Franz Kafka

No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was meant only for you...

Introduction (N.)
Welcome to Das Schloss, welcome to the Castle! But I suppose that is a misnomer, or at the very least it is misleading. If you thought you’d get in so easily you’ve forgotten how tricky ein Schloss can be – it’s not just a Castle, it’s also a lock. You haven’t even gotten into the village yet, and I’m already welcoming you into the Castle because you stare so insistently at it and tell me again and again, “I would very much like admittance into the Castle.” I probably don’t have the right to admit you anywhere, but that never stopped me before, and it won’t stop me now, especially as you look up the hill and think that you see majestic towers and gates. In reality, it may be nothing more than a dirty hodgepodge of houses, but whoever said that you could tell the difference? And whoever said you were wrong? I certainly never went that far, I couldn’t, I know as much as you and if I don’t know that, then I must know even less, because all I know are the houses around the stronghold, and on my lucky days I can creep up to the sides of the edifice and grab a handful of adjacent dirt, and that never helps me at all. What’s required for the job is fresher blood than mine, blood that’s still willing to attack the walls and let itself be spilt, and if you have that kind of blood running through your forehead, all your body needs is a kick in the behind, and you’re off! But first, you may have to grow accustomed to the place, you may need a little introduction.
There’s a hotel up the way, it may look like an inn at first, but don’t worry – it grows. The roads break around it and go twirling through the houses. Just be sure to never lose focus, because it’s very easy to get lost, and it’s probably a good idea to never stay too focused either. Just when you think you’re heading up to the Castle the road turns to the side and you don’t know where you are, and the snow piles up very high and the hours spin round your head and pretty soon you’re so tired you’re throwing snowballs at windows just to ask for help, but if you do get to the main road, don’t think you could ever proceed to the gates without proper documents, and don’t think you could ever get such documents in your lifetime. The most you could do is wait on the side of the road and beg for the forgiveness of any crime you may or may not have committed, hoping that the nobles decide to benevolently pass you by. Most of them don’t, they take different roads, all you see are warm-looking carriages pulled by freakishly malleable horses that are guided by paranoid moles looking for a place to call home. You’d think we would’ve gotten rid of those parasites by now, but they’re good for scaring off the puzzled dogs who can be seen creeping towards and away from the circus, where trapeze artists cling tenaciously to the air and where audience members sob quietly to themselves for reasons they can’t even fathom. And then there are the crowds, the overwhelming filthy raucous crowds that drown out their own political candidates, yell madly for and against the accused, and occasionally pause to pretend to listen to music, just so they can be quiet for a little while. And if it all doesn’t happen in an infinite gray expanse, then space is cramped enough so that every face touches every face, and you can smell everything there is to smell, hear everything there is to hear, and yet see only four meticulous corners and your neighbor’s grotesque wounds.
Isn’t it horrible? Isn’t it funny? Doesn’t it make you believe that dogs can’t really be dogs and that our beloved Castle must really be constructed somewhere in an ethereal heaven? You feel the sudden urge to smash cockroaches just to examine their innards – don’t worry, I’ve felt it too – but all you get is a nondescript goo that refuses even to fly. So in desperation you call the stars out into the sky, and they come! Heartened by the response, you begin to build endless walls out of ramshackle spools of thread that rustle in the wind, and just when you’re happy with your little creation, you blink, and before you know it you’re sitting in a pit, and the only ways out are to dig to God or stab yourself in the head with a spike. The latter way’s more just.
But I digress. You’re not concerned with the village. You want the Castle, and you’ve already gone back to the proper authorities to get the needed documents, only to find that the gods themselves are filing away your papers, gods who crawl up six flights of stairs just so they can climb into bed with the insincere wish for a little pet, a little crossbreed even, something just to whisper in their ears and dance about to keep them entertained. And when they’re not worried about that, they’re chasing down children’s tops and dreaming of one day visiting the sea, and that’s all you see when you follow them throughout the entire town, their whole lives are nothing and yours is less than nothing, because aren’t you the one who followed them through the village? And weren’t you looking for the Castle?
Who am I? I thought you were looking for the Castle. But who am I? I think you mean we. Yes, we, I know you can barely tell us apart from your vantage point but there are more of us all the same. We are your assistants, sent directly from the Castle, but not quite from the Castle, from an official of the Castle, but not quite that either, from a replacement of the official. I know, it’s as if we were sent by the translation of a desperately unfinished manuscript, but we were sent all the same, and our job is very clear. From what we hear you take everything very seriously. You come to our little village, throw off your tired old sheets, and pretend as if your very arrival were something momentous, a preconceived judgment, something to be remembered, but we’ve been told to teach you that it’s really nothing at all. In short, we’ve been sent to cheer you up, to always remind you that your little quest is nothing but a futile journey from nothing to nowhere, that this whole village and this chimera of a Castle are really shadows on strings manipulated by a malicious jokester in the sky. But we wanted to cheer you up, so we give you this advice: don’t believe anything we’ve just told you. Your arrival is momentous, you will assault the mighty Castle, you will penetrate its deepest door, and you will emerge outside triumphant, to redistribute the land to all us hopeless hopers. Go ahead, try your best, but by the end – never say we didn’t warn you – it may all backfire in your face. By the end we will be complaining that you cannot take a joke.
As for myself, call me Artur, or call me Jeff Nowak, whichever you prefer, it sometimes gets to the point where I can never tell which one’s doing what.
As for myself....

Introduction (Q.)
As for myself, I am the second fellow behind this enterprise, one Allen B. Ruch, also known by the improbable nickname “The Great Quail.” I am Editorial Director of The Modern Word, the literary resource that hosts Das Schloss. And though I have a passing acquaintance with the Castle, I’m afraid I can’t help you any more than Herr Nowak – I do not carry its keys. In fact, for many years, I have been trying to unlock das Schloss myself.
Since 1995, I have received questions from visitors ranging from the mildly curious to the outright indignant: How could The Modern Word not have a site devoted to Franz Kafka? His work is at the very foundation of modern literature! How could I plant my Garden of Forking Paths; how could I carry its fruits to the town of Macondo; how could I open the taps at the Brazen Head – and still leave K. wandering in the snow, his nosed pressed against the café window? For heaven’s sake, man – even that poor bastard Beckett gets a site!
Ah, all true – but I hold up my hands in defense: I tried. As a few of you may kindly recall, back in a time called the mid-nineties, a small Kafka site made a brief appearance on the Libyrinth. Called “Das Schloss,” it mostly contained promises of more to come, and existed precisely long enough to get linked by a few dozen other sites before fading into obscurity – its author had discovered Thomas Pynchon, and slipped away out the back door, forsaking the claustrophobia of Prague for the freedom of the Zone. Here and there, one may still find ghostly echoes of that original Castle: broken links chained to dead sites, deserted outposts marking the hollow interior of the Web.
Years passed, and then a lovely woman contacted me – she wanted to resurrect the Kafka site. This provoked a flurry of enthusiastic emails: plans were exchanged, announcements made – then silence. Her email address turned overnight into another piece of Internet flotsam, a bottomless mailbox for dead letters.
Six months later, a doctoral student from Germany made a similar offer. After sending a few promising essays, after stirring me into re-reading Kafka and making notes of my own, after asking me to spend a few days hammering out a basic structure, he suddenly withdrew his proposal. Doing a little detective work, I discovered that he was not attached to a university at all, but was a rather precocious high school student – from Tennessee. With only three years of German. Oh, and his father had written the essays back in the sixties.
Perhaps a bit discouraged, I briefly contemplated putting up a Kafka site composed of a single page: matte black, boasting only that famous image of his angular face, its sole text would read: “Das Schloss is under construction and will open in the near future.” Aha, I thought, imagining frustrated students dispatching increasingly more cranky emails – Let them bang their heads against that for the next few years. I might even post the occasional update: “Das Schloss has uncovered the final chapter of The Castle, and will have a translation available soon.” Or maybe I would construct a Kafka labyrinth: page after page of self-referential links, each one promising that something really good was just around the corner. (Of course, Internet porn grabbed that idea fairly quickly.)
Finally, two years ago, I was contacted by a fellow named Jeff Nowak. He was interested in Kafka, and believed that The Modern Word should have a Kafka site. I told him that I didn’t have the time to create one from scratch, and he immediately offered his services. “You realize,” I warned him, “I would expect a major site – something that would eventually be the Web’s largest resource on Franz Kafka.” He seemed unphazed; or perhaps just cheerfully oblivious. After all, Tim Conley and myself had just launched Apmonia, and it absorbed a year of our life, immersed in Beckett, Beckett, and more Beckett. And even then, there was still so much to do! Was this guy crazy? I mean, it’s not like we actually pay our writers or anything.
Well, I read through his writing samples, and I felt very comfortable with his approach to Kafka, which placed the focus squarely on the text itself. His passion was self-evident, and I liked his style – robust, conversational, and irreverent. So I called him up on the phone to get a sense of his commitment. He was cheerful, perhaps a bit nervous; I think he lived in a basement somewhere. I am fairly sure I heard scuttling sounds off in the distance. I immediately ascertained that yes, he probably was crazy. Just the man for the job. “Sure,” I said. “Knock yourself out.”
After that . . . silence. What was I expecting? Of course there would be no Kafka site! My time would be better spent trying to get an interview with J.D. Salinger.
Then, about a year later, my in-box suddenly exploded with files. Many, many files, all written about Franz Kafka, all written by Jeff Nowak. A man who, let’s face it, spent at least a year of his life reading and re-reading everything Kafka wrote. Studying enigmatic photographs. Watching bad movies. Digesting countless biographies and academic papers. Poring over those weird little doodles so carefully preserved by Max Brod. I suspect there’s even a picture of Ottla and her kids over his desk.
Now I ask you, Gentle Reader: How would you have felt after such an ordeal? I’m pretty sure that I would have lost my mind. Perhaps I would have flung myself off a bridge. But no, that’s not how Jeff felt. I read through his work, and realized . . . Jeff Nowak likes Kafka. Jeff Nowak thinks Kafka is funny. I think Jeff Nowak wants to hang out with Franz, buy him a beer, and talk about – well, whatever you talk about with Kafka over a few drinks. Maybe that scuttling sound in the basement.
So the following pages represent a Kafka site. On the Modern Word. About seven years late. They also represent, we hope, a fresh and unique look at Kafka.
Is Kafka a founding father of Modernism? A quintessentially Jewish writer? An example of good old angst-ridden, alienated, Modern Man? Yes, yes, and yes; and I can point you to a few hundred books devoted to these subjects and many more unlikely ones. But our goal is not about pinning Kafka to any one index card, neatly labeled with genus and species – after all, if you approach Kafka with an agenda, you will certainly find what you are seeking. You will also find that he ultimately defeats you – and you were probably seeking that, too. To say “Kafka is...” is to lay down a thread in an endless labyrinth; to insist this thread is the pathway home is just asking to be gored. So here at Das Schloss, we take delight in the labyrinth itself. As Jeff consistently emphasizes, “All we really have are his words.” Here, Franz Kafka comes with a minimum of political, religious, or academic baggage. We try to show Kafka as a human being, both brilliant and flawed; at times frighteningly simple, at others hopelessly complicated. Of course, we hope that you, like us, can learn from him, and draw meaning from his struggles. But we also hope that you like him. And find him funny.
Though, if you happen to run across him at your local café, you’re on your own.

21 December 2003
The longest night of the year



These letters do nothing but cause anguish, and if they don’t cause any anguish it’s even worse – Send email to Das Schloss’ Jeff Nowak and the Great Quail – comments, suggestions, corrections, criticisms, submissions . . . all are welcome!

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