The burrow posthumously.., p.1
The Burrow: Posthumously Published Short Fiction,
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Posthumously Published Short Fiction
A New Translation by Michael Hofmann
A Note on the Text
Foreword by Michael Hofmann
In the City (March 1911)
The Village Schoolmaster (December 1914–January 1915)
[A Young and Ambitious Student …] (January 1915)
[Blumfeld, an Elderly Bachelor …] (February–March 1915)
[The Bridge] (December 1916)
[Texts on the Hunter Gracchus Theme] (December 1916 and April 1917)
[Yesterday There Came to Me a Swoon …] (February 1917)
[I Really Should Have …] (February 1917)
Building the Great Wall of China (March 1917)
[It Was One Summer …] (March 1917)
[My Business …] (March 1917)
A Cross-Breed (April 1917)
[K. was a Great Juggler …] (August 1917)
[New Lamps] (August 1917)
[An Everyday Confusion] (October 1917)
[The Truth about Sancho Panza] (October 1917)
[The Silence of the Sirens] (October 1917)
[A Society of Scoundrels] (October 1917)
[Visiting the Dead] (August 1920)
[Night] (August 1920)
[Our Little Town] (August 1920)
On the Matter of our Laws (August 1920)
[The Troop Levy] (August 1920)
[Poseidon] (September 1920)
[Friendship] (September 1920)
[Our City Coat of Arms] (September 1920)
[The Helmsman] (September 1920)
Consolidation (September 1920)
[The Test] (September 1920)
[The Vulture] (October 1920)
[Little Fable] (October 1920)
[The Spinning Top] (December 1920)
[The Departure] (February 1922)
[Advocates] (Spring 1922)
In our Synagogue … (1920–22)
Once Upon a Time There Was a Game … (June 1922)
[Investigations of a Dog] (Summer 1922, October 1922)
The Married Couple (October 1922)
A Commentary (November–December 1922)
[On Parables] (December 1922)
Homecoming (December 1923–January 1924)
[The Burrow] (Winter 1923–4)
PENGUIN MODERN CLASSICS
Franz Kafka (1883–1924) was a Czech-born German-speaking insurance clerk who despised his job, preferring to spend his time writing. Nevertheless, Kafka published little during his lifetime, and ordered his closest friend to burn the mass of unpublished manuscripts – now familiar to us as some of the most influential novels and short stories of the modern era – after his death. Kafka’s novels, all available in Penguin Modern Classics, are The Trial, The Castle and Amerika. The short stories are split between those published during his lifetime, Metamorphosis and Other Stories, and those rescued by Brod and published posthumously, The Burrow.
Michael Hofmann is the author of several books of poems and the translator of many modern and contemporary German authors. Penguin publishes his translations of Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin, A Small Circus and Tales from the Underworld, Kafka’s Amerika and Metamorphosis and Other Stories, Ernst Jünger’s Storm of Steel, Irmgard Keun’s Child of All Nations and Jakob Wassermann’s My First Wife.
A Note on the Text
The present translations were made from the volume Die Erzählungen und andere ausgewählte Prosa (S. Fischer, 1996), edited by Roger Hermes; the texts are from the 1982 manuscript edition, prepared by Jürgen Born, Gerhard Neumann, Malcolm Pasley and Jost Schillemeit.
Because the emphasis is on stories, some early work (‘Wedding Preparations in the Country’, ‘Description of a Struggle’, ‘The First Long Train Journey’ (towards ‘Richard and Samuel’, co-written with Max Brod)), playlets (‘The Warden of the Tomb’) and aphorisms (the ‘Collected’ or ‘Zürau’ aphorisms from 1917 and the 1920 sequence known as ‘He’) are not included. The order attempts the chronological.
Only a few of the pieces were given titles by Kafka; the rest, mostly Brod’s, are those in square brackets on the Contents page. A number of the pieces end rather abruptly, in mid-sentence or mid-punctuation. Again, Brod sought to smooth these out; in the present edition, they are left as they were, rough.
With few, brief, circumstantial exceptions (illness, Christmas, visits to rustic spas and sanatoria), Kafka worked in the daytime and wrote at night (see the little piece bearing that name: ‘Night’). He devised for himself a life that was largely disagreeable, inflexible and inescapable, and tried to make it productive. Never remotely trusting himself to write for a living, he held down a demanding and increasingly responsible job for the Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia, from 1908 to 1922, almost his entire adult life. Unable to commit himself to a wife in spite of three engagements – to Felice Bauer in June 1914 and again in July 1917, and to Julie Wohryzek in summer 1919 – and a few not-so-near Misses, he lived, for the most part, with his unsympathetic parents, in the difficult city of Prague, an ageing bachelor of habits both confirmed and challenging (see the stories ‘Blumfeld, an Elderly Bachelor’ and ‘The Married Couple’, but also those like ‘Hunter Gracchus’ and ‘Visiting the Dead’ about an indeterminate condition half-alive, half-dead, that may well be a version of bachelordom). There was never anything in Kafka’s life that approached the categorical importance of writing (it would, in his word, capsize anything else he did), but just for that it had to wait its turn:
from 8 to 2 or 2.30 in the office, then lunch till 3 or 3.30, after that sleep in bed (usually only attempts …) till 7.30, then ten minutes of exercises, naked at the open window, then an hour’s walk – alone, with Max, or with another friend, then dinner with my family (I have three sisters, one married, one engaged; the single one, without prejudicing my affection for the others, is easily my favourite); then at 10.30 (but often not till 11.30) I sit down to write, and I go on, depending on my strength, inclination and luck, until 1, 2, or 3 o’clock, once even until 6 in the morning. Then again exercises, as above, but of course avoiding all exertions, a wash, and then, usually with a slight pain in my heart and twitching stomach muscles, to bed. (Letters to Felice, Schocken Books, 1988, p. 22, letter of 1 November 1912).
he wrote, wooingly, or perhaps in lieu of wooing, to Felice. The complacencies of Pepys it isn’t. At the same time, though, it is clear that Kafka understands that anything (independence, moving house, marriage) undertaken, in thought or deed, in opposition to such a routine will be seen primarily as an attack on – of all things – his writing (which is the thing that is under attack from everything else). The upstream dam threatens not just the river, but the boulder under the river. You can feel the defensive bristle of the arrangement – not least as the writing is so intricately, almost magically circumstantial, profoundly depending on such scanty outward events in Kafka’s uneventful life as correspondence, engagements and house moves (the always representative story ‘The Judgement’ was written two nights after Felice replied to his first letter; Elias Canetti’s book Kafka’s Other Trial: The Letters to Felice maps in fascinating detail the way the vicissitudes of the novel follow the vicissitudes of their first engagement). Writing hid, trembling, and awaited the pleasure of force majeure, which came, ultimately, in the form of Kafka’s fatal (though also, he wrote, ‘beckoned to’) illness, which announced itself in 1917, when he suffered the pulmo
Kafka’s writing dramatizes a continual dialectic of strength and weakness, usually in unexpected forms and with unexpected outcomes. Instability is all. The helmsman is straightforwardly overwhelmed by a rival; the crew lets it happen. The messenger in ‘A Message from the Emperor’ is described as ‘a strong man, tireless, a champion swimmer’ but he has no chance of even making it out of the imperial palace. The whole of China is ruled by one man, though he may have been dead for hundreds of years. The god Poseidon hates his public image – salt spray, chest-hair and trident – and dreams of a break and a cruise. Out of fear, anxiety and calamity, writing is spun that is as supple and cogent and unbroken as one would imagine only an expression of radiant triumphalism and certitude could be. Throughout his life, Kafka thought of himself as weak. ‘The world […] and I in insoluble conflict have torn apart my body.’ His body – His Majesty, the Body, he ironically stylized it – would not do the things he asked of it, principally write, in spite of the daily open-air exercises and such things as rowing, swimming, carpentering and gardening. ‘Nothing can be accomplished with such a body,’ he wrote in his habitual categorical way; though a fairer observer, his biographer Klaus Wagenbach, describes him justly and every bit as categorically, as ‘a strikingly beautiful, slender, tall man, with nothing of the hermit about him’. An unusually physical approach to writing (and to life) left him ridiculously vulnerable. Everything is in his writing; nothing is anywhere else:
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 that were directed towards the joys of sex, eating, drinking, philosophical reflection and above all music. This was necessary because the totality of my strengths was so light that only collectively could they even halfway serve the purpose of writing. (The Diaries of Franz Kafka, 1910–1913, Schocken Books, 1988, p. 163.)
It was at night that his weaknesses were at their strongest and his strength at its weakest. Often in his diaries he talks of writing in, or writing himself into, a state of unconsciousness. This could be miraculous, as it was on 22 September 1912, the night he wrote the story, ‘Das Urteil’ (‘The Judgement’), which, to the end of his life, stood for the way these things should be done; but it could also be unpredictable, subject to revision, to disappointment, or to shame. ‘Even night is not night enough,’ wrote Kafka. Night is a pocketful of change in front of a fruit-machine; it has no optics, no prudence and no settled opinion. Things done at night are regularly menaced by incompleteness or immoderateness, and by a change of heart or change of mind. The great Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer writes about his own experience, but it’s the same thing (in the poem ‘Baltics’, the translator is Patty Crane):
You might wake up during the night
and quickly throw some words down
on the nearest paper, in the margins of the news
(the words radiant with meaning!)
but in the morning: the same words don’t say anything, scribbles, slips of the tongue.
Or fragments of the great nightly writing that drew past?
Tranströmer has a vastly different tone from Kafka, an easy irony, an easy wisdom, an easy relativism; he knows, as Kafka endearingly seems not to, that things look different in the morning. (Inexplicably and wonderfully, just below the lines quoted, he has ‘They set up his student K as the head prosecutor’.) Still, Kafka or not, this ‘fragments of the great nightly writing that drew past’ (since I read it, the phrase wouldn’t let me go) is precisely what we have in The Burrow.
Kafka always wrote in jags or streaks, and then for months or years little or nothing that survived. His last companion, Dora Diamant, with whom he lived, dying, in Berlin, thinks he wrote ‘The Burrow’ in one night, or at least the greater part of it. All the stories collected here are the product of three or four ‘hot’ phases – mostly clustered around its longer pieces – in 1917, in 1922, and in the winter of 1923–4. But it was ever thus. He wrote two drafts of Amerika/ The Man Who Disappeared in a matter of weeks each; he wrote The Trial in the space of a few months in 1914; similarly The Castle in 1922; and abandoned each of them. His production was hectic, excessive, fiercely doubted, or it was nothing. It also had a tendency to double up against itself. Kafka interrupted Amerika for three weeks in November 1912 to deliver himself of Metamorphosis; he similarly suspended work on The Trial for eleven days – nights – and wrote ‘In the Penal Colony’ and the final ‘Oklahoma’ chapter of Amerika. He is like a painter – he is like Max Beckmann, who worked at night, by artificial light, and from what you might call a real imagination – who either paints nothing, or works on several canvases at once.
Night offers a seeming monopoly of consciousness; a certain self-aware solipsism; strange auditory conditions; sensitivity to light; Bengal noon for the nerves. A mixture of heightening and deadening, of privacy and vulnerability. Spatial relations are unclear, sensory prompts unpredictable, immediate, oddly, even frighteningly effective (perhaps ‘The Silence of the Sirens’, certainly ‘The Burrow’). Oscar’s friend Franz in the first story here, ‘In the City’, rubs his eyes with his two little fingers, and later scratches at his throat behind the goatee beard, ‘in that closer intimacy one has with one’s body after sleep’, as Kafka sumptuously puts it. Night is organic, is appetite and fear, is the day of (a phrase I love) the ‘regulation dog’. It is creatureliness and mystery: ‘tears of joy and relief still glitter in the hairs of my beard when I awake’. Fighting and eating – the simple creature dreamily asserting itself – are never so much desired as they are here in Kafka – not even by Hemingway. It is when the unnamed, unspecified denizen of the burrow (come in, Vladimir Nabokov) on the one hand has a thrilling, visceral fear of ‘the pursuer’s teeth clamped on my thighs’, and on the other yearns for free passage, ‘then at last I could run at him’ – a different him – ‘free of all concerns I could leap at him, bite him, tear his flesh, chew it and drain his blood and cram his carcass down there with the rest of the quarry’.
Kafka’s subjects here are largely businessmen and beasts, either paired (‘The Village Schoolmaster’, ‘Blumfeld, an Elderly Bachelor’) or separately (on the one hand ‘My Business’ or ‘The Married Couple’; on the other, ‘A Cross-Breed’ or ‘Investigations of a Dog’). (Agreeably, in ‘Advocates’, the two tropes are momentarily run together: ‘the prosecutors, those wily foxes, those nippy weasels, those invisible voles slip through the smallest holes and whisk through between the feet of the advocates’.) In either case, it is a markedly depleted, technical sort of life, beset with imperatives and hierarchies and limitations (‘The Married Couple’, ‘Investigations of a Dog’, ‘The Burrow’).
Family stories – ‘The Judgement’, Metamorphosis, ‘The Stoker: A Fragment’ – tended to be the ones that were drawn out for publication, in the seven short books that Kafka agreed to have published in his lifetime, collected in English as Metamorphosis and Other Stories. The pieces here are outlying, perhaps the outer, wilder ripples (‘The Vulture’) of Kafka’s disturbance. Thus ‘In the City’ is like an earlier version of ‘The Judgement’; ‘It Was One Summer’ stands in some relation both to ‘A Country Doctor’ and ‘In the Penal Colony’. Such pieces as ‘Building the Great Wall of China’ or ‘Our Little Town’ or ‘Our City Coat of Arms’ comment on a kind of empire-feeling (after all, Kafka was named Franz by his parents after the Emperor Franz Joseph), a strange apathy, often ignorance or disengagement: ‘like strangers in a city, like latecomers, they stand at the back of densely crowded side streets, calmly eating their packed lunches, while a long way in front of them on the market square the execution of their overlord is in progress’. Piranesian structures, great and small walls, corridors, courtyards, staircases, Towers of Babel await occupation. ‘I require silence in my passageways,’
Camus, in one of the places where he sounds most like Kafka – endlessly surprising, endlessly provocative, endlessly serene, the unmoved Mover – says: ‘One should think of Sisyphus as happy.’ Something about the making of these tumultuous stones – or stories – strikes me nonetheless as exquisitely happy.
Hamburg, June 2016
In the City
One winter’s afternoon, during a blizzard, Oscar M., an ageing student – if you looked at him from close to, you saw that he had terrifying eyes – Oscar M., in winter clothes and winter coat, scarf around his neck and a fur hat on his head, came to a sudden stop on the empty square. Whatever he was thinking was causing his eyes to blink rapidly. He was sunk so deep in thought that at one point he took off his hat and rubbed its coarse fur against his face. Finally he seemed to come to a conclusion, spun on his heel like a dancer, and headed home. When he opened the door of his parents’ flat, he saw his father, a fleshy-faced clean-shaven man, sitting at an empty table facing the door. ‘Not before time,’ he said, no sooner had Oscar set foot in the room, ‘and not a step closer, please, I am so furious with you that I can’t answer for the consequences.’ ‘But Father,’ said Oscar, and only then did he notice that he was all out of breath. ‘Quiet!’ yelled his father, and stood up, obscuring a window. ‘Quiet, I say. And but me no buts, all right?’ So saying, he picked up the table in his two hands and carried it one pace nearer to Oscar. ‘I can’t put up with your dissolute life a moment longer. I am an old man. I thought to have in you a support for my later years, but you’ve turned out to be worse than my illnesses. I’m disgusted by such a son, who by sheer laziness, prodigality, wickedness and stupidity is driving his old father to an early grave.’
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