k. and the creative process

[Please forgive the momentary fixation on F.K. again. I often return to him for comfort, especially when I can’t write. Reiner Stach has done K. devotees a remarkable service with his meticulous biographical research and synthesis. I have fallen into this book like I haven’t fallen into a book in a long time. And to think, there is one more published volume yet to read! Not to mention the early years that Stach still hopes to cover, should he ever gain access to Brod’s vault.]

Here are a couple of passages related to K.’s creative process…

“He knew that his best, most profound writing sometimes came from a heightened consciousness of depression. However, complete inertia and indifference lurked no more than a breath away.” (p. 151)

“If we were to observe the ebb and flow of Kafka’s literary productivity from a great height, we would see a wave pattern: an initial phase of intensive, highly productive work that comes on suddenly and lasts several hours a day, followed by a gradual decline in his powers of imagination, lasting for weeks, and then finally, in spite of his desperate attempts to fight it, a standstill and feelings of despair for months on end. We do not know why he had to go through this cycle several times, and we will not know until we have a categorical paradigm of artistic creativity. Kafka himself never uncovered the logic behind the igniting and extinguishing of his art; he was always too deeply enmeshed in the effort of tapping whatever reservoir was accessible to him at the moment.” (p. 175)

Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years (English translation © 2005; original German edition © 2002)

a profound wakefulness

Kafka: The Decisive Years“Kafka missed nothing, forgot nothing. There is little evidence of the absentmindedness and boredom he always complained about; on the contrary, his incessant presence of mind is almost painful to witness, because it renders him unapproachable. Someone must stay awake, but this wakefulness deprived him of a sense of home and alienated him from the world and from people, in a mundane and sometimes comical sense. Nabokov’s novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, which highlights the impossibility of writing an adequate biography, expresses the suffering associated with profound wakefulness from the point of view of someone experiencing it:

[…] in my case all the shutters and lids and doors of the mind would be open at once at all times of the day. Most brains have their Sundays, mine was even refused a half-holiday. That state of constant wakefulness was extremely painful not only in itself, but in its direct results. Every ordinary act which, as a matter of course, I had to perform, took on such a complicated appearance, provoked such a multitude of associative ideas in my mind, and these associations were so tricky and obscure, so utterly useless for practical application, that I would either shirk the business at hand or else make a mess of it out of sheer nervousness.

This statement applies to Kafka word for word. It is astonishing how little he ‘made a mess of’ in spite of everything: wherever his life took him, he stood the test, as a pupil, student, and official. But nothing came easily to him; every decision, even the most trivial, had to be wrenched from that stream of associations. He once wrote, ‘Everything sets me thinking’. Everything set him writing. But first he had to translate life.”

Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years

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