Franz Kafka was born on July 3, 1883, in Prague, which happens to be also the city where Rilke was born (in 1875). Thus, one the greatest prose writers and one of the greatest poets of the modern era shared a common mother city. Kafka happens to be one of my favorite masters -- I especially love "The Metamorphosis" and "The Hunger Artist." But I also admire "The Penal Colony." I was introduced to it in an unforgettable way.
Kafka has also been something of a muse for me, like Penelope. The motto over his desk was Warten -- wait. Writing takes tremendous patience.
Only our concept of time makes it possible for us to speak of the Day of Judgment: in reality it is a summary court in perpetual session.
Questions that don’t answer themselves at the very moment of their asking are never answered.
Writing is a deeper sleep than death…. Just as one wouldn’t pull a corpse from its grave, I can’t be dragged from my desk at night. ( letter to Felice Bauer, June 26, 1913)
–January 3, 1912
Hold fast to the diary from today on! Write regularly! Don’t surrender! Even if no salvation should come, I want to be worthy of it at every moment.
–February 25, 1912
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.
–January 8, 1914
What an effort to keep alive! Erecting a monument does not require the expenditure of so much strength.
–March 9, 1914
The life of society moves in a circle. Only those burdened with a common affliction understand each other.
–June 12, 1914
–January 9, 1920.
–January 24, 1922
Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.
Theoretically there is a perfect possibility of happiness: believing in the indestructible element in oneself and not striving towards it.
I am particularly struck byQuestions that don’t answer themselves at the very moment of their asking are never answered. One could argue to the contrary: the answer might come out of the blue twenty years later. Nevertheless, my recent experience confirms that the right question can be answered in an instant, and that instant can change your life.
Soon after Deborah Digges' suicide, I was stunned by those lines in one of her poems (probably "The Broom") -- I quote from memory:
When was the last time I was happy?
When did the light hold me and I didn't struggle?
-- but "happy" was too extreme a word, too remote -- I couldn't connect with it. One of the characteristics of my chronic depression was inability to remember any happy moments, much less a whole extended period of being happy. It was only when I asked, "When was the last time I wasn't depressed?" that the answer came instantly. Thus, asking the right question changed my life. (I need to add that at long last I was motivated not to be depressed. I always knew how to pull myself out of depression, but had no motivation to make the slightest effort toward healing. I had to see that I was getting older, and life was passing me by while I stewed in bitterness, like Dante's "the sullen" who chant their repetitious hymn while sunk in mud.)