Diaries of Franz Kafka, 1910-1923

Here we see Kafka battling his interior demons, his exterior sicknesses, and his obsession with finding a wife to settle down with into normalcy. Meanwhile, he lives at home with his sisters and parents, stewing when he is interrupted while writing, his fraught relationship with father. He pals around with his literary/artistic crew, goes to the theater, lectures. It’s interesting to see how he uses the diary to flush out plots, warming up for a story he’ll write elsewhere. He muses about Edison’s feelings about Bohemia – that Czechs returning from America bring ambition back and are creating more development in the land. He faithfully records his dreams, his despondency, snippets of plays, sketch drawings. He is always observing, writing. I’d like to spend a few weeks being similarly free and undisciplined in my own journal, to feel empowered to experiment with ideas and move beyond the dreary encapsulation of my daily thoughts and actions (but really, my journal exists as my memory, since mine own is riddled with holes like swiss cheese). At the end, the editor included his travel diaries with their rich descriptions of Switzerland, Italy, Paris, and various country excursions in Germany: Kafka machine-guns us with details, leaves me swooning (minus the descriptions of visiting brothels).

In December 1910, he writes: “11:30PM That I, so long as I am not freed of my office, am simply lost, that is clearer to me than anything else, it is just a matter, as long as it is possible, of holding my head so high that I do not drown.”

November 1911:

Honesty of evil thoughts. Yesterday evening I felt especially miserable. My stomach was upset again. I had written with difficulty. I had listened with effort to Lowy’s reading in the coffeehouse (which at first was quiet so that we had to restrain ourselves, but which then became full of bustle and gave us no peace), the dismal future immediately before me seemed not worth entering, abandoned, I walked through Ferdinandstrasse… The Talmud too says: A man without a woman is no person.

December 1911:

Despite the fact that for a considerable time I have been standing deep in literature and it has often broken over me, it is certain that for the past three days, aside from a general desire to be happy, I have felt no genuine desire for literature. In the same way I considered Lowy my indispensable friend last week, and now I have easily dispensed with him for three days.
When I begin to write after a rather long interval, I draw the words as if out of the empty air. If I capture one, then I have just this one alone and all the toil must begin anew.
One advantage in keeping a diary is that you become aware with reassuring clarity of the changes which you constantly suffer and which in a general way are naturally believed, surmised and admitted by you, but which you’ll unconsciously deny when it comes to the point of gaining hope or peace from such an admission. In the diary you find proof that in situations which today would seem unbearable, you lived, looked around and wrote down observations, that this right hand moved then as it does today, when we may be wiser because we are able to look back upon our former condition, and for that very reason have got to admit the courage of our earlier striving in which we persisted even in sheer ignorance.

February 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. I spent this evening at the family table in complete indifference, my right hand on the arm of the chair in which my sister sat playing cards, my left hand weak in my lap. From time to time I tried to realize my unhappiness, I barely succeeded.

March 1922:

The work draws to an end in the way an unhealed wound might draw together.
Would you call it a conversation if the other person is silent, and, to keep up the appearance of a conversation, you try to substitute for him, and so imitate him, and so parody him, and so parody yourself.

Travel diaries, 1911:

You recognize strangers by the fact that they no longer know their way the moment they reach the top step of the subway stairs; unlike the Parisians, they don’t pass from the subway without transition into the bustle of the street. In addition, it takes a long time, after coming up, for reality and the map to correspond; we should never have been able, on foot or by carriage, to have reached the spot we stood on without the help of a map.