Category Archives: Kafka

One’s own basic Yes

Every human being here is asked two questions of creed: first as to the credibility of this life, second as to the credibility of his goal. Both questions are answered by everyone, through the very fact of his life, with such a firm and direct ‘yes’ that it might become uncertain whether the questions have been understood rightly. In any case, it is now that one must begin to work one’s way through to this, one’s own basic Yes, for even far below their surface the answers are confused and elusive under the assault of the questions.

– Kafka, The Blue Octavo Notebooks (tr. Kaiser and Wilkins)

The castle opens

As soon as a person appears who has something primitive about
him, so that he does not say ‘One must accept the world as it is’ [. . .]
but says ‘However the world is, I shall retain an originality which
I do not mean to alter in accordance with the world’s wishes’:
at the moment these words are heard, the whole of existence is
transformed. As in the fairy-tale, when the word is spoken, the castle
opens after being enchanted for a hundred years, and everything
comes to life: so existence turns into sheer attention.

– Kierkegaard, The Book of the Judge (quoted by Kafka in a letter to Brod)

The great horse

In amazement we beheld the great horse. It broke through the roof of our room. The cloudy sky was drifting faintly along its mighty outline, and its mane flew, rustling, in the wind.

– Kafka

I’m making a test

I’m making a test: on the balcony is a sparrow which expects me to throw some bread from the table on to the balcony, instead of which I drop the bread beside me on the floor in the middle of the floor. It stands outside and from there in the semi-darkness sees the food of its life, terribly tempting, it’s shaking itself, it’s more here than there, but here is the dark and beside the bread am I, the secret power. Nevertheless it hops over the threshold, a few more hops, but farther it doesn’t dare go and in sudden fright it flies away. But with what energy does this wretched bird abound, after a while it’s back again, inspects the situation, I scatter a little more to make it easier for it, and – if I hadn’t intentionally-unintentionally (this is how the secret powers work) chased it away with a sudden movement, it would have got the bread.

– Kafka, Letters to Milena (tr. T. and J. Stern)

Among the ruins

Anyone who cannot come to terms with his life while he is alive needs one hand to ward off a little his despair over his fate – he has little success in this – but with his other hand he can note down what he sees among the ruins, for he sees different (and more) things than do the others; after all, dead as he is in his own lifetime, he is the real survivor. This assumes that he does not need both hands, or more hands than he has, in his struggle against despair.

– Kafka, Diaries

Today the gates have receded

Nowadays — it cannot be denied — there is no Alexander the Great. There are plenty of men who know how to murder people; the skill needed to reach over a banqueting table and pink a friend with a lance is not lacking; and for many Macedonia is too confining, so that they curse Philip, the father — but no one, no one at all, can blaze a trail to India. Even in his day the gates of India were beyond reach, yet the King’s sword pointed the way to them. Today the gates have receded to remoter and loftier places; no one points the way; many carry swords, but only to brandish them, and the eye that tries to follow them is confused.

  • Kafka, ‘The New Advocate’

The Trial was different. It had a beginning, where the lightning of the indictment had to strike, and an end, where the sentence had to be carried out. Hence there was a framework in which a series of loosely connected scenes followed inexorably from the idea of the whole. Kafka worked only on the scene that most preoccupied him at the moment, sometimes in one notebook, sometimes in another. If no empty notebook was available for additional drafts, he turned around a used one and continued writing from the back. He wrote the beginning and the end of the novel first and possibly even simultaneously.

— Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years (tr. Frisch)