Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka

How did Kafka become Kafka?

How indeed. The public impression of a neurotic, socially inept recluse is far from the truth, but one that even those who have read widely in his works can be forgiven.

The English translation of Reiner Stach’s third volume of his Kafka biography (though covering the author’s early years) is a work of great scholarship and corrects many myths of the man who, while reading drafts of the early chapters of The Trial to friends, had to stop frequently because he was laughing so hard.

Parables

W. H. Auden posited that Kafka was perhaps the greatest master of the parable. Here is Kafka’s “On Parables”

Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says: “Go over,” he does not mean that we should cross to some actual place, which we could do anyhow if the labor were worth it; he means some fabulous yonder, something unknown to us, something that he cannot designate more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least. All parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already. But the cares we have every day:that is a different matter.

Concerning this a man once said: Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid of all your daily cares.

Another said: I bet that is also a parable.

The first said: You have won.

The second said: But unfortunately only in parable.

The first said: No, in reality: in parable you have lost.

Perhaps the greatest of Kafka’s parables comes in the cathedral scene in The Trial. In the magnificent film version by Orson Welles, it is moved to the very beginning of the story:

 

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