Who is Kafka and Why did John Updike write a Forward?

Kafka was a self-loathing lawyer who hated everything he wrote and was trapped in a profession he liked to mock.  Yes, that does sound like the traits of a superb writer now, doesn’t it?  John Updike and I both agree. 😉

Franz Kafka was born in 1883 and was a lawyer by profession.  He also was a closet writer.  Prior to his death in 1924 he ordered his ex-wives, mother, and his page to destroy all copies of his writing.  Lucky for us, only a few ex-wives followed his instructions.  His mother and page destroyed nothing and Kafka’s work was translated so that all can read what this amazing writer wanted to desperately destroy.

Perhaps my favorite essay that was saved was written to his father, a letter that Kafka gave to his mother.  It is titled, “Letter to His Father” and was written in 1919. His father never read the letter because Kafka knew it would just kick up a shit storm in the house.  Kafka lived at home his entire life, never obtaining the love he needed from his father.  I hear ya Kafka, but I moved out.

Kafka writes with tenderness and humor in a graphic manner.  It doesn’t surprise me that his writing were eventual put into a comic book format.  That textbook is my personal favorite since starting college in 2010.  Kafka lives feeling nearly worthless, imagining horrific ways in which he could die.  Die by bizarre coincidence, not by suicide.  His death was due to tuberculosis while confined to a sanatorium.  He died a month short of turning forty-one.

Kafka's envisioned injury by a butcher's cleaver.

Kafka’s envisioned death by a butcher’s cleaver.

His final message to a friend was “five books and one short story are all that can stand” as works that he would want to remain after his death.  He still felt they weren’t particularly special and didn’t feel they should be “reprinted and handed down to posterity.”  Another request of Kafka’s that was ignored.  Later, his friends came forward with manuscripts they had written based on conversations with Kafka.  Those sneaky friends did us a huge favor.

Some of Kafka’s manuscripts were still being written.  The unfinished stories are not found as incomplete as the opening, body and climax, had been reached.  Kafka’s essays often delved into his on psycho analysis.  He wrote of his life feeling unloved by his father, feeling helpless, and depressed.  Often his stories revolved around a creature or bug as the main character as Kafka worked through his own feelings of self-worth.  A writer corresponded with Kafka’s friend who was writing manuscripts behind Kafka’s back.  The letter to Brod, Kafka’s friend, stated, “Franz can not live. Franz doe not have the capacity for living.  He is like a naked man among a multitude who are dressed.”  Franz really didn’t like himself and knew he would never live up to the standards expected of him.  His father’s indifference to his son scarred Kafka until his death.

Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka

A line in the final section of the forward struck a key with me.  “Fantasy, for Kafka even more than for most writers of fiction, was the way out of his skin, so he could get back in.”  That resounds with me because even with writing nonfiction, it allows me to exit and write in the first person, only to climb back in and resume life as it happens.

Works cited:

Franz Kafka. The Complete Stories

David Mairowitz and Robert Crumb Introducing Kafka

Go ahead...take a swing. I'll duck and listen.

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