July 3, 2008

A complete opening of the body and the soul

Word for the day: Indubitableness.

That is what Kafka, who was pretty self-deprecatory of anything he wrote, called his short piece, The Judgement, which he wrote in a single eight-hour sitting on the night of September 22nd-23rd, 1912.

Apparently, he loved its Zweifellosigkeit or "indubitableness".

I found this nugget of information in John Updike's preface to The Complete Stories: Franz Kafka, which I just picked up at the library, as I had previously stated I would do this afternoon.

Apparently, the morning after writing the short story "The Judgment," Kafka noted in his diary (p 212-213)

This story, "The Judgment," I wrote at one sitting during the night of the 22nd-23rd, from ten o’clock at night to six o’clock in the morning. I was hardly able to pull my legs out from under the desk, they had got so stiff from sitting. The fearful strain and joy, how the story developed before me, as if I were advancing over water. . . . How everything can be said, how for everything, for the strangest fancies, there waits a great fire in which they perish and rise up again. . . . Only in this way can writing be done, only with such coherence, with such a complete opening of the body and the soul.

A complete opening of the body and the soul! If only more writers could write that way. In a way its devastating to be such a writer perhaps. A writer such as Kafka, whom Thomas Mann paid tribute to (again quoted from Updike's preface) by praising his "conscientious, curiously explicity, objective, clear, and correct style, [with] its precise, almost official conservatism" - comes once in a lifetime. How tragic then that like some of the pieces he left behind his life was tragically cut short. One wonders what other masterpieces would have flowed from his pen if he had lived longer than 41 years. If he had survived the tuberculosis and not died in 1924, what would be his response to the nationalism and anti-Semetism that overtook Germany in the late 20s and early 30s. And one wonders if Kafka would have survived Hitler's madness and the concentration camps. Alternative historians can speculate that endlessly but I for one am going to go enjoy the book now.

P.S. Reading a book is the best way to read Kafka's diaries but you can also find excerpts online here and here. The latter links to a number of other pieces by Kafka too, including The Judgement.

Update: Later last night, I read that Franz Kafka's three sisters died in Nazi concentration camps. So, my wondering about whether he would have survived Hitler's madness yesterday has an almost certain answer: No.

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