Franz Kafka's The Castle

Franz Kafka's The Castle

Franz Kafka's The Castle

Franz Kafka's The Castle


Das Schloss (The Castle), Franz Kavka's brilliant, complicated novel, is the story of the land surveyor K., whose attempts to gain access to the Castle of Westwest and to see Klamm, one of the Castle's mysterious and elusive officials, remain fruitless. An unfinished novel, The Castle's structure mirrors K.'s unending quest, as the narrative beckons its readers with a compelling mix of surrealism and realistic detail ever toward an end that will never arrive. With the unattainable always thus implicit in the book, The Castle is a truly paranoid vision, yet K.'s stubborn adherence to his quest through five hundred pages demonstrates the strength of the human will in a quest for the Absolute.

Franz Kafka's The Castle is one of over 100 volumes in the "Modern Critical Interpretations" series, edited and introduced by Harold Bloom and published by Chelsea House. Taken together, these volumes represent a comprehensive collection of the best current criticism of the most widely read poems, novels, stories, and dramas of the Western World.


In her obituary for her lover, Franz Kafka, Milena Jesenská sketched a modern Gnostic, a writer whose vision was of the kenoma, the cosmic emptiness into which we have been thrown:

He was a hermit, a man of insight who was frightened by
life.… He saw the world as being full of invisible
demons which assail and destroy defenseless man.… All
his works describe the terror of mysterious misconceptions
and guiltless guilt in human beings.

Milena—brilliant, fearless, and loving—may have subtly distorted Kafka’s beautifully evasive slidings between normative Jewish and Jewish Gnostic stances. Max Brod, responding to Kafka’s now-famous remark—“We are nihilistic thoughts that came into God’s head”—explained to his friend the Gnostic notion that the Demiurge had made this world both sinful and evil. “No,” Kafka replied, “I believe that we are not such a radical relapse of God’s, only one of His bad moods. He had a bad day.” Playing straight man, the faithful Brod asked if this meant there was hope outside our cosmos. Kafka smiled, and charmingly said: “Plenty of hope—for God—no end of hope—only not for us.”

Kafka, despite Gershom Scholem’s authoritative attempts to claim him for Jewish Gnosticism, is both more and less than a Gnostic, as we might expect. Yahweh can be saved, and the divine degradation that is fundamental to Gnosticism is not an element in Kafka’s world. But we are fashioned out of the clay during one of Yahweh’s bad moods; perhaps there was divine dyspepsia or sultry weather in the garden that Yahweh had planted in the East. Yahweh . . .

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