How to read Kafka

On reading and interpretation
Franz Kafka in 1905. Photograph: Getty Images

Chris Power on the history of the short story, and the way in which Kafka resists interpretation:
If we accept Vladimir Nabokov's judgment that "a good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a re-reader" and place it alongside Albert Camus's remark that "the whole of Kafka's art consists in compelling the reader to re-read him", we might conclude that Kafka's work is among the most valuable of literary treasures. This seems obvious to those who consider it, as I do, manically funny, desperately sad and endlessly rewarding; less so to those who find it baffling and inconclusive. Franz Kafka is one of the best writers for readers who love asking "What does it mean?", one of the worst for those who want that question answered.

Such is his stature, however, that like him or not, he can't be omitted from any discussion of the short story. And once his name is mentioned, the urge to explicate irresistibly follows – for, as Erich Heller wrote, he is "the creator of the most obscure lucidity in the history of literature, a phenomenon that, like a word one has on the tip of one's tongue, perpetually attracts and at the same time repels the search for what it is and means". [Read the article]

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