Literature and Psychoanalysis

By Edith Kurzweil; William Phillips | Go to book overview

19.
Kafka and the Mice

Ronald Hayman

READING THROUGH KAFKA'S published work in roughly chronological order, I soon saw that there could be no question of separating fiction from introspection. For Kafka, storytelling was one way -- not easy, but less difficult than others -- of talking to himself about himself. He wrote fragments of narrative into his diary, and it would be impossible to separate external events from fictional elaborations of them, or dreams and fantasies from stories. The confusion is a prerequisite of the lucidity he achieves. Inside the maze he chalks wonderfully clear lines on the ground, but only by dint of keeping his eyes off the walls. It would be pointless to inquire what they are made of.

The earliest surviving attempt to distill abjection into allegory occurs in a letter Kafka wrote when he was nineteen years old. (Because it was in a letter he could not destroy it, as he did other early fictions.) The alter ego is so ashamed of his height that he sits with his legs dangling outside the window. With clumsy, skinny, spidery fingers, he is knitting woollen socks, almost skewering his gray eyes on the needles. A well-dressed visitor jabs him, as he speaks, in the stomach, but when he is left alone he weeps, perhaps from self-pity, wiping his eyes with the socks that he is knitting.

Kafka's letters contain (at a rough guess) fifty times as many words as the fiction published with his consent, and they constitute the only

From Partisan Review ( 1981), 48(3):355-65. Copyright © 1981 Parisan Review. Reprinted by permission.

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