Kafka: Gender, Class, and Race in the Letters and Fictions

By Elizabeth Boa | Go to book overview

3
Letters from a Bachelor Kafka's Letters to Felice Bauer

The boundary between literature and letters is fluid, as Joachim Günther suggests in reviewing Kafka's letters to Felice.1 The letters open up a personal and historical context which adds resonance to the fictions; the fictions organize and objectify experiences upon which the letters too reflect in a more fragmentary way. The process is not all one-way--the famous Letter to his Father could scarcely have been written without the earlier work on The Trial--nor do the letters give access to raw experience which in any case was subject to reflection even as it occurred, if we are to believe Kafka's repeated evocations of his obsessive self- observation. Thus reflection does not here mean a mirror-image, but is intrinsic to the experience: a man's experience of making love will differ depending on whether his self-image is of a mouse or a man. As a stage in the process of reflection upon reflection, the letters illuminate motifs which in the fictions become signs. Kafka himself uses the term 'Zeichen' of furniture as a metonymic sign of a whole milieu. ( GF620; EF567). The letters proliferate with details as Kafka sought to grasp Felice through her material surroundings, but in the fictions the isolated detail is estranged to mean more than it tells metonymically.2 Besides locations and objects, the letters also shed light on the fictional characters and plots. Like the implied reader in fictions, letters too construct their addressees, but, if only because of answers from actual persons,, the process of construction cannot have the freedom of diaries or fiction. The letters to Felice document, in modes stretching from the comic through the farcical to the tragic, that a gap kept opening up between the addressee in the letter and the recalcitrant correspondent, the actual woman who wrote back. This

____________________
1
Joachim Günther, "'Literatur-Ontologie und Kafka'", Neue deutsche Hefte, 15 ( 1968), 127-37.
2
The editors of Briefe an Felice, p. 30, use the term magic realism.

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