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)
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)
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.
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)
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)
Joseph Conrad, in an author’s note to his novel The Secret Agent, depicted how the idea of a central female character, Winnie Verloc, took root from a handful of remarks he happened to overhear. Her fictional fate led to a host of additional characters, complete with local colour, political background, and so on. Whenever a new productive phase set in, Kafka’s dynamic was the exact opposite of Conrad’s accretion method. As he had on the night of September 23, 1912, Kafka began to tap a reservoir that was already full. The diaries reveal that the conflicts, metaphors, gestures, and details were all there. In many cases, the images had already taken on linguistic shape. Kafka did not work from a welter of emotions but instead focused on the amassed material that his emotions brought out – hence the unparalleled, provocative plethora of references and links between the visual and linguistic elements in his texts. Everything seems to correspond to everything.
– Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years (tr. Frisch)
In January 1922, as Kafka was embarking on the composition of The Castle, he arrived one snowy evening in the health resort of Spindelmühle in the Riesengebirge near the Polish border. At the Hotel Krone, where he was expected, he found he was listed in the hotel directory as ‘Dr Josef Kafka’.
— John Banville
I called for my horse to be brought from the stable. The servant did not understand me. I myself went into the stable, saddled my horse and mounted.
In the distance I heard a bugle call. I asked him what it meant but he did not know and had not heard it.
By the gate he stopped me and asked, ‘Where are you riding to sir?’ I answered, ‘away from here, away from here, always away from here. Only by doing so can I reach my destination’. ‘Then you know your destination’, he asked. ‘Yes’, I said, ‘I have already said so, “Away-From-Here”, that is my destination’.
‘You have no provisions with you’, he said. ‘I don’t need any’, I said. ‘The journey is so long that I will die of hunger if I do not get something along the way. It is, fortunately, a truly immense journey.’
— Kafka (exegesis)