Monday, December 22, 2008

[ Pages from Der Amethyst (1906) ]

The Gate

An erotic book of Kafka was recently discovered from a British Library in London and at the Bodleian Library (Oxford University) by James Hawes, the academic and Kafka expert. Hawes revealed some of this erotic material in Excavating Kafka, published by Dr Franz Blei. Blei was the man who first published Kafka in 1908, with Meditation, a series of miniature stories later gathered in his book, according to the Friday, August 15 2008 edition of The Guardian.
Czech-born German-speaking Franz Kafka is considered the father of modern fiction and his posthumously published novels and short stories like The Metamorphosis, The Castle and The Trial are treated as modern classics in the global literature. A common theme in those works is the alienation of 20th century man.
He was born no July 3, 1883 into a middle-class family in Prague, the capital of Bohemia, a kingdom then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and grew up in an atmosphere of familial tensions and social rejection that he experienced as a member of Prague's Jewish minority. His attitude to his Jewish heritage was ambivalent. In a diary he wrote: ''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.'' Kafka was the eldest of six children. He had two younger brothers, George and Heinrich (who died at the ages of fifteen months and six months, respectively) and three younger sisters, Gabriele ("Elli") (1889–1941), Valerie ("Valli") (1890–1942), and Ottilie ("Ottla") (1892–1943). Ottilie was sent to the concentration camp and died there.

In Kafka’s The Trial, the three major points of the novel are found in the ninth chapter:
1) One has to enter through the gate.
2) The gate is forbidden for him
3) The gate is only meant for him.

The novel is about a country man comes to appear before the law and he is not allowed to enter. The gatekeeper tells him, "If it tempts you so much, try it in spite of my prohibition. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the lowliest gatekeeper. But from room to room stand gatekeepers, each more powerful than the other. I can’t endure even one glimpse of the third."
The man from the country has not expected such difficulties. He thinks the law should always be accessible for everyone, but as he now looks more closely at the gatekeeper in his fur coat, at his large pointed nose and his long, thin, black Tartar’s beard, he decides that it would be better to wait until he gets permission to go inside. The gatekeeper gives him a stool and allows him to sit down at the side in front of the gate. There he sits for days and years.
He makes many attempts to be let in, and he wears the gatekeeper out with his requests. The gatekeeper often interrogates him briefly, questioning him about his homeland and many other things. But they are indifferent questions, the kind great men put, and at the end, he always tells him once more that he cannot let him inside yet. The man, who has equipped himself with many things for his journey, spends everything, no matter how valuable, to win over the gatekeeper. The latter takes it all but, as he does so, says, "I am taking this only so that you do not think you have failed to do anything."
During the many years the man observes the gatekeeper almost continuously. He forgets the other gatekeepers, and this one seems to him the only obstacle for entry into the law. He curses the unlucky circumstance -- in the first years, thoughtlessly and out loud and as he grows old, mumbling to himself. He becomes childish and, since in the long years studying the gatekeeper he has come to know the fleas in his fur collar, he even asks the fleas to help him persuade the gatekeeper. Finally his eyesight grows weak and he does not know whether things are really darker around him or whether his eyes are merely deceiving him. But he recognizes now, in the darkness, an illumination which breaks inextinguishably out of the gateway to the law. Now he no longer has much time to live. Before his death, he gathers in his head all his experiences of the entire time up into one question which he has not yet put to the gatekeeper. He waves to him, since he can no longer lift up his stiffening body. The gatekeeper has to bend way down to him, for the great difference has changed things to the disadvantage of the man.
"What do you still want to know, then?" the gatekeeper inquires. "You are insatiable."
"Everyone strives after the law," says the man. “So how is that in these many years, no one except me has requested entry?"
The gatekeeper sees that the man is already dying and in order to reach his diminishing sense of hearing, he shouts at him, "Here no one else can gain entry since this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going now to close it."
Away from conventional critical appreciation that the ‘gate’ is a symbol of religion and God, let us think of another alternative. What else can this ‘gate’ and ‘gatekeepers’ stand for?
It is said that Kafka had many girlfriends, many affairs, and a number of broken engagements. During 1911 and 1912, he was attracted to Flora Klug and Mania Tschissik, both actresses in the Prague Jewish Theater. On August 13, 1912, he met Felice Bauer, a 24-year-old businesswoman from Berlin. Their relationship lasted for five years. Felice later moved to the United States, where she died in 1960. In August 1917, Kafka discovered that he had contracted tuberculosis and during his treatment, he fell in love with a woman named Milena Jesenská, a 24-year-old writer who had translated some of his stories into Czech. Kafka's fear of sexuality was probably the main reason for his decision to leave Milena. In 1913, he wrote in his diary Der Coitus als Bestrafung des Glückes des Beisammenseins, [The Coitus as punishment of the luck of the gathering] and in the winter of 1920-21, he stopped sending her regular letters. After they separated, she worked as a journalist and died in a German concentration camp in 1944. After their relationship ended, Kafka wrote his last novel, The Castle, where ‘K’ the protagonist of the novel. arrives at a village, claiming to be a land surveyor.
In January, 1919, Kafka met Julie Wohryzek in the Italian Tyrol. It was a short-term relationship and perhaps Kafka lost his interest but interestingly enough, he may have enjoyed a brief physical relationship unlike to his other relationships.
Kafka also enjoyed a brief loving friendship with Minze Eisner before met Dora Diamant, a 25-year-old woman from an Orthodox Jewish family who worked in the kitchen of a holiday camp in 1922. In 1924, Kafka moved with Dora to the Kierling Sanatorium outside Vienna. When he wrote to Dora’s father and proposed marriage to Dora, the reply was "no.” Kafka died of tuberculosis on June 3, 1924. However, Dora later described herself as "the wife of Franz Kafka." She died in London in 1952.
Throughout his life, we observe Kafka’s deep feelings towards his girlfriends as well as his concerns about their suitability as married partners. We also observe his growing fears about his health, and most important, we observe his decision to place the discipline of his art above his hopes for personal happiness.

Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis) was the short story with which Kafka’s first creative period started. In this story, the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, awoke from uneasy dreams to find out that he had turned, overnight, into a giant insect. He remained trapped in his room by his petit bourgeois family. His father threw an apple core at Gregor and Gregor dies. As the protagonist spent more time as an insect, he began to heal at an accelerated rate. "Am I less sensitive now?" he asks. Gregor virtually felt himself alienated and lonely. If Prufrock was T.S. Eliot, it is also fair to say that Gregor Samsa was Kafka, who was basically a giant consumptive insect in a world of strangers. His mother’s intentions from the beginning appeared to be more concerned for her financial support than Gregor's happiness. His sister was very close to him and was the only member of the family who truly only cared about his happiness or well being  She was the only member of the family that brought him food or ventured into his room after his metamorphosis. She even took the care to notice what foods Gregor particularly liked and brought more of the same for him.
We once again see the significance of a picture when Gregor's mother and sister begin moving things from his room to accommodate his new shape, Gregor becomes enraged, as he does not want to completely give up his old life and is torn between his new desires and the good memories of his life. The one item in his room that he decides to keep is his picture of a woman in a fur coat. His mother and sister are trying to move the picture, by distancing him from his personal feelings. Gregor chooses to make a stand on that which represents his effeminacy. He displays his sexuality and his mother witnesses it, much to her shock and dismay. Gregor's father returns to find his mother passed out and becomes enraged at Gregor. Gregor marvels at how different his father seems now than before his metamorphosis: "And yet, and yet, could that be his father?"


What I want to point out is that Kafka’s relationship with those close to him has always remained under suspicion and through his physical intimacy with other gender (say Gregor’s sister), it kept him away, mentally. This may be why Kafka didn't find any particular success with relationships in his love life. Unable to reconcile his physical urges with his romantic longings, he had a series of prolonged, probably chaste, engagements that invariably ended in his breaking off the relationship. It makes a clear distinctive reason that the ‘suppressed libido’ of Kafka may have caused him to write a porno book along with all the other masterpieces he created.


Kafka never visited the United States. But Kafka wrote Der Verschollene (retitled Amerika), which was published as his posthumous unfinished novel in 1927. The protagonist of the novel is Karl Rossmann, a 17-year-old young adult. As he enters New York Harbor as an immigrant and sees the Statue of Liberty, he observes that she holds in her right hand not a lamp, but a sword. For Kafka, we can find a great resemblance between sexuality and America. He had never experienced these two, yet they both  bothered him.


So for Kafka, sexuality was the gate...
1) One had to enter through the gate.
2) The gate was forbidden for that person
3) The gate was only meant for that person
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