Franz Kafka

Thus spake Schubal

Quotations
This page houses a collection of Kafka-related quotes, broken down by Fiction, Nonfiction, and Quotes About Kafka. If you have a favorite Kafka quote which you think should be included, please mail it to us!

Fiction

I had to restrain myself from putting my arm around his shoulders and kissing him on the eyes as a reward for having absolutely no use for me.
–“Description of a Struggle”

One is alone, a total stranger and only an object of curiosity. And so long as you say “one” instead of “I,” there’s nothing in it and one can easily tell the story; but as soon as you admit to yourself that it is you yourself, you feel as though transfixed and are horrified.
–“Wedding Preparations in the Country”

A false alarm on the night bell once answered – it cannot be made good, not ever.
–“A Country Doctor”

Human nature, essentially changeable, as unstable as the dust, can endure no restraint; if it binds itself it soon begins to tear madly at its bonds, until it rends everything asunder, the wall, the bonds, and its very self.
–“The Great Wall of China”

All too often men are betrayed by the word freedom. And as freedom is counted among the most sublime feelings, so the corresponding disillusionment can be also sublime.
–“A Report to an Academy”

Every dog has like me the impulse to question, and I have like every dog the impulse not to answer.
–“Investigations of a Dog”

I can understand the hesitation of my generation, indeed it is no longer mere hesitation; it is the thousandth forgetting of a dream dreamt a thousand times and forgotten a thousand times; and who can damn us merely for forgetting for the thousandth time?
–“Investigations of a Dog”

No, if one takes it by and large, I have no right to complain that I am alone and have nobody that I can trust. I certainly lose nothing by that and probably spare myself trouble. I can only trust myself and my burrow.
–“The Burrow”

‘Just think, they never sleep!’
‘And why not?’
‘Because they never get tired.’
‘And why not?’
‘Because they’re fools.’
‘Don’t fools get tired?’
‘How could fools get tired!’
–“Children on a Country Road”

So if you find nothing in the corridors open the doors, if you find nothing behind these doors there are more floors, and if you find nothing up there, don’t worry, just leap up another flight of stairs. As long as you don’t stop climbing, the stairs won’t end, under your climbing feet they will go on growing upwards.
–“Advocates”

Concerning this a man once said: Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid of all your daily cares.
–Another said: I bet that is also a parable.
–The first said: You have won.
–The second said: But unfortunately only in parable.
–The first said: No, in reality: in parable you have lost.
–“On Parables”

She reaches for the highest garland not because it is momentarily hanging a little lower but because it is the highest; if she had any say in the matter she would have it still higher.
–“Josephine the Mouse Singer”

If boxes could be stolen in America, one could surely tell a lie now and then as well.
Amerika

A movement without end, a restlessness transmitted from the restless element to helpless human being and their works!
Amerika

“It is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary.”
The Trial

“The Court wants nothing from you. It receives you when you come and it dismisses you when you go.”
The Trial

Logic is doubtless unshakable, but it cannot withstand a man who wants to go on living.
The Trial

“. . . accused men are always the most attractive.”
The Trial

Nonfiction

The Diaries

I passed by the brothel as though past the house of a beloved.
–1910

Writers speak a stench.
–1910

Since people lack a sense of context, their literary activities are out of context too.
–December 25, 1911

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 joys of sex, eating, drinking, philosophical reflection and above all music.
–January 3, 1912

Hold fast to the diary from today on! Write regularly! Don’t surrender! Even if no salvation should come, I want to be worthy of it at every moment.
–February 25, 1912

These revolting doctors! Businesslike, determined and so ignorant of healing that, if this businesslike determination were to leave them, they would stand at sickbeds like schoolboys. I wished I had the strength to found a nature-cure society.
–March 5, 1912

The metaphysical urge is only the urge toward death.
–April 8, 1912

It simply goes without saying that the falling of a human hair must matter more to the devil than to God, since the devil really loses that hair and God does not.
–July 9, 1912

Live as ascetically as possible, more ascetically than a bachelor, that is the only possible way for me to endure marriage. But she?
–August 14, 1913

In me, by myself, without human relationship, there are no visible lies. The limited circle is pure.
–August 30, 1913

To die would mean nothing else than to surrender a nothing to the nothing, but that would be impossible to conceive, for how could a person, even only as a nothing, consciously surrender himself to the nothing, and not merely to an empty nothing but rather to a roaring nothing whose nothingness consists only in its incomprehensibility.
–December 4, 1913

Discoveries have forced themselves on people.
–December 10, 1913

Uncertainty, aridity, peace – all things will resolve themselves into these and pass away.
–January 8, 1914

What have I in common with Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself and should stand very quietly in a corner, content that I can breathe.
–January 8, 1914

What an effort to keep alive! Erecting a monument does not require the expenditure of so much strength.
–March 9, 1914

The life of society moves in a circle. Only those burdened with a common affliction understand each other.
–June 12, 1914

I discover in myself nothing but pettiness, indecision, envy and hatred against those who are fighting and whom I passionately wish everything evil.
–August 6, 1914

What will be my fate as a writer is very simple. My talent for portraying my dreamlike inner life has thrust all matters into the background; my life has dwindled dreadfully, nor will it cease to dwindle. Nothing else will ever satisfy me.
–August 6, 1914

Parents who expect gratitude from their children (there are even some who insist on it) are like usurers who gladly risk their capital if only they receive interest.
–November 12, 1914

We are permitted to crack that whip, the will, over us with our own hand.
–October 16, 1916

The great days of the court jesters are probably gone never to return. Everything points in another direction, it cannot be denied. I at least have thoroughly delighted in the institution, even if it should now be lost to mankind.
–July 29, 1917

In peacetime you don’t get anywhere, in wartime you bleed to death.
–September 19, 1917

What strength still remains to the roving spirit for the greatest of all labors?
–September 25, 1917

Through a heaven of vice a hell of virtue is reached.
–January 9, 1920.

It is entirely conceivable that life’s splendor forever lies in wait about each of us in all its fullness, but veiled from view, deep down, invisible, far off.
–October 18, 1921

Evil does not exist; once you have crossed the threshold, all is good. Once in another world, you must hold your tongue.
–January 19, 1922

My life is a hesitation before birth.
–January 24, 1922

From “Reflections on Sin, Suffering, Hope, and the True Way”

Beyond a certain point there is no return. This point has to be reached.
–#5

There is a goal, but no way; but what we call a way is hesitation.
–#26

Martyrs do not underrate the body, they allow it to be elevated on the cross. In this they are at one with their antagonists.
–#33

The fact that there is nothing but a spiritual world deprives us of hope and gives us certainty.
–#62

What is gayer than believing in a household god?
–#68

A belief like a guillotine – as heavy, as light.
–#87

Blue Octavo Notebooks

The history of mankind is the instant between two strides taken by a traveler.

If it had been permissible to build the Tower of Babel without climbing it, it would have beeb permitted.

The thornbush is old obstacle in the road. It must catch fire if you want to go further.

Test yourself on mankind. It is something that makes the doubter doubt, the believer believe.

There was once a community of scoundrels, that is to say, they were not scoundrels, but ordinary people.

Knowledge of oneself is something only Evil has.

Anyone who believes cannot experience miracles. By day one cannot see any stars.

The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary; he will come only on the day after his arrival; he will come, not on the last day, but on the very last.

We were expelled from Paradise, but Paradise was not destroyed. In a sense our expulsion from Paradise was a stroke of luck, for had we not been expelled, Paradise would have had to be destroyed.

Religions get lost as people do.

Aphorisms (“He”)

Some deny the existence of misery by pointing to the sun; he denies the existence of the sun by pointing to misery.

He has found Archimedes’ fulcrum, but he has turned it to account against himself, clearly he was permitted to find it only on this condition.

Letters

Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.
–To Oskar Pollak, November 9, 1903

Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book does not shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy, as you put it? Good God, we'd be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe.”
–To Oskar Pollak, January 27, 1904

God doesn’t want me to write, but I – I must.
–To Oskar Pollak

I usually solve problems by letting them devour me.
–To Max Brod

Writing sustains me. But wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that it sustains this kind of life? Which does not, of course, mean that my life is any better when I don’t write. On the contrary, at such times it is far worse, wholly unbearable, and inevitably ends in madness. This is, of course, only on the assumption that I am a writer even when I don’t write – which is indeed the case; and a non-writing writer is, in fact, a monster courting insanity.
–To Max Brod, July 5, 1922

My life was sweeter than other people’s and my death will be more terrible by the same degree.
–To Max Brod, July 5, 1922

The existence of the writer is an argument against the existence of the soul, for the soul has obviously taken flight from the real ego, but not improved itself, only become a writer.
–To Max Brod, July 5, 1922

I am away from home and must always write home, even if any home of mine has long since floated away into eternity.
–To Max Brod, July 12, 1922

Nothing, you know, gives the body greater satisfaction than ordering people about, or at least believing in one’s ability to do so.
–To Felice Bauer, December 4, 1912

I have often thought that the best mode of life for me would be to sit in the innermost room of a spacious locked cellar with my writing things and a lamp.
–To Felice Bauer, January 14, 1913

Writing . . . is a sleep deeper than that of death, and just as one would and cannot tear the dead from their graves, so I must not and cannot be torn from my desk at night.
–To Felice Bauer, June 26, 1913

People are sewn into their skins for life and cannot alter any of the seams, at least not with their own hands.
–To Felice Bauer

Silence, I believe, avoids me, as water on the beach avoids stranded fish.
–To Felice Bauer

Either the world is so tiny or we are enormous; in either case we fill it completely....
–To Milena Jesenská

Kronos, the most honest of fathers, who devoured his sons.
–To Elli (sister)

I write differently from what I speak, I speak differently from what I think, I think differently from the way I ought to think, and so it all proceeds into deepest darkness.
–To Ottla (sister)

Other

Order and accidents seem equally impossible.
–“The Aeroplanes at Brescia,” 1909

In the fight between you and the world, back the world.
– “Humanity”

You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
– “Senses”

Can you know anything but deception? For if deception is once annihilated, you must not look, of course, or you will turn into a pillar of salt.

The ancient history of our people records terrible forms of punishment. This does not, however, imply anything in defense of the present penal code.

Man is an immense swamp. If he is seized with enthusiasm, the effect in the general picture is as though somewhere in a corner of this swamp a little frog had flopped into the green water.

If only one person were capable of leaving off one word before the truth! Everyone (I too in this dictum) overruns truth by hundreds of words.

Quotations about Kafka

Quotes from Friends

The look in Kafka’s eyes was always a little puzzled, full of the wisdom of children and of melancholy slightly counterpointed by an enigmatic smile. He always seemed to be somewhat embarrassed.
–John Urzidil, The Kafka Problem

The fact is we all seem capable of living, because at some time or other we have taken refuge in a lie, in blindness, in enthusiasm, in optimism, in some conviction, in pessimism or something of the sort. He has never taken refuge in anything. He is absolutely incapable of lying, just as he is incapable of getting drunk.
–Milena Jesenská, Milena

He marvels at everything, including typewriters and women. He will never understand.
–Milena Jesenská, Milena

My Franz was a saint.
–Felice Bauer, The Loves of Franz Kafka

Critical Quotes

I couldn’t read it for its perversity. The human mind isn’t complicated enough.
–Albert Einstein, after returning a Kafka novel loaned to him by Thomas Mann.

And his is – on another plane – the curse and grace of an almost saint-like abstemiousness . . . a readiness to let go, not to cling, which may be offensively modest and gentle in its inevitable gesture of refusal – a saintly, mild, almost Christlike gesture which is nonetheless ambiguous since it arouses, at the same time, the suspicion of a diabolical arrogance to the point where one would want to shout at him: “Don’t pretend to be that small, you are not that great!”
–Peter Heller, “On Not Understanding Kafka”

“To do justice to the figure of Kafka in its purity and its peculiar beauty, one must never lose sight of one thing: it is the purity and beauty of a failure.”
–Walter Benjamin, Illuminations

In Kafka we have the modern mind, seemingly self-sufficient, intelligent, skeptical, ironical, splendidly trained for the great game of pretending that the world it comprehends in sterilized sobriety is the only and ultimate real one – yet a mind living in sin with the soul of Abraham. Thus he knows two things at once, and both with equal assurance: that there is no God, and that there must be God.
–Erich Heller, Franz Kafka

A final paradox decrees that Kafka’s books are among literature’s least difficult. There is nothing subjective, arbitrary, or doubtful in them: Amerika is not the truth according to Karl, or The Trial the truth according to Joseph K. Dickens is hard to understand, not Kafka. We have only to keep in mind all the events and characters of Amerika or The Trial or The Castle; establish a living relationship among them, a plot without end among all the works Kafka has left on paper. Only this is needed: an art of patience. If all the threads are really pulled tight, the truth of Amerika or The Trial or The Castle – a truth that stands far above or lies much deeper than Karl, Joseph K., K. and Kafka – will burst forth by itself, dazzlingly.”
–Pietro Citati, Kafka

The denationalized, discouraged, disaffected, disabled Kafka, though for the moment he may frighten or amuse us, can in the end only let us down. He is quite true to his time and place, but it is surely a time and place in which few of us will want to linger.
–Edmund Wilson,“A Dissenting Opinion on Franz Kafka”

The whole art of Kafka consists in forcing the reader to reread.
–Albert Camus, “Hope and the Absurd in the Works of Franz Kafka”


–Jeff Nowak
& Allen B. Ruch
21 January 2004



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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