For a name to mean more than the letters of which it is made it requires weight; significant enough to be worth a conversation. The name of Franz Kafka was only a few papery leaves heavier than obscurity. History has been kind to Max Brod, Kafka’s greatest friend and betrayer, whose stubbornness to ignore the insurance officer’s dying wish to see his unpublished manuscripts rise in orange heat has widely been regarded as a ‘good thing’. This parable about the parable-writer adds to the collective perception of the author. If he had had his way Kafka would have gone the way of K.: making bold statements on deaf ears and spinning into a perpetual motion while going nowhere, far from taking the sidestep needed to avoid the tragedy so obviously speeding his way. The body of work would have been left as cold and useless as the body of the worker, lost to us all yet absorbing the author into his bleak own prose.
Fortunately for us, the Amerikas, the Trials and the Castles are at our disposal. And they never end. Their disjointed frames shift in time and mood, creating a multi-coloured patchwork of plot which treads ever onwards leaving us to envisage some closure. These novels, infinite novels, have no beginning (we are thrust into the village under the castle with no knowledge or past of who K. truly is, Gregor awakes to find himself a gigantic vermin, Karl is found on a boat steaming past the Statue of Liberty) and no true end (Amerika ends without having reached its title and the Castle outlived its author). They merely float within the process, the sparring, the attempts and failures to battle against the wildly abnormal through normal means. Such bleak repetition within a short time frame seems to reflect a view of life; banging one’s head against an unopenable door in the hope it may shift.
But while his novels have become conventional reading, the other stories remain other. Published along with Metamorphosis in a gleaming Penguin jacket, these shorter than short stories (those of the less-than-one-page ilk) give me the same sense of infinity felt in Amerika and the Castle within mere sentences. Many of them (‘The Men Running Past’, ‘The Plight of the Bachelor’ and ‘Resolutions’) offer snippets of fear, deliciously wrapped in the smallest of situation, which can only be the fear of the author. Fear of living ‘never to make one’s way upstairs at the side of one’s wife’. Fear of letting someone ‘run on unmolested’ in the dark streets of Prague.
These are well written, don’t get me wrong, but I found myself asking why. What is their intention, their value? Do they hold any value? A lot of us, I’m sure, have thrown down tumbling thoughts that splatter the page, thoughts that are so temporary that to not do so would be to lose them forever. But they are lost. Even when written they lose their context in the bubbling brew of brain activity that evoked them. Can we apply any true significance to the transient moments published herein any more than we can to our own? I suppose we must view them as pages left behind by an author whose choice to publish nothing allowed a single digression the right to publish everything.
These are, to my mind, the leaves among the fruits. Their importance as visions that aided the production of the novels is indubitable, but their worth as single entities is contentious. If the dead could talk…