Calling on Kafka

An Essay on Acquaintance

Just the other day, a friend of mine asked me about one of my other dear friends, Mr. Franz Kafka. She had heard good report of him from me and was rather eager to make his acquaintance. Jealous of these affections, I immediately set out to dissuade her.

I booked passage on a steamer, SS Ahasver, which after a sea-sickening journey along the coast, brought me to her residence. She welcomed me in. I, bumbling with all Mr. Kafka’s letters, stories, and novels I’d brought with me, immediately set about demonstrating to her his errors:

– Well he only wrote in very rough and partially burnt German drafts, you know. So you’re never getting a polished or original text.

– His characters have no character! They seem forces of parable!

And most triumphantly:

– Many of his sentences are quite long.

Of course, all these efforts only succeeded in exciting her the more to meet him. Pressingly, she demanded I leave all these documentations with her to peruse at her leisure.

My point blunted, I left her to his letters, and set out to visit Mr. Kafka myself – and thereby, perhaps, to dissuade him from the fatal contact which would prove him the better writer.

Traveling to Prague was no easy journey. It took a few months to will my way through the maze of bureaucratic passage. Bribes, begs, and blunders stalled, stalled my way. At one time, I was required to confess my sins to a Czech priest – who was quite delighted to hear them. Another occasion, I was asked to paint a picture of ‘a picture’, a portrait that took much to unpuzzle.

Finally, after passing an exam on the interpretation of kabbala, I was at last permitted to visit him.

I arrived by plane this time. It was night. Mr. Kafka’s dwelling, a small and cramped apartment, was stuck between a Shochet’s Slaughterhouse and a Jewish Mercantile. I knocked on his door and was immediately let in, it seems, by the door itself – no one was inside.

I wandered through his one room apartment, peering under and behind stacks of books, where a few times I’d found him before – but all to no avail. I was at a loss. And I was lost. How was I ever to prevent my friend from finding him?

Then I saw a white light shining through the window – his balcony.

I went out onto it, but there the light was so great, emanating from a little table, that I could not see who was sitting in the little chair there. I attempted to gain a clearer view of who was there by the following methods:

I stood up on the tip of the balcony’s bannister; I kneeled down and tried to look from underneath the table; I walked around the table; I leaned as far as I would dare over the table, and explored with my hands, finding a great book open on the table – a magnifying glass lay upon it.

But I could not identify the occupant who surely sat there with this book and this light.

I spoke:

– Mr. Kafka? Is that you sitting there?

I heard no response at first; after a time though the light shifted, as though moved to better see me, and I heard the response:

– Good evening. Now, what can I do for you?

– Am I disturbing you? I asked.

– Yes. Yes. Said he, shifting his light again. Must you stand there? I’m studying.

– You’re studying?

– Yes. Yes.

– Well I don’t want to interrupt you; I’ll go back in. Said I, moving.

– So you’re still here? He asked me, before I could entirely leave.

– Well yes, but I’m going to be really going. If not now, then sooner or later. I wanted to look at you out here, while I was still here. It’s completely dark in the room, impossible to see, you see. Said I.

– Well who are you?

I explained to him my name and my business, that if he was Mr. Kafka, how we’ve met before. And I explained to him also my predicament. I was quite careful not to speak too highly of her, lest I incite him. I explained that under no circumstances must she be permitted to see him, lest she be spirited away.

He listened quite patiently (or perhaps he didn’t; the light too bright to tell) and said:

– If I had to choose between my studies and having acquaintance , I would naturally choose the acquaintance. But all my efforts are geared towards avoiding the necessity of having to make such a choice… Well I will get back to my studies. But do come over and visit us again sometime; I can set aside an hour for you every night if you’d like.

– So… you’d advise acquaintance?

– Absolutely. Said he, his voice strangely sounding like a boom like a multitude of voices in the deep.

I flew back to America that very hour. I relayed a message to my friend with Mr. Kafka’s address and his open invitation to call upon him for a teatime. This time, I did not slander him, except of course to say that his tea was often too cold, his cups too cracked, and his manners, too obscure.

Cheers to your Sunday morning,

JCL

Franz, Kafka. Amerika. New York: Schocken Books, 2008. Print.

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