefully (“Assistant Attorney”), today began with joy, suddenly, next door or below me, a party taking place, loud and fluctuating as though I were in its midst. Contended with
underground labyrinth for his security and accumulates mounds of food for indefinite survival in his fortress knows that his sense of security is deceptive: “The most beautiful thing about my burrow is the stillness. Of course, that is deceptive. At any moment it may be shattered and then all will be over …”33 In this story which remained unfinished, the reason for going on is offered at the outset: “All this involves very laborious calculation, and the sheer pleasure of the mind in its own
heart of the Old Town—on the outskirts of the former ghetto. At age ten, Franz moved from the elementary school on Fleischmarkt Street to the German Gymnasium in the Kinsky-Palais, a few steps from home; two-thirds of the students were Jews. After the usual years of uninspiring rote learning, marred by Franz’s complete inability to master mathematics, passing the final exam (Abitur), in May 1901, meant entering the outer domain of independent choices, at the university and along all paths of a