Franz Kafka (right) with Max Brod’s younger brother, Otto, at the Castel Toblino near Trento, Italy, 1909
Franz Kafka (right) with Max Brod’s younger brother, Otto, at the Castel Toblino near Trento, Italy, 1909

Restlessness. I finished reading Stephen King‘s Cell last week, and have had difficulty picking up (or concentrating on) anything since. I have works by Marguerite Duras, Robert Seethaler, and a very promising biography of Vincent Van Gogh all waiting in the wings, but none have quite made it onto the bedside table.

Instead, I have been enjoying a number of shorter pieces. Among them, John Banville‘s rather glowing review of Reiner Stach‘s Kafka: The Early Years translated by Shelley Frisch (despite being the first in a three-volume series, it was published last) • The Economist has also published a review of Kafka: The Early Years • Paul Binding on Karl Ove Knausgaard • The Rise of Dystopian FictionThe 1910s-1920s artwork of William FaulknerAnd a new study suggests that immersing oneself in art, music, and nature might increase one’s life expectancy (life expectancy aside, it sounds like a good way to live as far as I’m concerned)

 

 

Is That Kafka?: 99 finds, which sounds perhaps like warmed-up leftovers from Reiner Stach’s monumental and definitive three-volume biography of Kafka (which Shelley Frisch has translated into English), is nothing of the kind. Actually, it’s more like a fascinating recipe book, from which the reader may improvise or enrich his or her own Kafka. Long into the age of the automatic biography – though not all of them are as judicious, as devoted, or as brilliant as Stach’s – it is interesting to consider whether a different, less autonomous form may not in the end be more helpful, and more in the interests of writers and readers.”

More at TLS.

The Paris Review shares two excerpts from Reiner Stach’s Is That Kafka? 99 Finds that reveal a new side to Kafka

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“The invention of a cross between a telephone and a parlograph, it really can’t be that hard. Surely by the day after tomorrow you’ll be reporting to me that the project is already a success. Of course that would have an enormous impact on editorial offices, news agencies, etc. Harder, but doubtless possible as well, would be a combination of the gramophone and the telephone. Harder because you can’t understand a gramophone at all, and a parlograph can’t ask it to speak more clearly. A combination of the gramophone and the telephone wouldn’t have such great significance in general either, but for people like me, who are afraid of the telephone, it would be a relief. But then people like me are also afraid of the gramophone, so we can’t be helped at all. By the way, it’s a nice idea that a parlograph could go to the telephone in Berlin, call up a gramophone in Prague, and the two of them could have a little conversation with each other. But my dearest the combination of the parlograph and the telephone absolutely has to be invented.”

Although Kafka was timid and skeptical in his interactions with the latest technical gadgets—particularly when they intervened in social communication—he was always fascinated by people who knew how to handle these devices as a matter of course. That included his fiancée Felice Bauer, who worked in the Berlin offices of Carl Lindström AG, where she was in charge of marketing for the “parlograph,” a dictation machine. Bauer even appeared in an advertising film that Lindström produced and distributed as a flip-book. In this film, which is only a few seconds long, she can be seen working with the parlograph and the typewriter simultaneously. (more…)

The Decisive Years

From Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years (translated by Shelley Frisch):

Asceticism was a magic word for Kafka, an intricate complex of images, cultural paradigms, idiosyncrasies, fears, and psychological techniques that he incorporated into his thought that feelings and gradually made a focal point of his identity. He was entirely justified in asserting that he had ‘a fabulous innate capacity for asceticism’. It is remarkable how tenaciously he clung to the rule of self-abjuration once his period of dawdling came to an end. The way he steadfastly denied himself warmth, meat, drugs, and medicine clearly refutes his alleged weakness of will. He reduced his good intake, toughened his body, and simplified his habits. […]

Asceticism is not austerity for its own sake; it is a process of self-regulation and self-formation based on the utopian notion of attaining complete control over one’s body, self, and life. All Kafka’s interests, habits, and penchants were modified accordingly. A diet of nuts and fruits, a flawless method of chewing, devotion to calisthenics, and long walks. He cultivated and shaped his body. He gained awareness of his body as well. He felt a growing aversion to and even loathing for everything that threatened to undermine his new sense of autonomy, especially doctors who treated his body as though they were plumbers, and medicines that had unanticipated side effects. He contended that it was degrading to battle insomnia with valerian: his insomnia was not caused by a lack of valerian.
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