Franz Kafka – The Tragic Literature Genius
As Van Gogh became a synonym for the incomprehensible artistic genius discovered only by the generations after the death of the author, the same is the case with Kafka in the world of literature. Almost all of his work were published posthumously thanks to his best friend, Max Brod, who published them, contrary to the wishes of the creator himself, who wanted to be burned.
Franz Kafka was born on July 3, 1883 in Prague, to father Herman and mother Julia. Herman was a trader, a selfish and dominant figure. At Kafka’s grief, neither his mother give him the necessary love, so that Franc grew up in an atmosphere of neglect. He and his sisters (two younger brothers died early in childhood) were raised by governors. Herman dealt with the trade of men’s and women’s wardrobe, and Julia helped him. They neither understood their son nor had any understanding of his interest in literature, which they regarded as unprofitable, and called the life of a writer “a life like a dream.” Both parents only appreciated the success that could pay the bills.
Kafka felt closer to the family of the mother because of their interest in spiritual, intellectual qualities, devotion, but also eccentricity and delicate constitutions. In Kafka’s mind, the father, the blunt and puffy shop owner, who only appreciated material success and social progress, belonged to giant races and looked like a terrible, disgusting tyrant. In Kafka’s most serious attempt to autobiography the “Letter to Father” (1919), Franc attributes his inability to live, to free himself from parental relationships and to create a marriage and a family to his father, who has a sense of inferiority. He felt as if his father had broken him. About this inner conflict (because in reality he never had direct conflicts with his father) he wrote directly in his famous novel “The Trial” (1925), which depicts the futility of the individual’s struggle with the forces that are stronger than him, in spite of all the senselessness of the arguments he faces.
From 1889 to 1893 he attended elementary school. He graduated from the Old German Gymnasium in 1901 and enrolled at the Charles University of Charles-Ferdinand, where he first started studying chemistry, but after two weeks he switched to law school, according to his father’s wishes. At the university he joined the student club, which organized literary and reading evenings, where he also met Max Brod, with whom he will remain a close friend for the rest of his life. Kafka acquired the degree of Doctor of Law on June 18, 1906 and spent the required year of unpaid service as a lawyer in the civil and district court.
Kafka felt his whole life was deprived of real relationships with people. He was a cowardly, obedient child, who constantly carried in him a sense of guilt.
“My” fear “is my essence and probably the best part of me.” (Franc Kafka)
On November 1, 1907, he was employed in a large Italian insurance company, Assicurazioni Generali, in which he spent about a year, constantly complaining that his working hours were not nearly as good as he had a little free time to write. He led a double life: on the one hand, he was an exemplary, worthy and award-winning worker, and on the other hand a lonely writer, who struggles with his own manuscripts, constantly burning them down.
“By taking on too much responsibility, a man is being destroyed.” (Franc Kafka)
On July 15, 1908, he quit, and in two weeks he found a job in the Workers’ Insurance Society of the Kingdom of Bohemia. He often called his jobs “housing and food jobs”, alluding to dealing only with money. However, he did not just “do it” for them, on the contrary, and it is little known that he invented a protective helmet for workers, for which he won a medal in 1912, because it reduced the injuries at work by 25%.
In 1912, in the house of Max Brod, he met Felice Bauer. The two had a relationship which ended in 1917. That same year, he suffered from tuberculosis. In the early 1920s he developed a very intensive relationship with Czech journalist Milena Jesenska. In 1923, he moved to Berlin in order to distance himself from his family and dedicate himself to writing. There he met Dora Diamond, a twenty-five-year-old teacher, who originated from an orthodox Jewish family. She was interested in Talmud.
Kafka suffered from clinical depression and fear of society throughout his life. It has also suffered from migraine, insomnia, imprisonment, ulcers and other diseases commonly associated with excessive stress and sensitive nerves. He tried to treat it with various diets, often twisted, as well as consuming unpasteurized milk in large quantities. Soon, Kafka’s health worsened and he had to return to Prague. Tuberculosis has advanced. The throat was too big, so he avoided eating and eventually, on June 3, 1924, he died of starvation.
But in the place where his life ends, his works begins. Max Brod has successively published Kafka’s works, which have come to a good reception and criticism and audience. Between 1925 and 1927 he published three Kafka’s novels: “The Trial”, “Castle” and “America”, and in 1931 he published a collection of stories “The Great Wall of China”.
Kafka’s main characters are peculiar in that they fail to communicate with their surroundings, follow their own, internal logic and laugh the logic of the mass, a world that is grotesque and violent. Heroes are just the voice of an inferior personality, who in vain searches for information that wants to understand the world, but also requires understanding of the world. The main characters suffer both in the spirit and in the body, desperately seeking, but always from within, meaning, security, personal value, and sense of purpose. Other characters are often only sketched, only in the service of the story. Kafka considered his works as some kind of “redemption”, “prayer” by which he is resting with the world or outperforming negative experiences in it. Kafka often represented reality as a sickly pathological condition, using metaphors seriously and literally. Thus, in the “Metamorphosis” insurance agent (just like him) wakes up as a disgusting, gigantic insect, which the family rejects and is left to die in solitude. In the “America” novel, the family sends the boy to America. He is seeking refuge there with his paternal cousins. He uses his innocence and simplicity wherever he can, and the last chapter paints his approach to the dream world.
In the “The Trial”, K accepts the indictment, although no one tells him, although he does not know what to defend himself, although at every step he encounters evil, immorality and obscenity, seeking precisely to prove the absurdity of the charges, he permits that he is drawn into the general whirl of a nonsense. In an attempt to prove that the accusation is nonsense, he fights with an unknown force, which is stronger than a team that is more mysterious. He wants to be freed, but the release is impossible, because how to get rid of the one who does not know what is to blame. The whole world, although absurd, grotesque, ridiculous, living according to its rules, creates a reality in which there is no place for someone who is different, and therefore Joseph looks like a lone freak, whose struggle is more meaningless because he refuses to accept the rules that this world imposes. (“He suffered defeat only because he was looking for a battle.” – “The Trial”).
Kafka’s works have rich interpretations. Existentialists see Kafka’s despair as the basis on which authentic existence is being built, others recognize the neuroses created by the conflict with their father, and the third emphasize social criticism, the display of the inviolability of powerful state agents, violence and barbarism that lie underneath the surface of normality, while surrealists adore constant persistence of absurdity.
At the time of his death, his work was appreciated by small literary circles, because he published only a few stories during his life for various journals. His name and work would never have survived if Max Brod had respected his will.