Sunday 19 April 2015


This is Part 3 of Kafka’s Letter to his Father. For Parts 1 and 2 see my posts of 9 and 12 April.

I was a timid child, but at the same time obstinate, the way children are. Certainly my mother pampered me, but I cannot believe that I was especially difficult to guide. I cannot believe that a friendly word, a quiet taking-by-the-hand, a friendly glance would not have obtained from me anything anyone wanted.
[But Kafka’s father tended to be “loud, forceful, and quick to anger”]
I remember one incident from the first years of my life. Perhaps you remember it too. One night I yowled continuously for water, not because I was thirsty, but partly to cause trouble, and partly to amuse myself. When a few strong threats had no effect to stop me, you took me out of my bed, carried me into the corridor, and left me there for a while in front of the closed door, alone and dressed only in my nightshirt. I won’t say that your action was wrong. Perhaps there was no other way of restoring quiet. I only want to characterize the methods of education you used and their effect on me.  In the wake of that experience I became obedient, but I was harmed internally. My nature did not allow me to properly connect the senseless begging for water, which seemed ordinary to me, with the extraordinary terror of being carried out of the room. For years I suffered from the painful idea that a giant man – my father and the highest instance – would come practically without cause and carry me from my bed into the corridor, and that I was a complete nothing to him. That was only a small beginning, but the feeling of worthlessness which often dominates me (which in other respects may be a noble and productive feeling) came about through your influence. I needed a little encouragement, a little friendliness, a little opening up of my path. Instead you closed off my path, perhaps with good intentions, to make me take another.
But I wasn’t cut out for that. You praised me, for example, when I saluted or marched well, but I was no future soldier, or you encouraged me to eat well and even to drink beer with my meal, or you praised me when I repeated songs I didn’t even understand or copied your favourite expressions, but none of that had any reference to my future.
(Source: unpublished works on; my translation)

No comments:

Post a Comment