W.H. Auden on reading Franz Kafka

Work’s dictates mean that postings will be a little infrequent over the next fortnight or so. But here’s a few thoughts from W.H. Auden on reading Franz Kafka that I’ve been ruminating on this morning over a cup of lukewarm tea. It comes from Auden’s The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays (New York: Random House, 1962):

‘Sometimes in real life one meets a character and thinks, “This man comes straight out of Shakespeare or Dickens,” but nobody ever met a Kafka character. On the other hand, one can have experiences which one recognises as Kafkaesque, while one would never call and experience of one’s own Dickensian or Shakespearian … Kafka may be one of those writers who are doomed to be read by the wrong public. Those on whom their effect would be most beneficial are repelled and on whose whom they most fascinate their effect may be dangerous, even harmful … I am inclined to believe that one should only read Kafka when one is in a eupeptic state of physical and mental health and, in consequence, tempted to dismiss any scrupulous heart-searching as a morbid fuss. When one is in low spirits, one should probably keep away from him, for, unless introspection is accompanied, as it always was in Kafka, by an equal passion for the good life, it all too easily degenerates into a spineless narcissistic fascination with one’s own sin and weakness’. (pp. 160, 166)

[H/T: Time’s Flow Stemmed]

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