Autodidact: self-taught


Kafka: A Very Short Introduction

by V. L. Craven

I began my Kafka reading with a collection of his short stories and was so confused I stopped after a couple in order to read this, only to find out I wasn’t as stupid as I was feeling:

Reading Kafka is a puzzling experience. Impossible events occur with an air of inevitability, and no explanation is forthcoming.

Not only are the characters bewildered: so is the reader. As in the cinema, events are shown only from the viewpoint of the main character. With very rare exceptions, we see only what he sees. As early as 1934 Theodor Adorno wrote that Kafka’s novels read like texts accompanying silent films. The reader’s knowledge is similarly limited. We learn no more than the central character knows about his situation.

If one is puzzled by Kafka, it is not because one has somehow missed the point: Kafka’s texts ARE puzzling.

Well, that explains that. I thought I was missing ALL the points.

Some of my favourite bits were about Kafka’s feelings about writing, including how difficult he found writing to be, although he thought himself “made of literature”, it was so important to him.

But this bit made my mouth fall open:

[Kafka fantasized about] a life at a writing-desk in the innermost room of an extensive cellar, interrupted only by walks to fetch his meals from outside the cellar door.

as my fantasy is to live in the attic of a large house, other than that it’s the same fantasy.

Short enough to be read in an afternoon, this book covers everything from childhood to his relationship with his father (which explains a lot about his writing) to his major themes, which is also invaluable. Thanks to this book, I’m ready to return to his fiction.

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