John's Reviews > The Complete Stories

The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka
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Aug 19, 08

bookshelves: avatars-gods-energy-sources, short-story-masters
Recommended to John by: first, probably a teacher
Recommended for: readers who want to know the world in its noisy entirety
Read in August, 2008

The recent so-called scandalous revelations about Kafka's personal library (as if -- turns out he read a slightly edgy quarterly of arts & literature) prompt me to say something about his work. For my Goodreads list, I suppose it must be this book, an inevitable choice but nonetheless indispensable (I should add, too, that I can't really specify when I read the COLLECTED STORIES; I began doing so in the 1960's & never stopped). To read Kafka is to be carried away by the imagination of the century just ended, a dream-facility which bodied forth core images of our changing condition, armed with new technologies but saddled with ancient hatreds & fears. The most famous such image, to be sure, is that of the breadwinner turned into a bug, "The Metamorphosis," & naturally that nightmare domestic comedy is in here. But this collection also has far shorter yet likewise spot-on renderings out of our developing collective unconscious, such as "A Hunger Artist," ever-more-essential reading for anyone trying to following a creative calling amid the materialist hurly-burly. More intense distillations are served, as well, in what would come to be called "flash-fic." But even at the length of a couple of pages or less, Kafka generates blinking terror & breathtaking cultural reach, in the bloody labyrinth of "A Country Doctor" or the heady blind alley of "On Parables." At every length, more's the astonishment, the rhetoric's perfectly modulated, with every correlation & description & thought given just the development, the finish, needed to serve the vision in play. Kafka insists on the primacy of that vision, never flashy, his good judgment eliminating anything that might distract, might suggest artist matters more than art. The cult of personality that's grown up around him, over the last few decades, is one of the most galling travesties of our literary culture. In Kafka's stories, the lengthiest to the most abbreviated, we are reminded that even our corrupted & shit-stained times may still be cleansed by the outflow of humanity's purest storytelling impulses.
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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John Thanks for the "Likes," folks.


message 2: by Ben (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ben Winch Cult of personality as a galling travesty - nicely put, John. For a man so private, whose life - by all accounts - was so subsumed in literature, the web of endless supposition now surrounding his personal life would have been profoundly horrifying. Testament to its irrelevance to his legacy is the fact that it alters the work not at all. Nowhere is a knowledge of his life either necessary or illuminating in the study/enjoyment of his work; it's that self-enclosed, that stand-alone, that universal. Keep fighting the good fight. 'A Country Doctor' - now that is a tale.


John "A Country Doctor," yes indeed, a nightmare that I've never quite shaken. Thanks back.


Paul I'd love to know a little more about the Kafka quarterly "scandal". I obviously don't know enough of the right keywords to pursue this with Google, so if you get chance to point me in the right direction please do!


John Paul, here's an article from the NY Times; the information on K's reading, including the magazine w/ "a decadent sensibility," comes out of a recent British bio. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/17/wee...


John And thanks.


Paul Thank you. Fast! And an interesting piece (and possibly book). I'm normally a sucker for losers (yes it's an identification thing!) but it makes me admire Kafka more to find a more rounded character (I'm thinking of the relative success in his work and the popularity rather than the racy periodical revelation!). Your review is incredible, by the way, and has already made me dig out my Kafka story collection (aaagain - and helped make up my mind to look into a JD book: Highway Trade first, I think). Thanks again.


John Wow, that's great to read, Paul. Much appreciated.


message 9: by Rochelle (new)

Rochelle Yes, I need to read more Kafka. In fact, one of the reasons I moved to Mexico (I'm still here) is because I came across a Kafkaesque story in a book of translated work from Mexico that I bought in The Title Wave in Portland.


message 10: by John (new) - rated it 5 stars

John Chose your country of exile because of Kafka! Or sort of, since it's not exile & the story was only Kafkaesque. Still. Thanks.


message 11: by Rochelle (new)

Rochelle John wrote: "Chose your country of exile because of Kafka! Or sort of, since it's not exile & the story was only Kafkaesque. Still. Thanks."
John, it's semi-exile because I felt more akin to the Hispanic and East European literary scene/traditions than to American writing.


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