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  • 7/4/2004

Franz Kafka


July 3, 1883 - June 3, 1924

Franz Kafka,thesonof Julie Lِwyand Hermann Kafka,amerchant,wasbornintoamiddle-classJewishfamily.Aftertwobrothersdiedininfancy,hebecametheoldestchild,remainingforeverconsciousofhisroleasolderbrother; Ottla,theyoungestofhisthree sisters,becamethefamilymemberclosesttohim. Kafkastrongly identifiedwithhismaternal ancestorsbecauseoftheirspirituality,intellectualdistinction,piety, rabbinicallearning,eccentricity,melancholydisposition,anddelicatephysicalandmentalconstitution.Hewasnot,however,particularlyclosetohismother,asimplewomandevotedtoherchildren.Subservienttoheroverwhelming,ill-temperedhusbandandhisexactingbusiness,shesharedwithherspousealackofcomprehensionoftheirson'sunprofitableandpossiblyunhealthydedicationtotheliterary"recordingof[his] . . .dreamlikeinnerlife."
Thefigureof Kafka'sfather overshadowed Kafka'sworkaswellashisexistence;thefigureis,infact,oneofhismostimpressive creations.For,inhisimagination,thiscoarse,practical,anddomineeringshopkeeperandpatriarch,who worshiped
nothingbutmaterialsuccessandsocialadvancement, belongedtoaraceof giantsandwasanawesome,admirable,butrepulsivetyrant.In Kafka'smostimportantattemptatautobiography,"Briefanden Vater"(written 1919;"LettertoFather"),aletterthatnever reachedtheaddressee, Kafka attributedhisfailuretolive--tocutloosefromparental tiesandestablishhimselfinmarriageandfatherhood--aswellashisescapeintoliterature,totheprohibitivefatherfigure,which instilledinhimthesenseofhisownimpotence.Hefelthiswillhadbeenbrokenbyhisfather.Theconflictwiththefatheris reflecteddirectlyin Kafka's
storyDas Urteil (1916;TheJudgment).Itisprojectedonagranderscalein Kafka's novels,whichportrayinlucid,deceptivelysimpleproseaman'sdesperatestrugglewithanoverwhelmingpower,onethatmaypersecuteitsvictim(as inTheTrial)oronethatmaybesoughtafterand beggedinvainforapproval(as inTheCastle).Yetthe rootsof Kafka'sanxietyanddespairgodeeperthanhisrelationshiptohisfatherandfamily,withwhomhechosetoliveincloseandcrampedproximityforthemajorpartofhisadultlife.Thesourceof Kafka'sdespairliesinasenseofultimateisolationfromtruecommunionwithall human beings--the friendshe cherished,thewomenhe loved,thejobhe detested,thesocietyhe livedin--andwithGod,or,asheputit,withtrueindestructibleBeing.
Thesonofawould-be assimilatedJewwhoheldonlyperfunctorilytothereligious practicesandsocial formalitiesoftheJewishcommunity, KafkawasGermanbothinlanguageandculture.Hewasatimid, guilt-ridden,andobedientchildwhodidwellinelementaryschoolandinthe Altstنdter Staatsgymnasium,anexactinghighschoolfortheacademicelite.Hewas respectedand likedbyhis teachers.Inwardly,however,he rebelledagainsttheauthoritarianinstitutionandthe dehumanizedhumanisticcurriculum,withitsemphasisonrotelearningandclassical languages. Kafka'soppositiontoestablishedsocietybecameapparentwhen,asanadolescent,he declaredhimselfasocialistaswellasanatheist.Throughouthisadultlifehe expressedqualifiedsympathiesforthe socialists; attendedmeetingsoftheCzech Anarchists(before World War I);and,inhislateryears,showedmarkedinterestandsympathyfora socializedZionism.Eventhenhewasessentiallypassiveandpolitically unengaged.AsaJew, Kafkawas isolatedfromtheGermancommunityin Prague,butasamodernintellectualhewasalso alienatedfromhisownJewishheritage.HewassympathetictoCzechpoliticalandculturalaspirations,buthisidentificationwithGermanculturekepteventhesesympathiessubdued.Thus,socialisolationand rootlessness contributedto Kafka'slifelongpersonalunhappiness. Kafkadid,however,becomefriendlywithsome German-Jewish intellectualsandliteratiin Prague,andin 1902hemetMax Brod;thisminorliteraryartistbecamethemostintimateandsolicitousof Kafka's friends,andeventuallyhe emergedasthepromoter,saviour,andinterpreterof Kafka's writingsandashismostinfluentialbiographer.
Thetwomenbecame acquaintedwhile Kafkawasindifferently studyinglawattheUniversityof Prague.Hereceivedhisdoctoratein 1906,andin 1907hetookupregularemploymentwithaninsurancecompany.Thelonghoursandexacting requirementsofthe Assicurazioni Generali,however,didnotpermit Kafkatodevotehimselftowriting.In 1908hefoundin Pragueajobinthe seminationalized Workers'AccidentInsuranceInstitutefortheKingdomof Bohemia.Therehe remaineduntil 1917,whentuberculosisforcedhimtotakeintermittentsickleavesand,finally,toretire(withapension)in 1922,abouttwoyearsbeforehedied.Inhisjobhewasconsideredtirelessandambitious;hesoonbecametherighthandofhisboss,andhewas esteemedand likedbyallwho workedwithhim.
Infact,generallyspeaking, Kafkawasacharming,intelligent,andhumorousindividual,buthefoundhisroutineofficejobandthe exhaustingdoublelifeintowhichitforcedhim(forhis nightswerefrequently consumedinwriting)tobeexcruciatingtorture,andhisdeeperpersonal relationshipswereneuroticallydisturbed.Hishealthwaspoorandofficework exhaustedhim.In 1917hewas diagnosedashavingtuberculosis,andfromthenonwardhespentfrequent periodsin sanatoriums.
In 1923 KafkawenttoBerlintoescapefromhispaternalfamilyanddevotehimselftowriting.InBerlinhefoundnewhopeinthecompanionshipofayoungJewishsocialist, Dora Dymant,buthisstaywascutshortbyadecisivedeteriorationofhishealthduringthewinterof 1924.Afterabrieffinalstayin Prague,where Dora Dymant joinedhim,hediedinaclinicnear Vienna.

Takenfrom:
http://www.kafka.org/

Alsosee:

http://www.levity.com/corduroy/kafka.htm
http://www.mala.bc.ca/~johnstoi/kafka/beforethelaw.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Kafka

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