What have I in common with Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself, and should stand very quietly in a corner, content that I can breathe.
– Franz Kafka, quoted in Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind.
I am unsure why, but this excerpt from Kafka’s diary (note: not to be published; not for the public eye) took my breath away.
It is the same with his writing. The last time I tried to read him, I had to put down the book numerous times, to quell the rising unease in me. It puzzles me. His prose (translated from the original German) is simple enough, almost mundane. The structure does take some getting used to but I blame that on an awkwardness that all translated works suffer from. Otherwise, there is no cause for alarm. Only, I do feel alarmed, and frequently, when reading him.
Perhaps Candy is right – “he makes every creepy, mysterious thing a matter of fact, like its to be expected.”
It is wondrous and horrific at the same time, which is quite a feat, even for a novelist.
Suddenly, it appears to me that this writing business is brutally straight-forward. Either you are Kafka, or you are nothing. It is not being extreme. There is just no room for mediocrity, because there is nothing sadder than mediocre writing.
And I am not Franz Kafka.