R. Gray

German 390/Comp. Lit 396/Engl 363/CHID 498/JSIS 488/Lit 298

"Freud and Literary Imagination"

In 1911, Franz Kafka visited Rudolf Steiner, the great Austrian founder of theosophy, in his hotel room while the latter was in Kafka’s native Prague for a lecture. In his diary from 1911 Kafka records his impressions of this visit in the following words:

My Visit to Dr. Steiner

In his room I try to show my humility, which I cannot feel, by seeking out a ridiculous place for my hat . . . Table in the middle, I sit facing the window, he on the left side of the table. . . . He begins with a few disconnected sentences. So you are Dr. Kafka? Have you been interested in theosophy long? But I push on with my prepared address: I feel that a great part of my being is striving toward theosophy, but at the same time I have the greatest fear of it. That is to say, I am afraid it will result in a new confusion which would be very bad for me, because even my present unhappiness consists only of confusion. This confusion is as follows: My happiness, my abilities, and every possibility of being useful in any way have always been in the literary field. And here I have, to be sure, experienced states (not many) which in my opinion correspond very closely to the clairvoyant states described by you, Herr Doktor, in which I completely dwelt in every idea, but also filled every idea, and in which I not only felt myself at my boundary, but at the boundary of the human in general. Only the calm of enthusiasm, which is probably characteristic of the clairvoyant, was still lacking in those states, even if not completely. I conclude this from the fact that I did not write the best of my works in those states. I cannot now devote myself completely to this literary field, as would be necessary and indeed for various reasons. Aside from my family relationships, I could not live by literature if only, to begin with, because of the slow maturing of my work and its special character; besides I am prevented also by my health and my character from devoting myself to what is, in the most favorable case, an uncertain life. I have therefore become an official in a social insurance agency. Now these two professions can never be reconciled with one another and admit a common fortune. The smallest good fortune in the one becomes a great misfortune in the other. . . . Outwardly, I fulfill my duties satisfactorily at the office, not my inner duties, however, and every unfulfilled inner duty becomes a misfortune that never leaves. And to these two never-to-be-reconciled endeavors shall I now add theosophy as a third? Will it not disturb both the others and itself be disturbed by both? . . . This is what I have come to ask you, Herr Doktor. (The Diaries of Franz Kafka, pp. 48-49).

On September 23, 1912, the morning after writing the short story "The Judgment," Kafka notes in his diary:

This story, "The Judgment," I wrote at one sitting during the night of the 22nd-23rd, from ten o’clock at night to six o’clock in the morning. I was hardly able to pull my legs out from under the desk, they had got so stiff from sitting. The fearful strain and joy, how the story developed before me, as if I were advancing over water. . . . How everything can be said, how for everything, for the strangest fancies, there waits a great fire in which they perish and rise up again. . . . Only in this way can writing be done, only with such coherence, with such a complete opening of the body and the soul. . . . Thoughts about Freud, of course. (Kafka, The Diaries, pp. 212-213)