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Additional resources for Library of Little Masterpieces 36 Autobiography

Sample text

But the image of these morsels, and the scene of judgment in which they are implicated, will soon enough give way to a more all-consuming remorse and a correspondingly violent chewing over of things, as we will see in a moment. The bite that is risked and courted in the exposure of an otherwise inaccessible interiority will soon take on its full dramatic and narrative dimensions. At stake in this bite is the mode of appearance, the making-sensible, of a thing whose religious and metaphysical transcendence Kafka here both mocks and maintains.

So there’s an everlasting up and down; after all God is the stronger, and there’s more anguish in it than you can imagine. So many powers [Kräfte] within me are tied [gebunden] to a stake, which might possibly grow into a green tree. Released [freigemacht], they could be useful to me and the country. But nobody ever shook a millstone from around his neck by complaining, especially when he was fond of it [wenn man sie Lieb hat]. (LFr 10; Br, 21) It is important to foreground the fact that Kafka is addressing a peer with whom he has discussed the ongoing travails of writing and literary ambition, as well as the heroes they both share (more concrete avatars of the forbidding “God” evoked here), in relation to whom they of course fall woefully short.

This sort of wishful grandiosity, defensively ironized, pervades these letters. Further, what looks like a cosmically defiant gesture appears also as mere self-beratement: the lament over not writing (whereas “I must,” categorically and despite all obstacles), a lament that will resound especially in the early diaries, gives a clear sense of the disciplinary nature of the guilt mentioned above, the fact of not measuring up or adhering to something like a regular schedule. I will here precipitously state a gnome of my own, which may serve as a rough principle of reading (and which will be drastically complicated when we return to it later): guilt in Kafka is derived—only in part but at a fundamental level—from a faulty and faltering relation to the banal everyday discipline required by writing in its “highest” aspirations.

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