Metamorphosis and other.., p.1
METAMORPHOSIS AND OTHER STORIES
FRANZ KAFKA was born of Jewish parents in Prague in 1883. The family spoke both Czech and German; Franz was sent to German-language schools and to the German University, from which he received his doctorate in law in 1906. He then worked for most of his life as a respected official of a state insurance company (first under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then under the new Republic of Czechoslovakia). Literature, of which he said that he consisted’, had to be pursued on the side. His emotional life was dominated by his relationships with his father, a man of overbearing character, and with a series of women: Felice Bauer from Berlin, to whom he was twice engaged; his Czech translator, Milena Jesenská-Pollak, to whom he became attached in 1920; and Dora Diamant, a young Jewish woman from Poland in whom he found a devoted companion during the last year of his life. Meanwhile, his writing had taken a new turn in 1917 with the outbreak of the tubercular illness from which he was to die in 1924. Only a small number of Kafka’s stories were published during his lifetime, and these are published in Penguin as Metamorphosis and Other Stories. He asked his friend, Max Brod, to see that all the writings he left should be destroyed. Brod felt unable to comply and undertook their publication instead, beginning with the three unfinished novels, The Trial (1925), The Castle (1926) and Amerika (1927). Other shorter works appeared posthumously in a more sporadic fashion.
MICHAEL HOFMANN was born in Freiburg in 1957 and came to England at the age of four. He went to schools in Edinburgh and Winchester, and studied English at Cambridge. He lives in London and Hamburg, and teaches part-time in the English Department of the University of Florida in Gainesville. He is the author of several books of poems and a book of criticism, Behind the Lines, and the translator of many modern and contemporary authors, including Joseph Roth, Wolfgang Koeppen, Durs Grünbein and Thomas Bernhard. Penguin publish his translation of Kafka’s Amerika/The Man Who Disappeared and Ernst Jünger’s World War I memoir, Storm of Steel. He edited the anthology, Twentieth-Century German Poetry, published in 2006.
Metamorphosis and Other Stories
Translated with an Introduction
by MICHAEL HOFMANN
Published by the Penguin Group
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This translation first published by Penguin Books 2007
Translation and Introduction copyright © Michael Hofmann, 2007
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Note on the Texts
Children on the Road
Unmasking a Confidence Trickster
The Sudden Walk
The Excursion into the Mountains
The Plight of the Bachelor
Looking out Distractedly
The Way Home
The Men Running Past
For the Consideration of Amateur Jockeys
The Window on to the Street
Desire to be a Red Indian
The Judgement: A Story for F. (1913)
The Stoker: A Fragment (1913)
In the Penal Colony (1919)
A Country Doctor: Short Prose for my Father (1920)
The New Advocate
A Country Doctor
In the Gallery
An Old Journal
Before the Law
Jackals and Arabs
A Visit to the Mine
The Neighbouring Village
A Message from the Emperor
The Worries of a Head of Household
A Report to an Academy
A Hunger-Artist: Four Stories (1924)
A Little Woman
Josefine, the Singer, or The Mouse People
Aeroplanes in Brescia (1909)
Great Noise (1912)
The Coal-Scuttle Rider (1921)
Unimaginable quantities of ink and ingenuity have been spilled on Kafka. As long ago as 1975, one of the great authorities on him, Hartmut Binder, declined to get involved in the making of a complete bibliography running even then to some thousands of titles; instead, he merely referred readers to a book that captured the state of the industry in 1961 (suggesting that was the last moment such a thing was possible), and urged them to look to the specialist literature and periodicals for partial updates. At the same time, interest in Kafka in that exponential way is not a phenomenon of long standing either, but not really older than, say, 1945. It is as though Holocaust, Communism, Existentialism and Cold War all had to happen to validate a handful of texts written in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Kafka’s writing is a remarkable instance of something coming out of nowhere and, in the space of a human generation, attaining in its reception the condition of inexhaustible intractability he was so often drawn to describing within it.
In any case, though, he remains, I hope, an author to read, not someone for the experts. Unlike any of the other Moderns, he is not preceded by his own foothills; you need undergo no training to prepare for him; ‘his creative mode,’ wrote the critic Philip Rahv, ‘presupposes no body of knowledge external to itself.’ There is no threshold of boredom or difficulty; you don’t even need to have a particularly literary disposition. He is formal but not unfriendly (‘A Report to an Academy’, ‘A Little Woman’, ‘Josefine, the Singer’). I think of a Kafka story (‘The Worries of a Head of Household’, say) as a perfect work of literary art, as approachable as it is strange, and as strange as it is approachable.
It is widely known that Kafka’s friend Max Brod violated the terms of his dying bequest in saving his
The stories collected here are those that Kafka allowed to appear between covers at various points in his life — he was the author of seven books, not bad going for someone we are encouraged to think of as a publication-averse recluse — and, in an appendix, three further pieces that appeared in periodicals. They are what we would have had without Brod’s intervention. (Contrary to what one sometimes reads, Kafka did not ask Brod also to destroy his published works — that would have seemed perversely conceited and overbearing — but merely to let them sell out their editions of 1,000 or so copies, and then not reappear.) Nor was publication or even the fact of having been published an unmitigated horror to him. He did say to Kurt Wolff, his principal publisher, that he would always be more grateful for the return of his manuscripts than for their publication, but this — while also a genuine sentiment — is to some extent Kafka’s gallantry and modesty. He expressed certain desires regarding the appearance of his work (as large a typeface as feasible, and plenty of white space around the stories, to enable them to breathe), was canny in the arranging of individual texts (say, the ordering of ‘Contemplation’ or ‘A Hunger-Artist’), and supplied all his books but the last (‘A Hunger-Artist’, whose publication he did not live to see, though he corrected the proofs in his sanatorium) with dedications — to Brod, to his parents, to his fiancée, Felice Bauer. He was in fact a surprisingly viable minor literary figure of the time, who gave public readings, was admired by the ever-discriminating Kurt Tucholsky, positively reviewed by Robert Musil and in 1915 had a literary prize made over to him by its intended recipient, Carl Sternheim. Kafka’s biggest problems were always with himself, his self-doubt, his savage self-criticism, but there were moments even at the end of his life when he was half-reconciled to some of his work, ‘The Stoker’, especially.
The early pieces in ‘Contemplation’ are beautiful, surprising, acute, varied – sometimes Seamus Heaney, sometimes George Grosz — somehow sui generis between note, prose-poem and word picture, but it was on the night of 22 September 1912 — the night he wrote ‘The Judgement’ at a single sitting — that Kafka became Kafka. The drama of the father and the son, the punishment attending a failed bid to usurp authority, the brittle transition from vocal resistance to meek acceptance, sudden coups de théâtre, melodrama almost. Just as Elias Canetti did in Kafka’s Other Trial, mapping the course of his pursuit of/flight from Felice Bauer against the ups and downs of The Trial, Hartmut Binder suggests that Kafka’s writing always follows the vicissitudes of his correspondence and his home life with his parents. Dostoevsky, Yiddish theatre, Yom Kippur, a visit from a favourite uncle, a sister’s engagement, but above all the beginning of the correspondence with Felice just two days earlier, on 20 September, are all mesmerizingly shown to feed into the story. Kafka comes to appear like a rare plant, demanding the almost impossible conjunction of five or six different circumstances in order to flower. One has a sense of Kafka’s story being like a code that makes sense, even though its deepest psychological purpose is to offer the most oblique reflection possible on his personal preoccupations and travails. It is this — I think by the reader unconsciously felt — over-plus of meaning on Kafka’s side that gives rise to the profusion of interpretations — religious, allegorical, Freudian, Jewish — of his work by critics and scholars. We obscurely feel, we bet, we practically know there is something more going on in a story, something probably to do with sex or violence or families or metaphysics, but we’re damned if we know what it is.
Uncertainty of outcome — as instanced in ‘The Judgement’, and then in ‘Metamorphosis’, ‘The Penal Colony’, ‘The Stoker’, and almost all the stories and novels — brings time into the equation. Kafka already had (in ‘The Sudden Walk’, in ‘A Fratricide’) drama, hooks, surprise twists. He comes to specialize in chords, in exquisitely geared sentences in which complex events are shown to be made up of divers things happening at different speeds, with different motivations and effects, at the same time:
The man with the bamboo cane had begun whistling quietly up at the ceiling, the men from the port authority had the officer at their table again, and showed no sign of relinquishing him, the chief cashier was obviously only constrained by the calm of the captain from the intervention he was all too eager to make. (‘The Stoker’)
Or this description of the chief clerk’s exit in ‘Metamorphosis’:
All the while Gregor was speaking, he wasn’t still for a moment, but, without taking his eyes off Gregor, moved towards the door, but terribly gradually, as though in breach of some secret injunction not to leave the room. Already he was in the hallway, and to judge by the sudden movement with which he snatched his foot back out of the living room for the last time, one might have supposed he had burned his sole. Once in the hallway …
The one is a comedy of class or situation, the other a comedy of the conflicting imperatives of celerity and unobtrusive slowness, but in both cases the result is to slow down the action to an almost unbearable — and unbearably funny — stasis.
This is what I think of as ‘Kafka-time’. There are three paradigmatic moments, though they make up a sort of trinity, not interchangeable but certainly co-substantial. On the one hand, it is almost always too late in Kafka: in ‘Metamorphosis’ Gregor Samsa wakes up as a cockroach; the prisoner in ‘The Penal Colony’ is already in chains in front of the sentencing-machine; Karl Rossmann has been sent to America by his distressed and disgraced parents — he is so far along in his particular ‘process’, ironically, that he is within sight of the Statue of Liberty. None of these things is going to be reversed. On the other hand, the end has not yet happened: perhaps the country doctor will get back to his house in time to rescue Rosa and save his career — even with those erratically performing horses; perhaps the message from the dying Emperor will be delivered, whatever the odds against it; perhaps the citizens in ‘An Old Journal’ or the jackals in ‘Jackals and Arabs’ will find their predicaments eased, as unpredictably as they came on. As Kafka says in one of his epigrams: ‘There is hope,’ before he goes on to say: ‘- but not for us.’ And then there is perhaps the truest or most illusory moment, the middle moment, the Zeno moment, the infinite possibility of infinitesimal change: the fleas in the guard’s fur collar in ‘Before the Law’; the endless tacking and running of Karl’s ratiocination in ‘The Stoker’ (and always with different salvational objectives, now his suitcase, now freedom from embarrassment, now justice for the stoker!); the moments in many of the stories — and even more, the novels — of sudden fluency, ease, luck:
But straightaway, looking for a grip, Gregor dropped with a short cry on to his many little legs. No sooner had this happened, than for the first time that morning he felt a sense of physical well-being; the little legs had solid ground under them; they obeyed perfectly, as he noticed to his satisfaction, even seeking to carry him where he wanted to go —
and then the crucial clause: ‘he was on the point of believing a final improvement in his condition was imminent.’ Think of ‘The Stoker’ — the first chapter of Kafka’s projected novel Amerika/The Man Who Disappeared, and therefore in a sense a piece of writing with a whole continent lying ahead of it – which begins within sight of land, and ends, apparently hardly any nearer, with the waves bobbing aroun
This is what I meant by claiming these ‘middle’ moments as the truest, the most compendious, the — as it were – Holy Ghost of the ‘Trinity: the belief that there is a purpose or a remedy somewhere in this agitation. This is the belief that is heroically, perhaps tragically, upheld in each of the major stories. The first and last moments are in a sense governed by excerption, by a sense of form, by mood, by a need to diversify; there are stories in which it is perhaps not too late from the outset — though one would be hard put to name them (perhaps ‘In the Gallery’, perhaps ‘A Visit to the Mine’); there are others, obviously, that are brought to a conclusion, and savagely so: ‘The Judgement’, ‘A Hunger-Artist’, The Trial. But even with these, their most notable characteristic is not the fact of doom but the unwearying zigzagging of consciousness, the way that streams and counter-streams of logic are pushed this way and that. Taken as words, der Prozess (the process) is a truer reflection of what Kafka is about in his fiction than das Urteil (the judgement).
If this is what Kafka is like, then the big words in his stories are in fact the little words. Not verbs and nouns, much less adjectives and adverbs, but what are aptly termed ‘particles’ — wenn, aber, da, nun, doch, auch — the little words, not much used in English, which tends to think of them as unduly fussy (abetted by word order, which in German is endlessly more expressive and accommodating than English), that change or reinforce the course of arguments in his prose. In a sense, Kafka offers very little to the translator; there is no ‘voice’, no diction, no ‘style’ — certainly in the literary sense of high style — the big words don’t matter so much, and the little ones don’t translate — if you aim to reproduce them, you have to be very careful not to produce a wash of needless and directionless verbiage in English that has the opposite effect to the drily controlling one Kafka intended. Rahv describes him perfectly as ‘a master of narrative tone, of a subtle, judicious and ironically conservative style’.
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