Tuesday 15 December 2015

KAFKA’S FATHER REPLIES: You have no capacity for life.

In the Letter to His Father, Kafka imagines his father’s reply:

You have in mind to live off me entirely. I admit that we are in a fight, but there are two kinds of fights – chivalrous combat, in which two independent fighters match strengths, in which each man remains independent, loses for himself, wins for himself. Then there is the fight fought by vermin, which not only stings but also sucks blood to sustain itself. That is the fight of the professional soldier – you. You have no capacity for life. To live comfortably and without worry and without blaming yourself, you prove that I have taken all capacity to live from you and put it into my own pocket. Why would you worry about your lack of ability when it is my fault and responsibility? You lie down idly and allow me to drag you through life in body and mind.

Here is an example: Recently you wanted to marry. At the same time you did not want to marry (as you admit in your letter). To avoid any stress, you turned to me for help by forbidding you to marry and arguing that it would bring shame on my name. But I did no such thing. First of all, here as in other cases, I did not wish to get in the way of your happiness; secondly I would never want to hear such an accusation from my child. But was my self-discipline and the forbearance with which I gave you the option to marry of any avail to me? No, my objections would not have prevented your marriage. On the contrary, they would have been an added stimulus for you to marry the girl. Thus your attempt to flee from me (as you put it) would have been complete. Yet my permission to marry did not keep you from bringing accusations against me. You prove that it was in any case my fault that you did not get married…although it only proved that all my reproaches were justified. Indeed I did not mention one reproach that was especially fitting: accusing you of being untruthful, subservient, and parasitic. Indeed your letter is parasitic, if I am not mistaken.

I reply first of all: This interjection, which could also be turned against you, is mine rather than yours.  Your distrust of others is not as great as the distrust in myself, which you nourished in me. To a certain extent the interjection is justified, and indeed adds new material to characterize our relationship – I won’t deny it.  The proofs I offered in my letter cannot fit as neatly in real life – living one’s life requires more patience. But the correction which follows from this interjection, a correction which I cannot and will not execute in its details, does succeed in approximating the truth in my opinion, and may calm things between us and make our life and death easier.

And that’s the end of Kafka’s letter. Use the search function to check my older blogs for other passages from Kafka’s Letter to His Father:
(Image from www.kafkaestblog.files)

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