There is no one here who wholly understands me. To have one person with this understanding, a woman for example, that would be to have a foothold on every side, it would mean to have God.
Franz Kafka holds two major distinctions in twentieth-century life, neither of which is recognized nearly as often as it should be. By virtue of his eye-opening diaries, he was the first blogger. He was also one of the finest flakes of the twentieth century, as those diaries prove. He was terrific with excuses, finding exactly the right thing to say to avoid facing one obligation or another. Here are some of the finest excuses he made to his best friend 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.
In 1914, Kafka was 31. He was about to enter into the first of his unsuccessful engagements with Felice Bauer, who worked as a representative for a dictaphone company. What follows are excerpts from his diary entries during this period:
January 14 1914
Quite some time ago A's sister was told by a fortune-teller that her eldest brother was engaged and that his fiancee was deceiving him. At that time he rejected all such stories in a rage. I: "Why only at that time? It is as false today as it was then. She hasn't deceived you, has she?" He: "It's true that she hasn't, isn't it?"
March 8 1914
There is no doubt that I am hemmed in all around, though by something has certainly not yet fixed itself in my flesh, that I occasionally feel slackening, and that could be burst asunder. There are two remedies, marriage or Berlin; the second is surer, the first more immediately attractive.
March 17 1914
Sat in the room with my parents, leafed through magazines for two hours, on and off simply stared before me; in general simply waited for ten o'clock to arrive and for me to be able to go to bed.
March 27 1914
On the whole passed in much the same way.
April 8 1914
Yesterday incapable of writing even one word. Today no better. Who will save me? And the turmoil in me, deep down, scarcely visible; I am like a living lattice-work, a lattice that is solidly planted and would like to tumble down.
Today in the coffee-house with Werfel. How he looked from the distance, seated at the coffee-house table. Stooped, half-reclining even in the wooden chair, the beautiful profile of his face pressed against his chest, his face almost wheezing in its fullness (not really fat); entirely indifferent to the surroundings, impudent, and without flaw. His dangling glasses by contrast make it easier to trace the delicate outlines of his face.
May 6 1914
My parents seem to have found a beautiful apartment for F. and me; I ran around for nothing one entire beautiful afternoon. I wonder whether they will lay me in my grave too, after a life made happy by their solicitude.
May 29 1914
Tomorrow to Berlin. Is it a nervous or a real, trustworthy security that I feel? How is that possible? Is it true that if one once acquires a confidence in one's ability to write, nothing can miscarry, nothing is wholly lost, while at the same time only seldom will something rise up to a more than ordinary height? Is this because of my approaching marriage to F.? Strange condition, though not entirely unknown to me when I think back.
Dostoevsky's letter to his brother on life in prison.
June 6 1914
'Don't you want to join us?' I was recently asked by an acquaintance when he ran across me alone after midnight in a coffee-house that was already almost deserted. 'No, I don't,' I said.
July 5 1914
To have to bear and to be the cause of such suffering!
August 2 1914
Germany has declared war on Russia - Swimming in the afternoon.
August 3 1914
Alone in my sister's apartment. It is lower down than my room, it is also on a side street, hence the neighbours' loud talking below, in front of their doors. Whistling too. Otherwise complete solitude. No longed-for wife to open the door. In one month I was to have been married. The saying hurts: you've made your bed, now lie in it. You find yourself painfully pushed against the wall, apprehensively lower your eyes to see whose hand it is that pushes you, and, with a new pain in which the old is forgotten, recognize your own contorted hand holding you with a strength it never had for good work. You raise your head, again feel the first pain, again lower your gaze; this up-and-down motion of your head goes on without pause.
August 29 1914
The end of one chapter a failure; another chapter, which began beautifully, I shall hardly - or rather certainly not - be able to continue as beautifully, while at the time, during the night, I should certainly have succeeded with it. But I must not forsake myself, I am entirely alone.
August 30 1914
Cold and empty. I feel only too strongly the limits of my abilities, narrow limits, doubtless, unless I am completely inspired. And I believe that even in the grip of inspiration I am swept along only within these narrow limits, which, however, I then no longer feel because I am being swept along. Nevertheless, within these limits there is room to live, for this reason I shall probably exploit them to a despicable degree.
October 7 1914
I have taken a week's vacation to push the novel on. Until today - it is Wednesday night, my vacation ends Monday - it has been a failure. I have written little and feebly. Even last week I was on the decline, but could not foresee that it would prove so bad. Are these three days enough to warrant the conclusion that I am unworthy of living without the office?
October 15 1914
I have lived now calmly for two months without any real contact with F. (except through correspondence with E.), have dreamed of F. as though of someone who was dead and could never live again, and now, when I am offered a chance to come near her, she is at once the center of everything again. She is probably also interfering with my work. How very much a stranger she has sometimes seemed to me these latter days when I would think of her, of all the people I had ever met the most remote; though at the same time I told myself that this was simply because F. had been closer to me than any other person, or least had been thrust so close to me by other people.
Leafed through the diary a little. Got a kind of inkling of the way a life like this is constituted.
November 12 1914
Parents who expect gratitude from their children (there are even some who insist on it) are like usurers who gladly risk their capital if only they receive interest.
December 31 1914
Have been working since August, in general not little and not badly, yet neither in the first nor in the second respect to the limit of my ability, as I should have done, especially as there is every indication (insomnia, headaches, weak heart) that my ability won't last much longer. Worked on, but did not finish: The Trial, 'Memoirs of the Kalda Railway,' 'The Village Schoolmaster', 'The Assistant Attorney', and the beginnings of various little things. Finished only 'In the Penal Colony' and a chapter of Der Verschollene, both during the two-week holiday. I don't know why I am drawing up this summary, it's not at all like me!
"Slow Was My Heart" - Richard Ashcroft (mp3)
"Crazy World" - Richard Ashcroft (mp3)
"New York" - Richard Ashcroft (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.