The Zurau Apho­risms of Franz Kafka

Franz Kaf­ka; Rober­to Calas­so, ed.; Michael Hoff­man and Geof­frey Brock, trans.

  • Review
By – March 26, 2012

The author’s 109 philo­soph­i­cal apho­risms were writ­ten dur­ing the eight months he spent in Zurau between Sep­tem­ber 1917 and April 1918. Though they were orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished short­ly after Kafka’s death in 1924, the frag­ments were not ordered or phrased cor­rect­ly. When the Ital­ian crit­ic Rober­to Calas­so found Kafka’s orig­i­nal notes in a fold­er at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, he restored Kafka’s word­ing from these note­books, and retained the lay­out Kaf­ka had designed: each apho­rism sits alone on the page, sur­round­ing by a swath of white space.

Kaf­ka wrote his apho­risms while recov­er­ing from tuber­cu­lo­sis, in a coun­try­side house he shared with his sis­ter. He spent most of his time in a state of reflec­tive piety, con­tem­plat­ing both the end of his life and the pos­si­ble reper­cus­sions of eter­ni­ty. While his frag­ment­ed con­tem­pla­tions are both exper­i­men­tal and abstract, Kaf­ka man­ages to touch on a num­ber of top­ics: reli­gion, women, mar­riage, guilt, fam­i­ly, and an after­life. His thoughts on par­adise are par­tic­u­lar­ly poignant, per­haps because Kaf­ka repeat­ed­ly men­tions the graph­ic images of heav­en and hell. Both a philo­soph­i­cal guide and an inti­mate win­dow into Kafka’s thought process, the work offers a unique per­spec­tive on a man most famous for his mys­ti­cal fic­tion. After­wards and notes.

Melody Kramer is spend­ing the year on a fel­low­ship at Nation­al Pub­lic Radio. She lives in Wash­ing­ton, DC.

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