This week I met Kafka. He is painfully famous but I have been illiterate for years, only recently I could read well so that is why I only knew him now. I adore how formal but funny and familiar he is. Though I have not finished his book, Metamorphosis and Other Stories, I have already had some favourites. And here I share you my five favourites from his Contemplation on 1913.
The Plight of the Bachelor
The prospect of remaining a bachelor is so awful: to be an old man and struggle to preserve one’s dignity while asking to be taken in for an evening’s worth of human society; to be sick and to gaze for weeks on end into one’s empty room from the vantage point of one’s bed; always to say goodbye at the front door; never to make one’s way upstairs at the side of one’s wife; to have the side doors to one’s room always opening on to others’ apartments; to carry one’s supper home in one hand; to have to stare at children, without always adding, unasked: ‘I haven’t any myself’; to model one’s apparel and demeanour on one or two bachelors one might remember from one’s own early years.
And so it will be, save that it will be oneself standing there, then thereafter, with a body and a veritable head, and therefore a brow to smite with the flat of one’s hand.
The Excursion into the Mountains
‘I don’t know,’ I cried in a toneless voice, ‘I really don’t know. If nobody comes, then nobody comes. I’ve done nobody any harm, nobody ever did me any harm, yet nobody wants to come to my aid. Nobody upon nobody. But that’s not it either. Only nobody comes to help me – nobody upon nobody would be fine. I would quite like – and why wouldn’t I? – to go on an excursion with a crowd of nobodies. Into the mountains, of course, where else? The way those nobodies would crowd together, all their crossed and linked arms, their many feet, separated by minute steps! Naturally, they’re all in tailcoats. We’re walking along without a care in the world, the wind is pushing through the gaps between us and our various limbs. Our throats feel free in the mountains! It’s a miracle we haven’t burst into song!’
When I meet a pretty girl and ask her: ‘Please, come with me!’ and she passes me in silence, then what she means is this:
‘You’re not a duke with a name to conjure with, no power-fully built American Indian with square-shouldered physique, with calm impassive gaze, with skin laved by the air of the prairies and the rivers that irrigate them, you have never been to the great lakes, or sailed on them, wherever they are to be found. So, tell me, why should a pretty girl like me go with you?’
‘You forget that no automobile is carrying you swaying through the streets in powerful thrusts; I don’t seem to see a retinue of gentlemen pressed into livery attending you, murmuring blessings as they follow you in a pedantic semi-circle; your breasts are stowed away tidily enough in your corset, but your hips and thighs make up for their parsimony; you are wearing a taffeta dress with plissé pleats of the sort that delighted us last autumn, and – garbed in this menace as you are – still you don’t scruple to throw us a smile from time to time.’
‘Yes, we are both quite right, and, lest we become irrefutably persuaded of the fact, why don’t we now each to go to our separate homes.’
For the Consideration of Amateur Jockeys
Nothing, on reflection, is sufficient to tempt one to come first in a race.
The renowned of being hailed as the best rider in the country is too strong at the moment the band strikes up for there not to be some regret on the following morning.
The envy of our competitors, cunning and fairly influential persons, is certain to hurt us in that narrow gap that we must ride through after that plain that lay empty before us, with the exception of a few vanquished horsemen, who minutely approached the edge of the horizon.
Many of our friends hasten to collect their winnings, and only shout their congratulations to us over their shoulders from the booths of various remote turf accountants; our best friends, meanwhile haven’t staked anything on us at all, since they feared their probable losing would compel them to be sore at us, but now that our horse has come in first and they didn’t win anything, they avert their eyes from us and look at the stands we pass.
Our defeated rivals behind us, upright in the saddle, try to see the past the misfortune that has befallen them and the injustice that has wantonly been dealt them; they look newly determined, as for the beginning of a fresh race, an earnest one following this child’s play.
To many of the ladies, the victor will look ridiculous, all puffed up and yet not quite knowing how to go about the endless round of shaking hands, greeting, bowing, and waving to distant admirers, while the defeated jockeys keep their mouths shut, and gently pat the necks of their generally whinnying horses.
And to cap it all, the heavens turn grey, and it starts to rain.
The Window on the Street
Whoever lives in solitude and yet would nevertheless find some form of contact, whoever in view of the changing hours, the weathers, the circumstances of his job and so forth, seeks some arm or other to cling on to – such a man will not be able to get by for very long without a window on the street. And even if he isn’t looking for anything in particular, and is just tired, letting his eyes drift between the public and the sky as he steps up to his window, head back, apathetically, even then the horses will take him away with them in their retinue of waggons and clatter, off in the end to some human participation.