Passion for Writing: Franz Kafka

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His Diaries and Letters are the sources of understanding the events and experiences which he encountered. These are the factors which made Kafka the man and the writer. According to Caroline Duttlinger, though Europe in general and Austro-Hungarian region, where Kafka lived in particular, was undergoing many changes during the time when Kafka wrote. These elements prominently stand out in the works of Kafka. Letters and Diaries is a pointer to his unfulfilled desire; lead a happy married family..To marry, to found a family, to accept all the children that arrive, to support them in this uncertain world and even guide them a little, is in my belief the utmost that anybody can possibly achieve

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Another critical issue in Diaries is the clash of interests; marriage vs. writing career. His anxiety is explicit. He feared that marriage is an obstacle to his writing. When Felice appreciated his literary interests and praised him for his literary skill his reply is shocking; ‘I do not have literary interests, I consist of literature. I am nothing else and cannot be anything else’ .

He was very well aware of the loss he would have to endure if he had to devote to literature at the expense of his family life. Yet, he could not have helped. Richie Robertson opines that Gustave Flaubert’s words in his L’Education Sentimentale, ‘My novel is the rock to which I cling, and I know nothing of what is happening in the world’ aptly applies to Kafka and it was Kafka’s favourite quote. However, Kafka responded to the happenings of the world in which he lived, and also he assiduously involved himself in purging the tangles of his inner world through writing. In this respect, the influence of his own situation is one; the influence of writers like Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Kleist and Gillpaizer on his writings is another.

Though it seems unusual, one of the major influences on Kafka is the intergenerational conflict that he faced due his father. His ‘Letter to His Father’, which is considered his longest piece of introspection, reveals to the readers the fact that he shared an uneasy relationship with his father. His mother and sister advised him to refrain from handing over the letter to his father which he obeyed. However, it serves as an important document for readers to probe into the themes of his writings. The letter traces events from his early life with his father to the time of his writing. The recurring issue is how his father Herman Kafka’s dominating presence stunted his son’s development and made him feel hopelessly inadequate. As one reads his ‘Letter To His Father’, one can definitely understand how Kafka’s father’s physique as well as attitude made Kafka, the man and the writer and also develop the illusion that he is a giant. Eventually, he developed sort of aversion towards his father. Richie Robertson opines that his father was an inspiration in negative sense for him to create the fictitious flesh eating animals characterised by sheer ferocity in his fiction like Green in Amerika and cannibal in “The Hunger Artist”. Kafka could never develop the kind of self-confidence which his father had developed. Till the end of his life, he blamed his father within himself for his own inadequacy. He writes in ‘The Letter to His Father’, ‘Because of you I lost my self-confidence and acquired a boundless feeling of guilt in exchange’ .

Kafka also records his childhood experiences in his Diaries. One incident is, as a young child he was forced by his father to stand out in the flat as a punishment because Kafka cried and disturbed his parents’ sleep and another is, his father’s advice to him, when he was sixteen years old, to visit brothels to overcome his sexual inhibition. Such experiences mentally brought him down further. While he condemns his father’s attitude, he also shows a tinge of admiration towards his father. Kafka considers his father a model of masculinity, a good husband and a commanding father, which, he felt, was too difficult for him to achieve.

Caroline Duttlinger says, in The Cambridge Introduction to Franz Kafka, that the period during which Kafka wrote was one which experienced many groundbreaking theories being put forward by various social scientists. Psychoanalysis was one such theory which influenced various fields of life, particularly literature . One major development in this direction got a shot in the arm with the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams by Freud in 1900. This work made psychoanalysis a very important stream of knowledge. In his writings, Freud addressed pathological conditions, viz., neurosis and psychosis alongside sociological issues such as religion, family, sexuality, etc. He insisted that psychoanalysis be counted on par with other sciences. His ‘Oedipus complex’ named after the character, Oedipus, in Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex is the most famous technical jargon which captured the attention of many people. That his theory was refuted by his equally celebrated students, Alfred Adler and Carl Jung is now history, which made these theories incompatible with the scientific theories of his age. Admittedly, the contemporary writers responded to Freud’s theories with a mixture of fascination and suspicion. Kafka was, initially, inclined towards this theory. In a way, however, psychoanalysis fell short of explanations and justifications to unlock the hidden meaning of Kafka’s texts and to answer many questions which Kafka had. Kafka brilliantly transforms the psychoanalytic models in creative ways. He felt that psychoanalysis is too naive to reflect the complexity of human experience.

There is no such thing as observation of the inner world, as there is of outer world. Psychology is probably taken as a whole, a form of anthropomorphism, nibbling at our own limits.   

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