By Talal Chami
No matter how hard I tried to separate Franz Kafka, both the man, and the author, my efforts turned futile. My motivation for this rebel goes back many years when I had played the role of the father of Gregor Samsa, in Metamorphosis, ( novel turned play ) which begins with the sentence: ‘ As Gregor Samsa woke up one morning out of uneasy dreams, he found that he had been transformed in his bed into a giant insect. “ ( Hayman, A Biography )
This is for me one of the loudest voices echoing disgust at tremendous pain, yet unable to lash it but on himself. “ His fantasies of degradation, after being treated by his father as if he belonged to an inferior species, and abused with animal imagery, Kafka arrived at the image of the insect as a means of expressing the alienation from his body he had so often felt. Gregor cannot control his ceaselessly waving little legs, cannot at first manoeuvre his unfamiliar body to the edge of the bed. “ he is alienated, unable to connect, far from a core, he desperately longs to be part of. “ As he said, the feeling ‘ I hate them all ‘ was virtually indistinguishable from self-hatred. “ ( Hayman, A Biography ) A dear friend, journalist and researcher Mr. Antoine Salameh, noted in a telephone conversation: “ What a nihilistic man! All his heroes are failures, in total despair, torn between soul and body.”
Rebel? Yes. And yet his rebellion is one that stems from the outside inwards. “ Sensitive, gentle, shy. ‘ one felt good with him’ friends have recorded; silent in company that intimidated him, he could be an ironically humorous talker and a patient listener. “ ( Stern, World of Kafka ) He is never able to detach his upbringing from his continuous struggle as an artist. “ A rebellious child to his parents, “( Stern, World of Kafka )
“ Kafka embarks upon stories that are pure myth, full of creatures and situations and sequences of events that we recognize as belonging to the myth-making level of the mind, the level of dreams, reverie, or childhood memory, which Freud too acknowledged as the home of myth .. Myth is a form of narration appropriate for the telling of things that transcend the limits of possible knowledge, for it ventures where no human being could go, beyond the horizon of human existence .. “ ( Stern, World Of Kafka )
He lived a traumatic childhood, mainly tormented by mixed feelings of alienation and rejection and subordination. “ Isolated by the death of his brothers, Franz found himself living alone in a world subject to parental orders. To his classmates, ( he ) seemed withdrawn and unapproachable. “ ( Hayman, A Biography )
Ronald Hayman noted that once “ on his way back to Prague ( where he worked) he spent a night in Dresden, where he would ‘ visit the zoo ‘ .. “ in which I belong.” Kafka remarked.
Despite headaches, nightmares, and wakefulness, he worked avidly. “ Characters in his stories suffer a series of random shock, dangers, and rejections; punishment is the very stuff of the narrative. “( Stern, World of Kafka ) According to Gunther Anders, “ the face of Kafka’s world appears distorted to the point of madness .. For him, it is the very temporal, commonplace world which has become infinitely ‘remote, inaccessible, mysterious. “ ( Anders, Kafka )
Kafka ventures into a non-ending struggle to determine a non-existent centre, or destination. “ Kafka describes the world from without, and the hero’s attempts to grow into it as doomed to failure. The ‘hero’ cannot penetrate to its centre, for he does not belong there. ( the hero) may be spiritually non-existent, always arriving but never reaching his destination, “ and even sometimes “ who inevitably arrives too late; so that life becomes a perpetual scramble from place to place. As soon as he arrives, he is no longer wanted. “ ( Anders, Kafka )
“ In his letters and diaries images of torture appear over and over again-whips, knives, screws, spurs, gags. With few exceptions, all this ferocity is of course directed to one person: himself .” ( Stern, World of Kafka )
On Dec, 4th 1913 he wrote: “ Viewed from the outside it is terrible for a young but mature person to die, or worse, to kill himself. Hopelessly to depart in a complete confusion … To die would mean nothing else than to surrender a nothing to the nothing, but that would be impossible to conceive, for how could a person, even only as a nothing, and not merely to an empty nothing but rather to a roaring nothing whose nothingness consists only in its incomprehensibility. “ ( Brod, The diaries )
On Nov.21, 1915 he wrote: “ Complete futility. Sunday. A more than ordinarily sleepless night… Now and then felt severe pain in my head, once a really burning pain. Had supper. Now at home. Who on high could behold all of this with open eyes from beginning to end ? ( Brod, the Diaries )
On Jan 24, 1922, he wrote: “ My life is a hesitation before birth. “ ( Brod, The diaries )
His vision and approach to aesthetic moments in narrative and art is peculiar in it own fashion “ Where a man is condemned before he starts and is forced to repeat again and again the same kind of experience, there can be neither development nor climax, in a sense not even any grandly conclusive catastrophe. “ ( Anders, Kafka )
And so his state of rebellion made him a torment to other people. He was unable to connect, to express, to unite, to share, to love fully even. “ He was willing and eager to declare that a close relationship with him meant torture for a woman. ‘ She is an innocent person condemned to extreme torture; I am guilty of the wrong for which she is being tortured, and am in addition the torturer. “ ( Anders, Kafka ) he is in a constant state of agitation, always seeking. “ He seeks not liberation, “ but rather “ salvation” and he achieves it through his art. ( Anders, Kafka )
He never manages to penetrate this environment he is seeking, “ condemned to a life of repeated failures, from which he cannot escape, Kafka’s hero is in a sense imprisoned. He does not feel shut in but shut out. His purpose is not to break out, but to break in. “ ( Anders, Kafka )
In 1924 Kafka’s health was deteriorating rapidly yet he remained cheerful: “ if only I could make some money! But around here nobody pays you for staying in bed until mid-day” ( Stern, The World Of )
Kafka died on June 3rd 1924. One month before his forty-first birthday.
He was buried in Prague’s Jewish Cemetery on June 11, at four o’clock in the afternoon. When the funeral party returned to the Kafka family home in the Old Town, a couple of hours later, M. Brod, observed that the ‘great Town Hall Clock had stopped. The hands were pointing to four o’clock! ( Stern, The World Of
Anders, Günther. Franz Kafka. London: Bowes & Bowes, 1960. Print
Hayman, Ronald. K a Biography of Kafka. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1981. Print
Kafka, Franz, Max Brod, and Joseph Kresh. The Diaries of Franz Kafka. New York: Schocken,
Salameh, Antoine. Telephone Interview. 16 Sept. 2015.
Stern, J. P. The World of Franz Kafka. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980. Print.