Franz Kafka

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Franz Kafka (1883-1924) Czech-born German writer is best known for his short story Metamorphosis (1912) and the widespread familiarity of the literary term Kafkaesque, inspired by his nightmarishly complex and bizarre yet absurd and impersonal short stories.

Franz Kafka was born 3 July, 1883 in Prague, Bohemia, now the Czech Republic, into a Jewish middle-class, German speaking family; his mother Julie, (ne Lwy), three younger sisters and his successful merchant father Hermann. Hermann owned a shop below where the family lived in Prague's House of the Three Kings. He was ill-tempered and disrespectful towards his son's escape into literature and pursuit of writing and proved to be an on-going source of conflict and despair in many of Kafka's works. Kafka became the eldest and only son when his two brothers died in infancy and he was excruciatingly aware of this role in the family for the rest of his life.

Kafka rebelled against his father's materialism and often wrote metaphorically of the struggle to overcome a dismayingly gargantuan, overpowering and practically suffocating force, much like his own timid and shy self in relation to his father. His Letter to Father (1919), never sent, is a plaintive attempt to explain his fear of and estrangement from his father and attempt to end the unceasing reproaches he received, as being the eldest son, he felt to be such a disappointment to his father.

Kafka's was visionary fiction, addressing three decades ahead of time the anxieties and change of the 20th century. While surrounded by some of the literati of the time such as Franz Werfel, he was isolated from the German community in Prague and he wrote of the ghetto before the urban renewal and rebuilding: "In us all it still lives -- the dark corners, the secret alleys, the shuttered windows, the squalid courtyards, the rowdy pubs, the sinister inns." Kafka was also alienated from his own heritage by his parent's perfunctory religious practice and minimal social formality in the Jewish community, though his style and influence is sometimes attributed to Jewish folk lore. Kafka eventually declared himself a socialist atheist, Spinoza, Darwin and Nietzsche some of his influences.

In 1902 Kafka met Max Brod who would become his translator, supporter and most intimate friend. Kafka entered the German University in Prague in 1901 to study German literature and law, receiving his doctorate in 1906. Kafka was to lead a relatively inauspicious life, an exemplary employee with the Worker's Accident Insurance Institute in Prague from 1907 to 1922. He would finally gain renown posthumously upon Max Brod's publication of his three major works, The Trial (1925) and The Castle in 1926 and Amerika (1927). Kafka's oeuvre is often filled with black humour in the style of parable, meditations, poetic fragments, and sketches. Though his works are often open to multiple interpretations, causing difficulty categorising his work in any single genre, existentialism and modernism are among them.

In 1911, Kafka was to spend his first of many curative periods in sanatoriums and spas for ill health. In 1912 he met and became engaged to Felice Bauer from Berlin. In 1912 he finished Metamorphosis his best-known short story, a masterpiece of stunning psychological, sociological and existential angst. From his third-floor room with a view of the Vltava river and the toll bridge crossing it, Kafka worked on Metamorphosis. "I would stand at the window for long periods," he wrote in his diary in 1912, "and was frequently tempted to amaze the toll collector on the bridge below by my plunge." He wrote Meditation in 1913, a collection of short prose pieces. In 1914 he finished Before the Law.

In 1916 Kafka wrote The Judgement, directly reflecting his struggle with his father; the prophetic In the Penal Colony and A Country Doctor (1919), another collection of short prose. In 1917 Kafka broke his second engagement to Felice Bauer, most likely precipitated by his continued failure to cut ties with his domineering father and set forth in his own life to get married and settle down. He was also diagnosed with tuberculosis after years of poor health. In 1923, finally escaping his paternal family he went to Berlin to write exclusively. He wrote A Hunger Artist in 1924, four stories illustrating the concise and lucid style of Kafka's writing in his later years.

Kafka's lack of confidence and personal misgivings about his work caused him to request that all his unpublished manuscripts be destroyed, however his friend, biographer and literary executor Max Brod didn't obey his wishes and in 1925 he published The Trial, indisputably Kafka's most successful novel in it's dark exploration of anxiety, paranoia and persecution. Joseph K, the protagonist, unsuccessfully confronts arbitrary rules and a hopeless court system without knowing the crime with which he is guilty of. Brod also published The Castle (1926) a wide-sweeping metaphor of authority and bureaucracy and the search for grace and forgiveness and Amerika (1927) with a light and amusing angle but also an examination of the symbolic horrors of modern life. The Great Wall of China was published in 1931.

3 June 1924, Franz Kafka died from complications of tuberculosis in Kierling, near Vienna, Austria. His remains are buried alongside his parent's under a two-meter obelisk in Prague's New Jewish Cemetery in Olsanske. There is no epitaph, but Milena Jesenska, his lover and Czech journalist and writer, a few days after his death wrote: "He wrote the most significant works of modern German literature, which reflect the irony and prophetic vision of a man condemned to see the world with such blinding clarity that he found it unbearable and went to his death."

"Theoretically there is a perfect possibility of happiness: believing in the indestructible element in oneself and not striving towards it." Franz Kafka.

Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc 2005. All Rights Reserved.

The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

Recent Forum Posts on Franz Kafka

Kafka's A Hunger Artist

Is this story a religious allegory or a story about the misunderstood artist? What is the significance of the panther who replaces the hunger artist in his cage? The 'art' of the hunger artist is something that he does alone, and apparently because he enjoys it? So why does he want an audience so desperately, as to die when he loses it? Thanks.

130 years after Kafka's birth

Prelude Kafka was born on the third day of July, 1883, in Prague which was then the second most important city of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. His parents were jewish, and his father had immigrated from the czech countryside to the center of Bohemia when he was young, attempting with much strife to better his horrible financial conditions. This he did succeed in, and when Franz was born the family was already reasonably rich, which enabled him to study at good schools and then attend university. Although Franz first started studying Chemistry, half a month later he switched to Law, which allowed him to still keep being on the track his father seemed to have wanted, and at the same time study humanities, like the ancient classics and german literature, particularly Goethe. After the end of his studies he got hired at an insurance company, and later on the Worker's Accident Insurance Institute, which was the largest insurance entity in Bohemia, itself the most industrialised part of the Habsburg Empire. Two years before Franz obtained his Law degree, he wrote his first surviving work, although only a small part of it was ever made public in two magazines, and some was also read in meetings with friends. Kafka had met Max Brod during his university years, and together they visited many of the literary circles of Prague. The first work mentioned was the "Description of a Struggle", written in 1904. The Description of a Struggle is a short story which Brod had named as "a wonderful prelude of what was to follow", although while reading it is perhaps more evident that Kafka at the time was not yet depicting his particular type of long allegory. The story features possibly more extreme imagery than the work that came later. 1912 1912 was a very important year for Kafka. He was 29, and only just got his first published book. It was a collection of very short stories, titled Betrachtung (ussually it is translated as Contemplation), which comprised of many old works as well. Perhaps the two most striking stories in the collection is the very short piece titled "The wish to be a red-Indian", and the larger story named "Unhappiness". In the latter Kafka for the first- and final- time uses a metaphysical object as a symbol, making it part of his story. It is - or appears to be- the story of a person who is visited by a child-ghost. The story has an unmistakable first paragraph that sets the tone for the rest. In the 22nd of September of that year he wrote, in one attempt which seems to have lasted for a number of hours till early dawn, the short story "Das Urteil" (The Judgement). Up to that point it was clearly his favorite work, and he kept the view that it was one of his best stories even years later. Some time later, before the end of the year, Franz began working on one of his most famous creations. It was the small novel Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung in the original), in which the protagonist is a person who gets transformed into a human-sized insect. The story is built in its first chapter very much like a theatretical play, with closed doors all around the room of Gregor Samsa- the man who suffered the metamorphosis- and others trying to communicate with him and to get him to unlock the door. Kafka himself considered the story to have been his bleakest creation yet, although he rarely mentions it again in later parts of his diary. Other published works In 1914, some months after the Great War had started, Kafka wrote another of his darkest works, the short story "In the Penal Colony". It can be regarded as his most violent and dark piece. It was first published after the war. Finally, near the end of his life, his story "The hunger-artist", another examination of the suffering artist who denies external influences- and even food- so as to search in vain for recognition of his art, was published. Along with The Metamorphosis, the Judgement, the collection titled Contemplation and two other collections, A country Doctor, and A Hunger Artist (the last shortly after Franz died) were all of his works he designed for publication and mostly saw them in book form. Works which remained after his death The majority of Kafka's literary production was not published during his lifetime. In fact he seems to have asked Max Brod to burn every piece of paper he would find, and also if possible to collect all that was published and destroy it as well. Along those works were three novels, Amerika, The Trial, and The Castle, numerous shorter prose pieces, many incomplete short stories, and the diary of Franz Kafka. Notable past authors who were influenced by Kafka Although during his lifetime it seems that the only famous author he had sometimes dealed with was Robert Muzil, it is also noted that Rilke was impressed by some of his stories as well. After WW2 Kafka's work became rapidly famous, influencing many writers like Albert Camus, Sartre, and at a later stage of their creation also Hesse, Thomas Mann and J.L. Borges. Epigram Franz Kafka died in 1924. He had been suffering from tuberculosis of the lung for many years by then. Himself he was of the view that this illness was brought by his mental problems and endless self-reproaches. He seems to have ultimately destroyed his own self. His troubled relationship with his father was never resolved, despite a large letter he wrote to him near the end of his life, but never sent it. Kafka often seemed to suffer from various acute psychological troubles, he sometimes was of the view that his body was hiddeous, and almost always thought that his body was too weak to function properly. Hypochondria later on gave way to more dangerous preoccupations with his somatic as well as mental state. He seems to have ordered his own death, from a lethal injection, urging the man who injected him with the words "Kill me, or you will be a murderer"... Still, even so many years after his birth and death, and with only a generally small amount of works printed, Kafka appears to have already taken his place in the pantheon of European and Global literature as one of the main authors of the 20th century. And if literature always evolved, and may include even more impressive figures than Franz in the future, we can always fall back on one of his own statements, that "the decisive moment in the human evolution is constant"...

The Franz Kafka museum in Prague

During our holiday in Prague, I went to the Franz Kafka museum (husband wanted a walk instead :rolleyes:). Got the biographic thing with his father, but very intersting, going through the influences on his work. Very good conception of his works too, as well as good English translations. Did you know Kafka was a Taoist? Even went as far as saying he thought in his heart he was really Chinese. Shame that the original Jewish quarter that apparently makes up the dreamy world with Venice-like streets and alleyways and delapidated partly medieval buildings of his books was knocked down in the greatest re-design of Prague ever. But there are still places left you can look at or go, such as the most famous Caf Louvre where a philosophy circle Kafka and Brod were briefly members of regularly met. What was a shame was the sh*te (and I really mean that) stuff that was there in the museum shop. Nothing small to get :(, apart from endless notebooks with Kafka's gaunt face looking at you and postcards with his photo. Two books of his available in English, one in German, and a book of Kafka's Prague. Overall, though, very very very good exhibition. Interactive, with sound and images, texts, installations, projections, well thought out. Highly recomendable when you are in Prague.

How did Kafka influence German Culture?

How did Kafka influence German Culture?

What is your favorite story by Franz Kafka?

I believe i have read all which has been released up to now, fiction, diaries, letters. I used to love Kafka's work (still like it, but i have moved away from his influence). My favorite story by him probably is At the penal colony. It is one of the most detailed and violent works by him. His most classical work possibly is the Metamorphosis, one of the few books you can sum up in a sentence and still make an impression on someone who has not read it. Other, less known tales i like include The Railway at Galda, The Torturer (it is only a few lines long) and Blumfeld: An elderly bachelor.

Did Kafka suffer from BDD?

BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder) is a mental illness that causes one to see either entirely imagined uglyness in his form, or exagerate real flaws, to the point where it becomes difficult for him to function socially. A few notes in Kafka's diary seem to point to the direction that he might have had some variant of this illness. Also in at least one of his letters to Felice he claims that he is ugly, but that this might be just imaginary, and that she might even think he is beautiful. BDD could explain some of his tragic life, since it is associated with depression and even suicidal ideation.

Biblical Allusions in The Metamorphosis

I read The Metamporphosis for the first time last night in one sitting, my first experience with Kafka. The story is compelling on many levels, and one that I noticed was Biblical. Samsa's downfall, like that of Adam and Eve, is brought about by an apple. Also, didn't God condemn Adam and Eve to crawling on their bellies, eating dust, for the rest of their lives, much like an insect? When Samsa finally dies, towards the end of March (Easter), he is forsaken and driven away by his people, his family, as Jesus was. Who or what do the three lodgers represent? I am struggling to connect this theory. Am I simply reading too much into this? Are these references isolated incidents of symbolism, or is there actually something to this running through the entire story? I would be glad to hear your thoughts.

Incestuous undertones in The Metamorphosis?

Does Gregor's relationship with his sister have undertones? There's parts on page 36 that seem like they might indicate that.

The Metamorphosis- expressionist or modernist?

I'd argue expressionist but what are your thoughts?

Finally ....a definitive English translation of Franz Kafka

When I saw that my library had a new translation of Kafka's 'The Trial' on cd, I checked it out. I love to listen to classics and others on cd, but 'The Trial' is not one to start with. However, I've read Kafka's novel twice before. So I started listening. The Introduction is given by the translater, Breon Mitchell. He explains that Kafka's friend, Max Brod, was left the task of destroying all Kafka's notes and unfinished novels, mainly 'Amerika', 'The Castle', and 'The Trial', at Kafka's death bed behest. But Max didn't do this. Instead he completed the novels and at the same time edited the finished chapters. From 1930, the translations of the Muirs were considered by most to be the definitive text for English readers. And, of course, their translations were developed from Brod's work. So, as Mitchell explains, if Brod's work is inaccuarate, any translation taken from it would be inaccurate; that is, the translation could not express Kafka's original thoughts. Then in the late 80s, Kafka's original manuscripts and notes were sold at auction. This marked the first time an accurate translation could be accomplished using the material Brod worked with. What a convoluted mess! What are the thoughts of you other readers of Kafka? Is there any other translators who have worked with Kafka's original manuscript and notes? Then there is the Orson Welles movie of 'The Trial' made in the early 60s with Anthony Perkins. I think Welles played the bed-ridden lawyer. In any event, Welles was quoted as saying this was his best film, better than Citizen Kane. For some reason no one copyrighted Welles' film, so copies are few and far between unless some entrepreneur can step in and make a viewable copy. I would be interested in reading what other Kafka lovers think about all the above. By the way, the new Mitchell translation is available on Blackstone Audio.

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