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This article is taken from PN Review 10, Volume 6 Number 2, November - December 1979.

Aspects of Kafka John Pilling

Franz Kafka, Letters to Friends, Family and Editors (John Calder) £19.50

IT IS a consummate irony that the man who could "see nothing clearly, except my own wretchedness" and who requested his posthumous papers to be "burned unread" should stand more nakedly revealed to us than even Stendhal, Tolstoy or Kierkegaard, and yet remain profoundly enigmatic. This is, no doubt, how Kafka would have wished it, a perfect illustration of how even the most vigilant self-scrutiny defeats itself, and how an atmosphere of mystery engulfs even the most unmitigated candour. As an exponent of what he called "this inescapable duty to observe oneself - Kafka is unequalled in modern literature; yet to enter the world of his personal writings is like arriving at the village in The Castle or waking up to find oneself arrested. There is no key to unlock the prison finally, the land refuses to be surveyed. "There is", in Kafka's aphoristic formulation, "a goal, but no way; what we call a way is hesitation". Yet the reader of Kafka's letters nevertheless feels what Kafka himself felt on reading Herzen's memoirs, that somehow "the whole of the unconscious man emerges, purposeful, self-tormenting, having himself firmly in hand and then going to pieces again". Perhaps this is why Kafka stands, as Auden said, in the same kind of relation to our age as Dante, Shakespeare and Goethe did to theirs; and why, when Kafka writes of Strindberg: "We are his contemporaries and successors; one has ...

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