Kafka - Tschechisch, Deutsch oder Jude ?

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
Tschechisch, Deutsch oder Jude ?

Franz Kafka (3 July 1883 – 3 June 1924) was a writer of novels and short stories, regarded by critics as one of the most influential authors of the 20th century.
Kafka strongly influenced genres such as existentialism.
It has been suggested that many of his works, such as 'Die Verwandlung' (The Metamorphosis), 'Der Prozess' (The Trial), and 'Das Schloss' (The Castle), are filled with the themes and archetypes of alienation, physical and psychological brutality, parent–child conflict (?), characters on a terrifying quest, labyrinths of bureaucracy, and mystical transformations.
Stadtwappen Prague
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
Kafka was born into a middle-class, German-Jewish family in Prague, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.


Prag - 1890
In his lifetime, most of the population of Prague were Czech, and the division between Czech- and German-speaking people was a tangible reality, as both groups were strengthening their national identity.
Unlike most German-Jews, Kafka himself was fluent in both languages, but consided German to be his mother tongue.
Kafka trained as a lawyer and, after completing his legal education, obtained employment with an influential insurance company in Prague.
He began to write short stories in his spare time.
For the rest of his life, he complained about the little time he had to devote to his writing.
He regretted having to devote so much attention to his Brotberuf ("day job", literally "bread job").
Kafka preferred to communicate by letter; he wrote hundreds of letters to family and close female friends, including his father, his fiancée Felice Bauer, and his youngest sister Ottla.
His relationship with his father was very similar to that of many middle-class sons at the time, in that his father was often somewhat strict and overbearing.
Although Kafka, as a child, was brought up a Jew, he rarely practised his religion, feeling that it had little to do with him, and Jewish themes and characters rarely have any influence on, or appear in his writings.

Early Life


 Altstädter Ring in Prag - 1900
Kafka was born near the Altstädter Ring in Prag, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
His family were middle-class.


Herrenstrasse - Osseg - Bohemia
His father, Hermann Kafka (1852–1931), was the fourth child of Jakob Kafka, a 'shochet' (ritual slaughterer) in Osseg, a Bohemian village with a large German-Jewish population located near Strakonice in southern Bohemia.
Hermann brought the Kafka family to Prague.
After working as a travelling sales representative, he eventually became a fancy goods and clothing retailer who employed up to 15 people, and used the image of a jackdaw (kavka in Czech) as his business logo.
Kafka's mother, Julie (1856–1934), was the daughter of Jakob Löwy, a prosperous retail merchant in Poděbrady, and was better educated than her husband.
Hermann and Julie had six children, of whom Franz was the eldest.
Franz's two brothers, Georg and Heinrich, died in infancy before Franz was seven; his three sisters were Gabriele ("Ellie"), Valerie ("Valli") and Ottilie ("Ottla").


Hermann Kafka
Hermann is described by Franz Kafka as "a true Kafka in strength, health, appetite, loudness of voice, eloquence, self-satisfaction, worldly dominance, endurance, presence of mind, [and] knowledge of human nature".
On business days, both parents were absent from the home, with Julie Kafka working as many as 12 hours each day helping to manage the family business.
Consequently, Kafka's childhood was somewhat lonely, and the children were reared largely by a series of governesses and servants.
Because Hermann’s dreams of a robust income kept him focused on his trade, Franz was often left in the care of a governess, as was common practice for the middle class.
By the time he was six, two younger brothers had died in infancy, and the family had moved five times.


Kafka Jung
These experiences no doubt left the young child with a sense of instability, but the family continued to grow.
By 1892, Franz had three sisters – Gabriele, Valerie, and Ottilie (nicknamed Elli, Valli, and Ottla).
It was this family that he would rely on for the entirety of his life.
Kafka’s deep sense of need, both financial and emotional, was often complicated by feelings of hatred – or at the very least, by the desire to escape.
Indeed, most of his feelings towards his family were mixed and contradictory, and this conflict took root deep within his psyche, emerging in unexpected ways throughout his life. 
His father, who could certainly be overwhelming, held young Franz to higher standards than he set for himself; as a result, his son’s feelings of love and awe were tangled up with the profound sense of being a disappointment.

Kafka Jung
Because his mother often took his father’s side over his, the affection he had for her was tempered by the rancour of an abandoned child.
The one person in the family with whom he truly connected was his youngest sister Ottla, who was free-spirited and rebellious.
He would later compare his relationship with Ottla to a “conspiracy” against their autocratic father.

Kafka's troubled relationship with his father is evident in his somewhat ingenuous and not strictly factual, 'Brief an den Vater' (Letter to His Father), of more than 100 pages, in which he complains of being profoundly affected by his father's authoritarian and demanding character; his mother, in contrast, was quiet and shy.
The Kafka family initially lived in a small apartment.
In November 1913 the family moved into a large and quite luxurious apartment, although Ellie and Valli had married and moved out of the first apartment.
In early August 1914, just after World War I began, the sisters did not know where their husbands were in the military, and moved back in with the family in this larger apartment.
Both Ellie and Valli also had children.
Franz at age 31 moved into Valli's former apartment, quiet by contrast, and lived by himself for the first time.

Kafka's Education

Kafkas Elementery Schule
From 1889 to 1893, Kafka attended the Deutsche Knabenschule German boys' elementary school at the Fleischmarkt (meat market).
His Jewish education ended with his Bar Mitzvah celebration at the age of 13.
Kafka never enjoyed attending the synagogue and went with his father only on four high holidays a year.
Although he hated going to school – often needing to be dragged there by the family cook – he was a model student. 


Kafka als Schüler
After leaving elementary school in 1893, Kafka was admitted to the rigorous classics-oriented state gymnasium, Altstädter Deutsches Gymnasium, an academic secondary school at Old Town Square, within the Kinsky Palace.


Kinsky-Palais
Kinský Palace was originally built for the Golz family in the 18th century. It was designed by Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer. It is Rococo in design. The exterior is stucco. It is painted pink and white. There are statues by Ignaz Franz Platzer on the exterior. They are of the classical elements. In 1768, Stepan Kinský purchased the house from the Golz's. Franz Kafka's father, Hermann Kafka, was a haberdasher and he had his store at the palace. It was located on the ground floor. Franz Kafka attended secondary school at the Palace, from 1893 until 1901.

Like many schools of its time, it was designed more for indoctrination than education.
As a whole, the institution placed a tremendous focus on memorization, so much so that one of its teachers asserted that eight hours of Latin grammar each week was simply not enough. 
Greek was also memorized, with little discussion of content or context.
One teacher introduced his students to Goethe, insisting that they model their sentences on those of the famous German writer.
And always, there was the threat of exams.
The consistent pressure transformed Kafka into a nervous wreck.
After one particularly trying exam period, he succumbed to physical exhaustion, and was forced to take a long vacation to recover.
Despite the fact that he performed well, he believed himself to be the dumbest student in the class, and was in constant fear of having his stupidity unmasked.
He imagined that every examination would result in a tremendous failure; but in spite of this pessimism (or maybe because of it), he always passed, and sometimes even excelled.
If anything, the Gymnasium taught him how to succeed despite tedium and strict regimentation, and he learned how to get by in places where he’d rather not be.
German, by law, was the language of instruction, but Kafka also spoke and wrote in Czech; he studied the latter at the gymnasium for eight years, achieving good grades.
Although Kafka received compliments for his Czech, he never considered himself fluent in Czech, and normally spoke High German

Hochdeutsche (High German) comprise the varieties of German spoken south of the Benrath and Uerdingen isoglosses in central and southern Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, and Luxembourg as well as in neighbouring portions of Belgium (Eupen-Malmedy) and the Netherlands (Southeast Limburg), France (Alsace and northern Lorraine), Italy (South Tyrol), and Poland (Upper Silesia). They are also spoken in diaspora in Romania, Russia, the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Namibia. The High German languages are marked by the High German consonant shift, separating them from Low German and Low Franconian (Dutch) within the continental West Germanic dialect continuum.

Kafka finished his studies at the Gymnasium in July 1901.
In order to get into a university, he had to take the Abitur exams.
Naturally, he didn't expect to pass; naturally, he did.
By November, he was registered at the Deutsche Karl-Ferdinands-Universität of Prague in 1901.
But once he was there, Kafka wasn't sure what to do with himself.
At first, he followed his friend Hugo Bergmann into studying chemistry, but he wasn't very good at it, so he switched to law.
It wasn’t that Kafka particularly enjoyed the subject – he compared his studies to living on “chewed-up sawdust” – but law offered a wide range of career possibilities; and as an added bonus, the longer period of study it required allowed him to stall for time.
Whenever he could, he took classes in the humanities to break up the boredom.


Felix Weltsch
Deutsche Karl-Ferdinands-Universität - Prag
Although this field did not excite him, it offered a range of career possibilities which pleased his father.
Kafka also took classes in German studies and art history.
He also joined a student club, Lese-und Redehalle der Deutschen Studenten (Reading and Lecture Hall of the German students), which organized literary events, readings and other activities.
Among Kafka's friends were the journalist Felix Weltsch, who studied philosophy, the actor Yitzchak Lowy who came from an orthodox Hasidic Warsaw family, and the writers Oskar Baum and Franz Werfel.

Max Brod
At the end of his first year of studies, Kafka met Max Brod, a fellow law student who became a close friend for life.

Max Brod (May 27, 1884 – December 20, 1968) was a German-Jew, - author, composer, and journalist. Although he was a prolific writer in his own right, he is most famous as the friend and biographer and literary executor of Franz Kafka. Brod was born in Prague. He went to the Piarist school together with his lifelong friend Felix Weltsch, later attended the Stephans Gymnasium, then studied law at the German Charles-Ferdinand University, and graduated in 1907 to work in the civil service. From 1924, already an established writer, he worked as a critic for the 'Prager Tagblatt'. Brod died on December 20, 1968 in Tel Aviv.


Brod soon noticed that, although Kafka was shy and seldom spoke, what he said was usually profound.
Kafka was an avid reader throughout his life; together he and Brod read Plato's 'Protagoras' in the original Greek, on Brod's initiative, and Flaubert's 'L'éducation sentimentale' (Sentimental Education) and 'La Tentation de St. Antoine' (The Temptation of Saint Anthony) in French, at his own suggestion.
Kafka considered Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Franz Grillparzer, and Heinrich von Kleist to be his "true blood brothers".
Besides these he was also very fond of the works of Goethe.

The Young Kafka and Sexuality

Kafka’s years as a university student saw him inaugurate more than his writing career – it was during these years that he began his lifelong ambiguous relationship with sex.
In 1903, he lost his virginity to a Czech shop-girl; a rather common scenario, the shop-girl being one of many who earned a little extra through a form of unprofessional prostitution.
After this, Kafka uneasily took up the habit of going to brothels, a usual preoccupation with better-off university students at the time.
There were a few more 'shop-girls' and 'waitresses', and in 1905 he had an affair with an older woman while on vacation in Switzerland; although the exact level of intimacy in the affair is unknown.
As one might expect from Kafka, his sexual encounters brought conflicting emotions – the ambivalence of excitement and guilt.
Sex both compelled and disgusted Kafka.
He was attracted to it, but the physicality of the act disturbed him.
He couldn't stand bodily functions, yet the body itself had undeniably attractive qualities.
It was a crisis he would never resolve, and his various relationships all brought their share of confused impulses, frustrated desires, and sexual dissatisfactions.
This conflict would find its way into his writing, and one can easily identify erotically disturbed mumbles in nearly all his work.
Still, there is a tendency to over-romanticize the bleakness of Kafka’s early years, especially these first sexual encounters.
While certainly neurotic, overly sensitive, and occasionally given to self-loathing, Kafka was not quite the 'basket case' that he makes himself out to be in his own reflections.
Most of his friends considered him a healthy, good-looking man of uncommon intelligence, and he even admitted to being 'happy' after his experience with the shop-girl.
Although Kafka’s writing is starkly pessimistic, Brod contends that he was actually an easy person to get along with, if a bit on the quiet side, and undoubtedly obsessed with a search for 'purity'.
While Brod perceived a tremendous sorrow lurking beneath the surface of Kafka’s sardonic smile, he preferred to speak of Kafka’s wonderful sense of humour, his truthfulness, his ability to say many things in few words, and most of all, his fascination with 'the greatness of nature, the curative, health-giving, sound, firmly established, simple things.'

Kafka obtained the degree of Doctor of Law on 18 July 1906, and performed an obligatory year of unpaid service as law clerk for the civil and criminal courts.

Early Writings

There had always been a creative bent to Kafka.
A voracious reader, he had known from early childhood that he wanted to be a writer.
Around the age of fourteen, he wrote plays for his sisters to perform at his parents’ birthday parties, and in 1899 he began to experiment with fiction.
But writing was no way to make a living, and his father would never approve of such an impractical career choice.
Furthermore, it didn't appear that Kafka even liked anything he wrote.
The only work from this period which escaped destruction is a story called 'Tale of Shamefaced Lanky and Impure in Heart', which survived only because it was included in a letter to his friend Oskar Pollak.
In 1904, Kafka began to work on a novel entitled 'The Child and the City', but the project was abandoned and the manuscripts lost.
Pulling together again, he started 'Description of a Struggle', a piece he would revisit time and time again over the next five years.
Kafka’s earliest surviving work of substance, it clearly reveals traces of his otherworldly and somewhat morbid imagination.
Unfortunately, the story lacks the coherence needed to make its symbolism effective, and its characters and setting perform unbelievable gymnastics in the middle of an already murky plot. 
Realizing that he had problems with his narrative, Kafka saved portions of the story, some of which he would revise for his first publication in 1908.
But for now, there seemed to be some hope for this writing thing; though not enough to dissuade him from his present course.
In 1908, he was published for the first time: eight short pieces compiled under the title 'Meditation', appearing in 'Hyperion', a bimonthly magazine edited by Brod’s associate, Franz Blei.
In 1910, five additional pieces, including excerpts from 'Description of a Struggle', were published in Bohemia.
Because of their vague, impressionistic nature, they earned him a comparison to Robert Walser.
Fragments of thought and images, the pieces centre on a bleak city, where characters wander around street-cars or stand immobile in elevators, thinking about escape.
To assess his mood from these pieces, it seemed that Kafka wanted to get away, possibly to anywhere – but the only place he escaped to was his writing, which was rapidly becoming both a solace and a need.
Unfortunately, the ideas were not always there when he wanted them, and he still had problems finishing what he started.
During a dry spell, he took up a diary to keep in practice; but the drought continued, and Kafka simply could not bring any work to completion.

Employment

On 1 November 1907, Kafka was hired at the 'Assicurazioni Generali', an Italian insurance company, where he worked for nearly a year.
His correspondence during that period indicates that he was unhappy with a working time schedule - from 08:00 until 18:00 - making it extremely difficult to concentrate on writing, which was assuming increasing importance to him.
On 15 July 1908, he resigned.
Two weeks later he found employment more amenable to writing when he joined the 'Worker's Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia'.
The job involved investigating and assessing compensation for personal injury to industrial workers; accidents such as lost fingers or limbs were commonplace at this time.
The management professor Peter Drucker credits Kafka with developing the first civilian hard hat while employed at the Worker's Accident Insurance Institute, but this is not supported by any document from his employer.
His father often referred to his son's job as an insurance officer as a Brotberuf, literally "bread job", a job done only to pay the bills; - Kafka often claimed to despise it, despite the fact that he was exceptionally well paid.
Kafka was rapidly promoted, and his duties included processing and investigating compensation claims, writing reports, and handling appeals from businessmen who thought their firms had been placed in too high a risk category, which cost them more in insurance premiums.
He would compile and compose the annual report on the insurance institute for the several years he worked there.
The reports were received well by his superiors.
Kafka usually got off work at 2 p.m., so that he had time to spend on his literary work, to which he was committed.
Kafka's father also expected him to help out at and take over the family fancy goods store.
In his later years, Kafka's illness often prevented him from working at the insurance bureau and at his writing.
Years later, Brod coined the term 'Der enge Prager Kreis' ("The Close Prague Circle") to describe the group of writers, which included Kafka, Felix Weltsch and him.
In late 1911, Elli's husband Karl Hermann and Kafka became partners in the first asbestos factory in Prague, known as 'Prager Asbestwerke Hermann & Co'., having used dowry money from Hermann Kafka.
Kafka showed a positive attitude at first, dedicating much of his free time to the business, but he later resented the encroachment of this work on his writing time.
It was at about this time that Kafka became a vegetarian.
Around 1915 Kafka received his draft notice for military service in World War I, but his employers at the insurance institute arranged for a deferment, because his work was considered essential government service.
Later he attempted to join the military but was prevented from doing so by medical problems associated with tuberculosis, with which he was diagnosed in 1917.
Kafka supported the Austrian declaration of war on Serbia (which was one of the main causes of the Große Krieg - First World War), and admired the response of Austria's ally, the German Reich - and eventually settled in the German capital - Berlin.
In 1918 the Worker's Accident Insurance Institute put Kafka on a generous pension due to his illness, for which there was no cure at the time, and he spent most of the rest of his life in the best sanatoriums.

Private Life

Kafka Familienapartment
When living in Prague, Kafka was a social 'high-flyer'.
He was a wealthy member of the German upper class, with many friends among the intelligentsia.
Kafka had an active sex life.
According to Brod, Kafka was "tortured" by sexual desire and that his life was full of "incessant womanising".
He regularly visited high class brothels for most of his adult life, and kept a private library of  expensive, high class pornography in a locked bookcase in his parent's home
In addition, he had close relationships with several women during his life.
On 13 August 1912, Kafka met Felice Bauer, a relative of Brod, who worked in Berlin as a representative of a Dictaphone company.
Shortly after this, Kafka wrote the story "Das Urteil" (The Judgment) in only one night, and worked in a productive period on 'Der Verschollene' (The Man Who Disappeared) and 'Die Verwandlung' (The Metamorphosis).
Kafka and Felice Bauer communicated mostly through letters over the next five years, met occasionally, and were engaged twice.
Kafka's extant letters to her were published as 'Briefe an Felice' (Letters to Felice); her letters do not survive.
Around 1920 Kafka was engaged a third time, to Julie Wohryzek, a poor and uneducated hotel chambermaid.
Although the two rented a flat, and set a wedding date, the marriage never took place.
During this time Kafka began a draft of the 'Letter to His Father', who, interestingly, objected to Julie because of her Zionist beliefs.
Before the date of the intended marriage, he took up with yet another woman.
While he needed women and sex in his life, he had low self-confidence, felt sex was dirty - although this was not an uncommon attitude among middle-class intellectuals at the turn of the century.
Brod stated that during the time that Kafka knew Felice Bauer, he had an affair with a friend of hers, Margarethe "Grete" Bloch, a German-Jew from Berlin.
Kafka was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) in August 1917 and moved for a few months to the Bohemian village of Zürau, where his sister Ottla worked on the farm of her brother-in-law Hermann.
He felt comfortable there, and later described this time as perhaps the best time in his life, probably because he had no responsibilities.
He kept diaries and 'Oktavhefte' (octavo).
From the notes in these books, Kafka extracted 109 numbered pieces of text on Zettel, single pieces of paper in no given order.
They were later published as 'Die Zürauer Aphorismen oder Betrachtungen über Sünde, Hoffnung, Leid und den wahren Weg' (The Zürau Aphorisms or Reflections on Sin, Hope, Suffering, and the True Way).
In 1920 Kafka began an intense relationship with Milena Jesenská, a Czech journalist and writer.
His letters to her were later published as 'Briefe an Milena'.
During a vacation in July 1923 to Graal-Müritz on the Baltic Sea, Kafka met Dora Diamant, a 25-year-old kindergarten teacher.
Kafka, hoping to escape the influence of his family to concentrate on his writing, moved briefly to Berlin and lived with Diamant, while he worked on four stories, which he prepared to be published as 'Ein Hungerkünstler' (A Hunger Artist).

Personality

At times, Kafka feared that people would find him mentally and physically repulsive, however, those who met him perceived him to possess a quiet and cool demeanour, obvious intelligence, and a dry sense of humour; they also found him boyishly handsome, although of austere appearance.
Brod compared Kafka to Heinrich von Kleist, noting that both writers had the ability to realistically describe a situation with precise details.
Brod thought Kafka was one of the most entertaining people he had met; Kafka enjoyed sharing humour with his friends, but also helped them in difficult situations with good advice.
According to Brod, he was a passionate reciter, who was able to phrase his speaking as if it were music.
Brod felt that two of Kafka's most distinguishing traits were "absolute truthfulness" (absolute Wahrhaftigkeit) and "precise conscientiousness" (präzise Gewissenhaftigkeit).
He explored the detail, the inconspicuous, profoundly with such love and precision that things surfaced that had been unforeseen, that seemed strange, but were nothing but true (nichts als wahr).

Health and Fitness

Franz Kafka am Strand
Kafka was obsessed with health and fitness.
In an age when all men smoked - cigarettes, cigars and pipes, Kafkar, like Hilter, didn't smoke.
Also, like Hitler, (another German speaker who was born in Bohemia), Kafka didn't drink; - he was teetotal.
In addition, he didn't drink tea, coffee or even chocolate.
With regard to diet, (also like Hitler) he insisted on only the freshest vegetarian food, and he was very fussy about the way he ate his food.

Kafka would always 'Fletcherise' his food - this involved excessively chewing every mouthful of food.

Horace Fletcher (1849–1919) was an American health food enthusiast of the Victorian era who earned the nickname "The Great Masticator," by arguing that food should be chewed about 100 times per minute before being swallowed: "Nature will castigate those who don't masticate." He made elaborate justifications for his claim.

Although Kafka showed little interest in exercise as a child, he later showed interest in games and physical activity, as a good rider, swimmer, and rower, and was just under six feet tall - a whole head taller than the average man in the street -  with a well muscled physique.
His good physique was the result of his following a regular, daily exercise regime originated by Jørgen Peter Müller.


Jørgen Peter Müller
His book 'Mit System' (My System), published in 1904, was a best-seller, and has been translated to English and many other languages. My System explains Müller's philosophy of health and provides guidelines for the 18 exercises that comprise the system. Much of what was stated in his system has since been accepted by the medical community, with many of his basic movements being used in modern-day physical therapy and rehabilitation. The emphasis on body-weight exercise, and the use of dynamic stretching is useful for many people, and has been found appropriate in a wide range of patients. Müller also espoused nude sun-bathing and air-baths. Müller was appointed Knight of the Dannebrog in 1919.

Zivile Pool - Prag
On weekends he and his friends embarked on long hikes, often planned by Kafka himself, and regularly swam in the  Moldau River.
His other interests included alternative medicine, and technical novelties such as air-planes and film.
He was very sensitive to noise and preferred quiet when writing.
It has been suggested that Kafka may have possessed a schizoid personality disorder.
His style, not only in 'Die Verwandlung' (The Metamorphosis), but in various other writings, appears to show low to medium-level schizoid characteristics, which explains much of his work.

Schizoid personality disorder (SPD) is a personality disorder characterized by a lack of interest in social relationships, a tendency towards a solitary lifestyle, secretiveness, emotional coldness, and apathy. Affected individuals may simultaneously demonstrate a rich, elaborate and exclusively internal fantasy world. SPD is not the same as schizophrenia, although they share such similar characteristics as detachment and blunted affect. People with SPD are often aloof, cold and indifferent, which causes interpersonal difficulty. Most individuals diagnosed with SPD have trouble establishing personal relationships or expressing their feelings in a meaningful way. They may remain passive in the face of unfavourable situations. Their communication with other people may be indifferent and concise at times. Many fundamentally schizoid individuals present with an engaging, interactive personality style that contradicts the observable characteristic emphasized by the definitions of the schizoid personality. These individuals may be described as "secret schizoids", who present themselves as socially available, interested, engaged and involved in interacting yet remain emotionally withdrawn and sequestered within the safety of their internal world.

His anguish can be seen in this diary entry from 21 June 1913:

'The tremendous world I have in my head. But how to free myself and free them without ripping apart. And a thousand times rather tear in me they hold back or buried. For this I'm here, that's quite clear to me.'

Though Kafka never married, he held marriage and children in high esteem.
He had several girlfriends, but some academics have speculated about his sexuality.
Others have suggested he may have suffered from an eating disorder pointing to "evidence for the hypothesis that the writer Franz Kafka had suffered from an atypical anorexia nervosa", and that Kafka was not just lonely and depressed but also "occasionally suicidal".
Kafka considered committing suicide at least once, in late 1912.
Something of a hypochondriac, Kafka had always been obsessed with his uncertain health.
He took many of his vacations as 'rest cures' at sanatoriums, regardless of whether or not he needed any specific treatment.
Expressing a cautious disdain for traditional medicine, he attached himself to the contemporary fad of nature cures; although he seemed to appreciate their positive orientation more than their actual effectiveness.
He enjoyed fresh air nearly to the point of recklessness, leaving his windows open for the entire year, and refusing to wear heavy clothing in winter.
In spite of the meticulous attention paid to his body, his care was frequently offset by sleepless nights, devoted to writing, or consumed by insomnia.
In short, while his body was in generally sound condition, he was undone by some un-knowable combination of unfortunate genes, eccentric habits, and simple bad luck.
In 1918 he took up gardening for the sake of its hard work; but he was smitten with the Spanish flu and forced to take leave.
By this time, a general armistice had been declared, and the 'Peace of Paris' had made Prague a city of the new nation Czechoslovakia.
For his own part, Kafka remained oblivious of international politics – it was family politics that weighed the heaviest on his mind.
He returned to Schelesen for a two-week rest, where he spilled out 'Letter to His Father'.
During the first stages of Kafka’s illness, his creative life had lapsed back into a period of idleness, his output dwindling down to aphorisms and fragments.
But true to the pattern of his writing, the slump was followed by a sudden burst of energy – though this time, its focus was not fiction.
Intended as an actual letter to his father, and running for a hundred or so pages, “Letter” is a tortured, almost frightening rant in which Kafka presents to his father every ruinous example of how Hermann screwed up his son’s life
 Even at the age of 36, Kafka still couldn’t overcome his conflict with father and family – always wanting to break away, always driven to communicate, and still harboring the desire to start a family of his own.
Fortunately for Hermann, Kafka did not possess his father’s current address, and the letter was never mailed.
Although Kafka received a promotion at the beginning of 1920, his health took a turn for the worse, the disease having advanced to both lungs.
In April, the Institute’s new Legal Secretary took an extended leave to Merano, Italy, to take in the famous air of its Alpine spas.
Kafka’s health was rapidly becoming unbearable, and between the years 1920 and 1922, he took several more extended leaves, spending his time at sanatoriums, resorts, or just resting in Prague.
During this time, he wrote little – creative bursts were followed by long stretches of silence.
In June 1922, having tried unsuccessfully to rejoin the work force, he applied for temporary retirement from the Institute.
It was granted, and he settled down to continue work on his last major project, 'Das Schloss' – only to abandon it in August.
A severe intestinal infection brought more misery, and his physical condition grew worse.
In July 1923, Kafka retreated to the seaside resort of Müritz, accompanying his sister Elli and her family.
By the middle of 1924, Kafka’s health had reached a critical point, and he was forced to return to Prague, where he moved back in with his parents.
There, with a sharp pain in his throat, he wrote his last piece – 'Josephine the Mouse Singer'.
A few weeks later he went to a sanatorium, where he was diagnosed with advanced tuberculosis.
The pain in his throat was caused by tubercular lesions – his last months would pass in excruciating agony every time he swallowed.
Settling on a sanatorium near Vienna, he enlisted the help of Dr. Robert Klopstock, a warm-hearted but eccentric man Kafka had befriended at a previous sanatorium.
In the hope that he’d improve, he made a special point of carrying out each and every one of the doctors’ instructions, but his throat remained a constant source of misery.
Kafka soon found himself parched and slowly wasting away of starvation.
Communicating through the use of notes, he set about correcting the galleys of his next publication: 'A Hunger Artist'.
From then on, it was a steady decline, with daily doses of alcohol injected straight into the laryngeal nerve.
Kafka wouldn't stop asking the doctors for morphine, at one point demanding of Klopstock, 'Kill me, or else you are a murderer'.
At another time, he tore off his ice pack, and flinging it across the room with all his remaining strength, he groaned, 'Don’t torture me any more, why prolong the agony ?'

On noon, June 3, 1924, Franz Kafka died at the age of forty.

Political Views

Prior to World War I, Kafka attended several meetings of the 'Klub Mladých', a Czech anarchist, anti-militarist, and anti-clerical organization.
Hugo Bergmann, who attended the same elementary and high schools as Kafka, fell out with Kafka during their last academic year (1900–1901) because
'Kafka's socialism and my Zionism were much too strident. Franz became a socialist, I became a Zionist in 1898. The synthesis of Zionism and socialism did not yet exist'.
Bergmann claims that Kafka wore a red carnation to school to show his support for socialism.
In one diary entry, Kafka made reference to the influential anarchist philosopher Prince Peter Kropotkin: 'Don't forget Kropotkinb !'.


Prague Old Synagogue
Kafka's espousal of Socialism in his youth was odd, to say the least, considering his family's middle class position, considerable affluence and high social standing.
Kafka's relationship to Judaism has been much debated.
He was at most times alienated from Judaism and Jewish life:
'What have I in common with Jews ? I have hardly anything in common with myself, and should stand very quietly in a corner, content that I can breathe'.
In his adolescent years, in addition to being a Socialist, Kafka had declared himself an atheist.
It has been suggested that Kafka, though in some ways quite aware of his own Jewishness, did not incorporate it into his work, which lacks Jewish characters, scenes or themes, and that it may be deduced that Kafka was uneasy with his Jewish heritage.




Prager Tagblatt
Declaration of War
Thomas Mann - 1910
Significantly, perhaps, Kafka's diary entry for 2 August. 1914  states: 'Germany has declared war on Russia - Swimming in the afternoon'.
AS we have already seen, Kafka was excused military service on the grounds that his work was essential to the state,
He could, however, have gone against this, and enlisted privately, although he did not choose to do so, despite being classed as medically fit for service (in fact his life style ensure that he was eminently fit).
Unlike Thomas Mann, who wrote publicly about his enthusiasm for the war, Kafka wrote little, as his diary entry suggests.
Itb is clear, however, that he approved of Austria  and Germany's decision to deal firmly, and as they thought, finally with the Serbian and Slavic 'problem', and after the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917, Kafka had no doubts that the Mittelmächte (Central Powers) would win the war, and defeat the Allies.

Die Mittelmächte
Die Mittelmächte were one of the two warring factions in World War I (1914–18), composed of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria (hence also known as the Vierbund (Quadruple Alliance).

Austrian War Bonds
This alignment originated in the alliance of Germany and Austria-Hungary, and fought against the Allied Powers that had formed around the Triple Entente. The Central Powers regarded the assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Francis Ferdinand by several militants as being an act supported by the Kingdom of Serbia, and given an unwillingness of Serbia to fully comply with Austro-Hungarian demands for a full investigation of Serbian complicity in the assassination, war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia was justified. This resulted in war with Russia, which opposed Austro-Hungarian intervention and supported Serbia, and ignited several alliance systems to bring the major European powers into a major war.


Dark-uniformed Prussian Guardsmen 
As an indication of Kafka's belief in an Austrian/German victory there is evidence that Kafka bought over $40,000, at today’s values,  of Austrian War Bonds, which guaranteed 5.5 percent for fifteen years tax free.

(With the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, however,the bonds became worthless.)

In addition he looked forward to the victory of 'German' Kulture - after all, he was German, and even had dreams of fighting for Austria, but having dark-uniformed Prussian guardsmen coming to his rescue.
When his brother-in-law returned from the front in November, Kafka heard first-hand stories of trench warfare.
Shortly thereafter, he wrote 'In the Penal Colony', a brutal story revolving around a complicated but efficient machine of terrifying violence.
It is a work particularly suited for wartime, complete with nightmarish imagery to shock the reader and slapstick humour to stave off total desperation.

Later Writings

On the night of September 22nd, 1912, he spent eight uninterrupted hours writing his first major story, 'The Judgment'.
The suddenness of its creation came as a revelation; he even compared it to giving birth.
'Only in this way,' he wrote in his diary afterwards, 'can writing be done, only with such coherence, with such a complete opening out of the body and the soul.'
The piece marked a creative turning point.
He had written a story which he could read with profound interest even a year after completing it.
In 'The Judgment', the protagonist, who is about to get married, runs into problems with his father, who is resentful for having lost control of the family business to his son.
Just when the son is poised to inherit the father’s mantle, he is rebuked, and ordered to drown himself – which he does, lovingly.
Although reading the story as autobiography would be unwise, it did provide Kafka with a chance to express the despair and bitterness he was feeling at the time.
His father had recently gone into the asbestos business with his brother-in-law, and Hermann had been looking more and more to Franz to help oversee the factory.
Not only did this absorb much of Kafka’s free time – he still held his job at the Institute – but he loathed the place itself, and soon his father began blaming him when the business began losing money.
After Brod informed Kafka’s mother that her son had been entertaining notions of suicide, Julie quietly intervened, and Kafka’s workload was diminished – but his enmity towards his father only increased.
In November, Kafka began 'Die Verwandlung'.
Written in a deadpan style that is neither allegory nor exactly fantasy, 'Die Verwandlung' features the travelling salesman Gregor Samsa, who wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant bug.
Discovering that his family has some trouble handling this new lifestyle, Gregor spends his time variously lost in thought, fretting about his existence, or feeling guilty about the burden he places on his family.
Even though Kafka consistently disparaged his story with comments like, “I am now reading Die Verwandlung and find it bad', and 'Unreadable ending. Imperfect almost to its very marrow,' it is now regarded by many as a cornerstone in the foundation of modern literature.
Both 'The Judgment' and 'Die Verwandlung' certainly reflect Kafka’s recent experiences.
Their characters perform the exaggerated gestures of an over-dramatic play.
There is a constant struggle with family and the workplace.
The possibility – or threat – of marriage looms.
The stories may be read as representative of the tensions between the business and artistic lifestyles: could Bendemann’s friend in Russia represent Kafka as writer ? Could Samsa, the bug, be the artist who had always been disguised ?
Although there are many ways to read these stories, it’s impossible to come to any definite conclusions – and neither did Kafka, who resisted simplistic interpretations.
All that is certain is that Kafka took elements from his life, compacted them, and cast them into his own unique prose style.
In 1914 he wrote In the Penal Colony, a brutal story revolving around a complicated but efficient machine of terrifying violence.
Writing this nightmarish novella helped nudge Kafka back into a more productive pattern, and he was soon spending his nights writing again.
He began working on another novel, and although he would not complete it, much of 'Der Prozess' was created during this period, including its beginning, its ending, and most of the sections in between.
'Der Prozess' begins with its main character, Joseph K., waking up one morning to find himself arrested by a Court.
In an attempt to exonerate himself, he fights his way through a labyrinthine bureaucratic system, in part a parody of Kafka’s own insurance company.
Despite its incompleteness, the novel is regarded by many to be his greatest work.
In late November 1919, Kafka returned to the Institute.
That December, 'A Country Doctor' was published.
A collection of short stories written between December 1916 and April 1917, the book was dedicated to his father, who received it with the words, 'Put it on the night table'.
His third and final unfinished novel, 'Das Schloss', follows the struggle of a man called “K.” in his attempt to join a village community.
An outsider, K. repeatedly tries to infiltrate the Schloss, which appears to govern the town, but meets with constant frustration.
He carries out cryptic, extended dialogues with the townspeople and Schloss officials, making his situation more complicated and hopeless – until the novel simply stops in the middle of a sentence.
The story “A Hunger Artist,” which provides the name for Kafka’s final collection, features a man who starves himself as a form of public entertainment.
With one disturbing metaphor, Kafka seems to comment on his wasting illness, his ascetic impulses, and his self-image as an artist.
One of his last long narratives, 'The Burrow', was written in Berlin during one extended sitting.
It is told from the perspective of a mole-like animal who has built a massive home in the ground, and spends most of his time worrying about its (and his) possible destruction.
His final story, 'Josephine the Mouse Singer', is set among a community of mice.
A trembling race lost in a hostile world, they seem to both worship and loathe Josephine, who is after all not really capable of song, but just a piping like any other mouse.
Other than a long letter to his parents shortly before his death, Kafka wrote nothing after 'Josephine'. 

Death

Kafka's laryngeal tuberculosis worsened and in March 1924 he returned from Berlin to Prague, where members of his family, principally his sister Ottla, took care of him.
He went to Dr. Hoffmann's sanatorium in Kierling near Vienna for treatment on 10 April, and died there on 3 June 1924.
His cause of death seemed to be starvation: the condition of Kafka's throat made eating too painful for him, and since parenteral nutrition had not yet been developed, there was no way to feed him.
His body was brought back to Prague where he was buried on 11 June 1924.

Translating Kafka into English

Kafka wrote in High German - in a superb style unsurpassed in his generation.
However, Kafka often made extensive use of a characteristic particular to the German language allowing for long sentences that sometimes can span an entire page.
Kafka's sentences then deliver an unexpected impact just before the full stop - that being the finalizing meaning and focus.
This is due to the construction of subordinate clauses in German which require that the verb be positioned at the end of the sentence.
Such constructions are difficult to duplicate in English, so it is up to the translator to provide the reader with the same (or at least equivalent) effect found in the original text.
German's more flexible word order, and syntactical differences, provide for multiple ways the same German writing can be translated into English.

to be continued
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014