“The reality that Kafka the artist has played a distinctly subordinate position to Kafka the author in our historic consciousness is attributable at the very least in component to our insufficient picture of him,” argues Andreas Kilcher in his introduction to Franz Kafka: The Drawings. “In part” is carrying an awful great deal of pounds there. The extra crucial rationale is that Franz Kafka was an original, incisive, and disturbing writer and, effectively, not substantially of an artist.
Franz Kafka: The Drawings has troubled origins. Kafka’s art passed as a result of several palms, several of which did not want to let it go. Kafka himself unquestionably had no want for these drawings to see the light of working day. Listed here they are, though, handsomely collected and buttressed by essays and details.
Would his drawings interest us if he experienced hardly ever penned? May well you be turned into a bug if you have the balls to claim the answer is “yes.” “They consist of just a couple strokes,” writes Kilcher, “that do not demonstrate or inform but basically counsel.” Alright, but was that by selection or by requirement? I see no rationale to believe that he was capable of additional. Judith Butler, in an essay on the drawings, preempts critics who may kind “aesthetic judgements” that fail to perceive “their incomplete character as purposeful.” What do you imagine sounds more probable — that Kafka built tough sketches in the margins of his notebooks due to the fact he did not choose them all that seriously or because he had some grand conceptual intention? Certainly, a duplicate of The Demo need not be supplemented by essays assuring us that it is precious.
Still, given that we do know who Franz Kafka was, are his drawings intriguing? I think so. First, Kilcher does demonstrate that Kafka and his pals took his drawings somewhat very seriously. For example, Max Brod — Kafka’s executor, who famously overlooked his request that his is effective be burned after his death — proposed some of the drawings be utilised as include art. Secondly, it is the situation that the drawings mirror themes of Kafka’s literary do the job. Some are challenging to stay away from calling Kafkaesque, this kind of as a single in which a person is remaining torn in 50 percent though a girl leans against a tree and watches him, stone-faced. You can guess it was deliberate that it is still left ambiguous as to no matter whether the man has had this fate inflicted on him or is inflicting it on himself. The lady does not treatment one way or the other.
A large amount of Kafka’s figures, in their obscure shapelessness, hint toward the author’s discomfort with the fleshiness of man. Their faces are blank. Their limbs are prolonged, lean, and elastic. Butler is not wrong to observe how they virtually look to be in flight — transcending mere earthly types. A lot more prosaically, I wonder if their unbelievable actions reflect Kafka’s enthusiasm for calisthenics. (He made use of to workout bare, believing in “the all-natural therapeutic principle of nudity.”)
Note the eyes on the figures in this collection. Throughout confront just after deal with, they are either dim slits or broad, bulging, and buglike. Could he draw something else? Maybe not. But just one however appreciates the feeling of paranoia they conjure up. See, for instance, a haunting self-portrait that comes closer to justifying Butler’s “purposeful” claim than anything at all else right here. See also a dim, bald determine in a tuxedo that seems as if he has strolled out of a nightmare. I visualize him as the deranged croupier of some dystopian casino.
But if 1 accepts that Kafka did not take all of these drawings particularly severely, some of them are extra alternatively than significantly less charming to the viewer. A drawing on a postcard of his sister having lunch, for example, with her mouth open and her enamel on display screen cannot have been something but mischievous — and it is touching to know Kafka could be mischievous, inasmuch as his perception for the perverse and the grotesque could be a supply of perform. A straightforward, nice sketch of a youthful woman, in the meantime, surprises us with its simple pleasantness.
We return to the novels and the quick tales lest a fantastic author be trivialized. “I am consistently making an attempt to talk some thing incommunicable,” Kafka at the time wrote to Milena Jesenska. “To clarify something inexplicable, to inform about one thing I only sense in my bones and which can only be expert in those bones.” There are hints of that in these drawings. But substantially less pierces the gap between his imagination and our comprehension than in the prose.
However, the reserve provides intriguing and sincere insights into that imagination. It is not alive with genius, but it is haunted by its spirit — disturbing and amusing us with flashes of menace and mischief. You will not regret finding Kafka’s stories prior to his sketches. But nor will you regret reading through this ebook.
Ben Sixsmith is a writer residing in Poland.