View Full Version : The Best Way to Get Into Kafka

01-22-2010, 09:04 PM
Hello friends. Lately, for no apparent reason, I have found myself very taken by the idea of Franz Kafka. I've read The Trial, and thought that it was too incomplete to be as thoroughly enjoyed as I would have liked (which, by the way, is the reason that I say that there is no apparent reason for me to be so taken with Kafka). Still, on my bookshelf I have The Castle, The Complete Stories, and Kafka's Diaries, and I was wondering which one would give me the best jumping point into the brain and workings of Kafka, along with the best understanding of Kafka's views on the world.

01-22-2010, 09:50 PM
Kafka is one of those writers whose reputation precedes him... but not always for the better. His very name and the term Kafkaesque connote a certain mood or atmosphere that is not necessarily an accurate description of his work. Descriptions of his writings as "dream-like" and "Surrealistic" further frustrate the reader after an initial reading. There is little by way of the dark, moody, dream-like atmosphere of certain branches of Surrealism that owe much to Romanticism and French Symbolism. Kafka is quite dead-pan: a subtle humorist of the absurd. Kafka is a master of he fragmentary and his shortest stories, parables, and aphorisms can resonate as deeply as his novels. One might do well to recognize the Jewish roots in Kafka. His stories, tales, and aphorisms often mirror... or re-imagine central myths of Jewish/Hebrew literature in the guise of the faceless, modern, bureaucratic world. Perhaps the closest analogy to Kafka is to be found in J.L. Borges. Both writers strike many readers initially as not living up to the idea of what they would be. I certainly know that my own experiences were similar. There is a sense of detachment... a clean, precise, yet one might say "unremarkable" prose that is at once dead-pan... and not quick to divulge all of itself to the reader. Like Borges, Kafka seems to grow upon the reader... and to the reader susceptible to his work he continues to grow like an obsession. My advise would be to take him slowly at first... explore the classic short stories: the Metamorphosis, certainly... but also the Hunter Gracchus, The Great Wall of China, The Penal Colony, The Hunger Artist, An Old Manuscript, A Visit to a Mine, Jackals and Arabs, etc... Also, do not miss out on Parables and Paradoxes, The Blue Octavo Notebooks, and the Diaries. While I would not undermine The Castle or The Trial... I personally find that there is as much... if not more... of what is unique to and strongest in Kafka to be found in his briefest and most fragmentary works. After him? J.L. Borges, Augusto Monterroso, Julio Cortazar, Robert Walser, W.S. Merwin's prose "narratives".

01-22-2010, 09:56 PM
I think A Hunger Artist is his best short story. The structure of the story, the organization of it is near-flawless. I think that Kafka in A Hunger Artist was able to finally achieve something that he had tried to achieve in all his stories, but had not quite achieved--not even in The Metamorphosis--and that was the total fusion of the fantastic with the realistic. It's really the capstone of his work, I think.

01-22-2010, 10:09 PM
Alright, so you're saying to start by getting my feet with the short stories, and not getting too wrapped up in Kafka's reputation. That's exactrly what I was looking for, thank you stlukes.

Although I mentioned being drawn to the "idea of Kafka" in my post, I do try to take such ideas and reputations with a grain of salt, as these reputations are often distorted, for better or for worse, in many authors that are generally seen as similar to Kafka. Dostoevsky is not as psychologically compelling or dark as he is painted, Nietzsche is not as hard, negative, and nihilistic as he is portrayed to be(which, in this case, is a good thing), and Beckett makes sense from time to time. These reputations clearly have some truth to them, but they are often so exaggerated that you can't put too much emphasis on them.

Nemo Neem
01-23-2010, 02:12 PM
Kafka is my favorite writer. Usually, he's hard to understand. I disagree, however, with the first replier.

I'd start with his longer works, because you'll see the dark humor he portrays. You can't understand him unless you dive into his work; you must be a philosopher, and consider all sides.

01-23-2010, 07:06 PM
When I first came to Kafka I had already experienced the dark, atmospheric literature of Poe, Gautier, Baudelaire, Coleridge... late Romanticism and French Symbolism... and I was well acquainted with the Surrealism of Dali and Breton and Hesse's Steppenwolf and so I had a certain idea as to what Kafka... a great progenitor of Surrealism and the absurd would be like... and this idea was completely at odds with what he was, leaving me quite frustrated initially. It is almost like my first experience with Jackson Pollack in person whose paintings are actually quite delicate... elegant... even poetic... as opposed to what his painted by his reputation.

01-23-2010, 11:26 PM
I studied some of his shorter works as an undergraduate, and of course, the American Jewish intelligentsia assisted me more recently with interpreting some absurdist aspects of Kafka's justice in The Penal Colony, but the kindest thing I can say about my relationship to Kafka as text is that I am disconcerted more than anything else, so I am not sure how to advise a pathway into appreciation.

I'd be something of a hostile literary critic, in fact, if I wanted to make the effort to be so. In fairness though, every edition of his work that I've read has been translated by different people. So maybe it is the Czech, or the way his skepticism of the middrash filters through. I do not know. I did buy him for my kindle though, so I guess I enjoy his spectre at arms length.

01-24-2010, 10:50 AM
I have read the Metamorphosis and it was really one of the finest books of Kafka. I read it several times and yet it was hard to understand but the beauty of it is always moving.

I find the rest of other stories too are really absorbing.

09-02-2014, 12:55 AM
Very old thread, but I'm hoping someone sees my reply. I too found Kafka to be not what I expected, though I did enjoy several of his stories, especially "Great Wall of China." I found "The Trial" to be closest to my preconceived notion of the term Kafkaesque. I'm wondering, though...what are some notable writers/works that would more easily fit into this understood definition of Kafkaesque than Kafka, himself?

09-02-2014, 03:19 AM
Melville's Moby Dick, Gogol, a few of Borges and Bioy Casares stories, Machado de Assis's O Alienista, Friedrich Dürrenmatt (his novel The Trapp is more kafkanesque than anything Kafka ever wrote), some of Nabokov, Orwell 1984, Bradbury Fahenreit...

09-10-2014, 01:08 AM
Melville's Moby Dick, Gogol, a few of Borges and Bioy Casares stories, Machado de Assis's O Alienista, Friedrich Dürrenmatt (his novel The Trapp is more kafkanesque than anything Kafka ever wrote), some of Nabokov, Orwell 1984, Bradbury Fahenreit...

Thank you so much!