The Tower of Babel
Franz Kafka (1883 - 1924)

It is easy to recognize a concentration in me of all my forces on writing. When it became clear in my organism that writing was the most productive direction for my being to take, everything rushed in that direction and left empty all those abilities which were directed toward the joy of sex, eating, drinking, philosophical reflection and above all music. . . .
Naturally, I did not find this purpose independently and consciously, it found itself, and is now interfered with only by the office, but that interferes with it completely. . . .
My developement is now complete and, so far as I can see, there is nothing left to sacrifice; I need only throw my work in the office out of this complex in order to begin my real life.

The Diary of Franz Kafka, 1910-1913,
ed. Max Brod, trans. Joseph Kresh
(New York: Schocken Books, 1949), p.211

A German-speaker among Czech-speakers
a Jew among Gentiles

Kafka was born in July 3, 1883 in Prague, the capital of Bohemia, a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was born the citizen of a crumbling state, a German-speaker among Czech-speakers, a Jew among Gentiles-- and in himself the lonliness of men. He grew up in the shadow of his father Herrmann Kafka, a huge, selfish, overbearing and domineering shopkeeper. Franz, the only son lived a life of estrangement in a freezing solitude he called "Russian." He did not live alone until he was thirthy-three; and he did not live with a woman until the last year of his life, when he fled Prague for Berlin. His poverty and the cold of winter in inflation-ridden Germany exacerbated his desease, and he died at the age of forty-one.

He attended a prestigious German high school in Prague and studied litterature briefly at the University of Prague before turning to law. Soon after obtaining his doctoral degree in 1906, he took up a position at the state Worker's Accidental Insurance Institute, where he remained a loyal and successful employee until--beginning in 1917-- tuberculosis forced him to take repeated sick leaves and finally, in 1922, to retire. Kafka spent half his time after 1917 in sanatoriums and health resorts, his tuberculosis of the lungs finally spreading to the larynx.

Kafka's life is almost empty of incident, apart from his two engagements to Felice Bauer, both of which he broke off. None of his largely unhappy love affairs could wean him from this inner dependence; though he longed to marry, he never did. Sexually, he apparently oscillated between an ascetic aversion to intercourse, which he called "the punishment for being together," and an attraction to prostitutes. Sex in Kafka's writings is frequently connected with dirt or guilt and treated as an attractive abomination. Nevertheless, Kafka led a fairly active social life, including acquaintance with many prominent literary and intellectual figures of his era, such as the writers Franz Werfel and Max Brod. He loved to hike, swim, and row, and during vacations he took carefully planned trips. He wrote primarily at night, the days being preempted by his job.

None of Kafka's novels was printed during his lifetime, and it was only with reluctance that he published a fraction of his shorter fiction. This fiction included Meditation (1913; Eng. trans., 1949), a collection of short prose pieces; The Judgment (1913; Eng. trans., 1945), a long short story, written in 1912, which Kafka himself considered his decisive breakthrough (it tells of a rebellious son condemned to suicide by his father); and The Metamorphosis (1915; Eng. trans., 1961), dealing again with the outsider, a son who suffers the literal and symbolic transformation into a huge, repulsive, fatally wounded insect. In the Penal Colony (1919; Eng. trans., 1961) is a parable of a torture machine and its operators and victims--equally applicable to a person's inner sense of law, guilt, and retribution and to the age of World War I. The Country Doctor (1919; Eng. trans., 1946) was another collection of short prose. At the time of his death Kafka was also preparing A Hunger Artist (1924; Eng. trans., 1938), four stories centering on the artist's inability either to negate or come to terms with life in the human community.

Contrary to Kafka's halfhearted instruction that his unprinted manuscripts be destroyed after his death, his friend Max Brod set about publishing them and thus became the architect of his belated fame. The best known of the posthumous works are three fragmentary novels. The Trial (1925; Eng. trans., 1937) deals with a man persecuted and put to death by the inscrutable agencies of an unfathomable court of law. The Castle (1926; Eng. trans., 1930) describes the relentless but futile efforts of the protagonist to gain recognition from the mysterious authorities ruling (from their castle) the village where he wants to establish himself. Amerika (1927; Eng. trans., 1938), written early in Kafka's career, portrays the inconclusive struggle of a young immigrant to gain a foothold in an alien, incomprehensible country. In all of these works, as indeed in most of Kafka's mature prose, the lucid, concise style forms a striking contrast to the labyrinthine complexities, the anxiety-laden absurdities, and the powerfully oppressive symbols of torment and anomie that are the substance of the writer's vision. Kafka's fiction, somewhat like ink-blot tests, elicits and defeats attempts at conclusive explanation. Practically every school of modern criticism has produced a corpus of interpretations. Kafka's own aphorisms, however, may come the closest to offering a key.

Bibliography: Brod, Max, Franz Kafka, 2d ed. (1960); Citati, Pietro, Kafka (1990); Flores, Angel, ed., The Kafka Debate (1977); Glatzer, N. N., The Loves of Franz Kafka (1985); Gray, Ronald, ed., Kafka: A Collection of Critical Essays (1962); Hayman, Ronald, Kafka (1982); Heller, Erich, Franz Kafka (1975); Karl, Frederick R., Franz Kafka: Representative Man (1992); Lawson, R. H., Franz Kafka (1987); Pawel, E., The Nightmare of Reason: A Life of Franz Kafka (1984); Politzer, Heiny, Franz Kafka: Parable and Paradox (1962); Sokel, Walter H., Franz Kafka (1966); Udoff, Alan, ed., Kafka and the Contemporary Critical Performance (1987). 1993 Grolier Incorporated


Sources:
The Penguin Complete Novels of Franz Kafka, 1967, Trans. Willa and Edwin Muir 1938.
The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka, Bantam Classic edition 1981, Tran. Stanley Corngold
Kafka's Home Page, The Castle
Franz Kafka's Library
Franz Kafka Photo Album
Kafka-land
Scanning Electron Microscopy

Scanning Electron Microscope Images are from various books and the site mentioned above.
Most of the imges were altered using Adobe photoshop.
There are insects such as ants, aphids, fleas, and other common things.
The Paintings are by Morteza Katouzian and Karl Johnson.
The drawings on this page are by Kafka.

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