The diary of Franz Kafka in the year of our lord 1911 reveals the most sensitive, perceptive artist of a generation. In turn of the century Prague he was a Jew among Jews among Gentiles, noticing every glance and putting off every task as if it were addressed to him alone. The eldest of six, he was conflicted about his father and basically everyone he met. He had yet to begin any novel writing; he began his first story ("Description of a Struggle") proper at the tender age of 20 and worked on it at times until it was published in 1905. Rather than assuming a forward-thinking shape of a whole, Kafka's early writing approached the elephant on a diagonal, finding in glimpses what he would eventually discern at length. The following selections from his diary are abridged from longer entries.
31 October 1911
When on Sunday afternoon, just after passing three women, I stepped into Max's house, I thought: There are still one or two houses in which I have something to do, there are still women walking behind me who can see me turn in on a Sunday afternoon at a house door in order to work, talk, purposefully, hurriedly, only occasionally looking at the matter in this way. This must not remain so for long.
This afternoon the pain occasioned by my loneliness came upon me so piercingly and intensely that I became aware that the strength which I gain through this writing thus spends itself, a strength which I certainly have not intended for this purpose.
This morning, for the first time in a long time, the joy again of imagining a knife twisted in my heart.
All afternoon at the lawyer's about the factory.
The girl who only because she was walking arm in arm with her sweetheart looked quietly around.
When I was waiting at the lawyer's I looked at the one typist and thought how hard it was to make out her face even while looking at it. The relationship between a hairdo standing out almost at the same distance all around her head, and the straight nose that most of the time seemed too long, was especially confusing. When the girl who was reading a document made a more striking movement, I was almost confounded by the observation that through my contemplation I had remained more of a stranger to the girl than if I had brushed her skirt with my little finger.
Schiller some place or other: The chief thing is (or something similar) “to transform emotion into character.”
I will try, gradually, to group everything certain in me, later the credible, then the possible, etc. The greed for books is certain in me. Not really to own or to read them, but rather to see them, to convince myself of their actuality in the stalls of a bookseller. If there are several copies of the same book somewhere, each individual one delights me. It is as though this greed came from my stomach, as though it were a perverse appetite. Books that I own delight me less, but books belonging to my sisters do delight me. The desire to own them is incomparably less, it is almost absent.
A tall, powerful man of fifty with a waistline. His hair is stiff and tousled (Daudet's, for example) although pressed fairly close to his skull. Like all old Southerners with their thick nose and the broad, wrinkled face that goes with it, from whose nostrils a strong wind can blow as from a horse's muzzle, and of whom you know very well that this is the final state of their faces, it will not be replaced but will endure for a long time; his face also reminded me of the face of an elderly Italian woman wearing a very natural, definitely not false beard.
Tuesday. Yesterday at Max's who returned from his Brünn lecture.
In the afternoon while falling asleep. As though the solid skullcap encircling the insensitive cranium had moved more deeply inwards and left a part of the brain exposed to the free play of light and muscles.
To awaken on a cold autumn morning full of yellowish light. To force your way through the half-shut window and while still in front of the panes, before you fall, to hover, arms extended, belly arched, legs curved backwards, like the figures on the bows of ships in old times.
Before falling asleep.
It seems so dreadful to be a bachelor, to become an old man struggling to keep one's dignity while begging for an invitation whenever one wants to spend an evening in company, having to carry one's meal home in one's hand, unable to expect anyone with a lazy sense of calm confidence, able only with difficulty and vexation to give a gift to someone, having to say good night at the front door, never being able to run up a stairway beside one's wife, to lie ill and have only the solace of the view from one's window when one can sit up, to have only side doors in one's room leading into other people's living rooms, to feel estranged from one’s family, with whom one can keep on close terms only by marriage, first by the marriage of one's parents, then, when the effect of that has worn off, by one's own, having to admire other people's children and not even being allowed to go on saying: “I have none myself,” never to feel oneself grow older since there is no family growing up around one, modeling oneself in appearance and behavior on one or two bachelors remembered from our youth.
From an old notebook: “Now, in the evening, after having studied since six o'clock in the morning, I noticed that my left hand had already for some time been sympathetically clasping my right hand by the fingers.”
This evening I was again filled with anxiously restrained abilities.
My recent reading of Mörike's autobiography to my sisters began well enough but improved as I went on, and finally, my fingertips together, it conquered inner obstacles with my voice's unceasing calm, provided a constantly expanding panorama for my voice, and finally the whole room round about me dared admit nothing but my voice. Until my parents, returning from business, rang.
Before falling asleep felt on my body the weight of the fists on my light arms.
Stauffer-Bern: “The sweetness of creation begets illusions about its real value."
Because of fatigue did not write and lay now on the sofa in the warm room and now on the one in the cold room, with sick legs and disgusting dreams. A dog lay on my body, one paw near my face. I woke up because of it but was still afraid for a little while to open my eyes and look at it.
It is almost a custom for a comedian to marry a serious actress and a serious actor a comedienne, and in general to take along with them only married women or relatives. The way once, at midnight, the piano player, probably a bachelor, slipped out of the door with his music.
Young Pipes when singing. As sole gesture, he rolls his right forearm back and forth at the joint, he opens his hands a little and then draws them together again. Sweat covers his face, especially his upper lip, as though with splinters of glass. A buttonless dickey has been hurriedly tucked into the vest under his straight black coat.
The warm shadow in the soft red of Mrs. Klug's mouth when she sings.
Jewish streets in Paris, rue Rosier, side street of rue de Rivoli.
If a disorganized education having only that minimum coherence indispensable for the merest uncertain existence is suddenly challenged to a task limited in time, therefore necessarily arduous, to self-development, to articulate speech, then the response can only be a bitterness in which are mingled arrogance over achievements which could be attained only by calling upon all one's untrained powers, a last glance at the knowledge that escapes in surprise and that is so very fluctuating because it was suspected rather than certain, and, finally, hate and admiration for the environment.
Before falling asleep yesterday I had an image of a drawing in which a group of people were isolated like a mountain in the air. The technique of the drawing seemed to me completely new and, once discovered, easily executed. It is certain that Sunday can never be of more use to me than a weekday because its special organization throws all my habits into confusion and I need the additional free time to adjust myself halfway to this special day.
The moment I were set free from the office I would yield at once to my desire to write an autobiography. I would have to have some such decisive change before me as a preliminary goal when I began to write in order to be able to give direction to the mass of events. But I cannot imagine any other inspiriting change than this, which is itself so terribly improbable. Then, however, the writing of the autobiography would be a great joy because it would move along as easily as the writing down of dreams, yet it would have an entirely different effect, a great one, which would always influence me and would be accessible as well to the understanding and feeling of everyone else.
I hate Werfel, not because I envy him, but I envy him too. He is healthy, young and rich, everything that I am not. Besides, gifted with a sense of music, he has done very good work early and easily, he has the happiest life behind him and before him, I work with weights I cannot get rid of, and I am entirely shut off from music.
List of things which today are easy to imagine as ancient: the crippled beggars on the way to promenades and picnic places, the unilluminated atmosphere at night, the crossed girders of the bridge.
For two days I have noticed, whenever I choose to, an inner coolness and indifference. Yesterday evening, during my walk, every little street sound, every eye turned towards me, every picture in a showcase, was more important to me than myself.
Excuses for Max Brod
I am now half delighted that I am actually studying at last, and for that reason will not come to our cafe this week. I would very much like to be there, because I never study after 7 o’clock; but if I do take a little change of this kind, it disturbs my studies all day the next day. And I daren’t waste any time. So it’s better for me to read my Kugelgen in the evening, a splendid occupation for a little mind and for sleep when it comes. Love to you
Now, dear fellow, I shan’t be able to go out anywhere for a bit. The Dean has been so irresponsible as to fix my finals a little earlier and as I was ashamed to be more cautious than he, I’ve made no protest. All my love,
Forgive me for yesterday evening, please! I shall come to your place at five o’clock. My excuse will be a little comic, so you are quite sure to believe it.
My dear Max
I am a completely useless person, really, but nothing can be done about it. Yesterday afternoon I sent you a letter by special messenger: “Here in the tobacconist’s in the Graben I beg you to forgive me for not being able to come tonight. I have a headache, my teeth are falling out, my razor is blunt, I am an unpleasant object to look at. - Your F.”
And now in the evening I go and lie down on my sofa and reflect that I have made my excuses anyhow, and that there is again a little order in the world, but as I am thinking it over, I suddenly remember that I wrote Wladislaw street instead of Schalen street.
Now, please, I beg of you, be annoyed about it, and don’t speak to me any more because of it. I am utterly on the downward path, and - I can see far enough for that - I can’t help going to the dogs. Also I should love to cut myself, but as that is impossible, there is only one thing I can rejoice about, and that is that I have no pity on myself, and so I have at last become egoistic to that extent. We should celebrate achieving this height - you and I, I mean; just as a future enemy, you should celebrate it.
It is late. I should like you to know that I wished you a very good night tonight.
I am in such a bad way that I think I can only get over it by not speaking to anyone for a week, or as long as may be necessary. From the fact that you won’t try to answer this postcard in any way, I shall see that you are fond of me.
"Walked Out On A Line" - Okkervil River (mp3)
"Mermaid" - Okkervil River (mp3)
"Calling And Not Calling My Ex" - Okkervil River (mp3)
I do not envy particular married couples, I simply envy all married couples together; and even when I do envy one couple only, it is the happiness of married life in general, in all its infinite variety, that I envy - the happiness to be found in any one marriage, even in the likeliest case, would probably plunge me into despair.
I don’t believe people exist whose inner plight resembles mine.