22.9.12

Franz Kafka Centenary: 100 Years of The Judgement

Tonight marks the centenary of Kafka's breakthrough short story
An edition of Franz Kafka's Das Urteil ['The Judgement']
On the night of 22 September 1912, one hundred years ago, Franz Kafka sat down at his desk to write his breakthrough prose text, 'The Judgement'. The following is an extract from Kafka's diary, dated 23 September 1912, translated by Joseph Kresh:
23 September. This story, 'The Judgement', I wrote at one sitting during the night of the 22nd-23rd, from ten o'clock at night to six o'clock in the morning. I was hardly able to pull my legs out from under the desk, they had got so stiff from sitting. The fearful strain and joy, how the story developed before me, as if I were advancing over water. Several times during the night I heaved my own weight on my back. How everything can be said, how for everything, for the strongest fancies, there waits a great fire in which they perish and rise up again. How it turned blue outside the window. A wagon rolled by. Two men walked across the bridge. At two I looked at the clock for the last time. As the maid walked through the ante-room for the first time I wrote the last sentence. Turning out the light and the light of day. The slight pains around my heart. The weariness that disappeared in the middle of the night. The trembling entrance into my sisters' room. Reading aloud. Before that, stretching in the presence of the maid and saying, 'I've been writing until now.' The appearance of the undisturbed bed, as though it had just been brought in. The conviction verified that with my novel-writing I am in the shameful lowlands of writing. Only in this way can writing be done, only with such coherence, with such a complete opening out of the body and the soul. Mornng in bed. The always clear eyes. Many emotions carried along in the writing, joy, for example, that I shall have something beautiful for Max's Arkadia, thoughts about Freud, of course; in one passage, of Arnold Beer; in another, of Wasserman; in one, of Werfel's giantess; of course, also of my 'The Urban World'.

Treasures of the Bodleian: The Manuscript

Manuscript page of Kafka's 'The Judgement'. MS. Kafka 6, fol. 27r. Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
From Treasures of the Bodleian:
These notebook pages are a witness to the moment when a great writer found his true voice. Kafka wrote Das Urteil in one sitting, between ten o’clock at night and six in the morning. Shown here is the close of the story, by which time the humdrum tone of its opening had changed inexplicably into the strange and expressionistic. At the foot of the right-hand page Kafka has written a diary entry: ‘the fearful strain and joy, how the story developed before me, as if I were advancing over water … Only in this way can writing be done, only with such coherence, with such a complete opening out of the body and soul.’

Kafka then dashed off a note to his superior at work: ‘Dear supervisor! I suffered a little fainting spell this morning and have a slight fever. For that reason I am staying at home.’ [Read More]
Treasures of the Bodleian also includes excerpts from Kafka's 'The Judgement' in German and English, read by Reinier van Straten. [Listen]

For more on Kafka's life and work, take a look at the A Piece of Monologue online guide. The index includes links to articles, reviews, events, excerpts and other miscellaneous material. [Read More]

Also at A Piece of Monologue: