“Franz Kafka is the master of the literary fragment,” as Stach comments in his afterword: "In no other European author does the proportion of completed and published works loom quite so...small in the overall mass of his papers, which consist largely of broken-off beginnings.” Â In fact, as Hofmann recently added: “‘Finished' seems to me, in the context of Kafka, a dubious or ironic condition, anyway. The more finished, the less finished. The less finished, the more finished. Gregor Samsa’s sister Grete getting up to stretch in the streetcar. What kind of an ending is that?! There’s perhaps some distinction to be made betweenÂ ‘finished' andÂ ‘ended.' Everything continues to vibrate or unsettle, anyway. Reiner Stach points out that none of the three novels wereÂ ‘completed.' Some pieces break off, or are concluded, or stop—it doesn’t matter!—after two hundred pages, some after two lines. The gusto, the friendliness, the wit with which Kafka launches himself into these things is astonishing.”
Kafka himself stays well enough afloat. Even when he fumbles, he never falls wholly flat: at his worst, he is provocative yet provisional. But at his best, he is hilarious and mordant, mired in the impossibilities that he could neither live with nor without.
This delightful collection features dozens of untitled fragments, false starts, and unfinished work by Kafka, found and chosen by biographer Stach...Opening sentences such as “I was allowed to set foot in a strange garden” and “The city resembles the sun,” make the reader’s pulse heighten with the thrill of entering the space of great literature. This offers precisely the kind of fare Kafka enthusiasts would hope for from the legendary writer’s archives.Â
They have been translated by polyphonic, wizardly Michael Hofmann, who has made of Kafka a marvelous, often very humorous writer of eccentric English prose.
These marks make visible the fourth wall that is implicit in each work Kafka left in some way unfinished, and even in those whose publication he permitted. It’s not only the characters, but Kafka himself who could find no way out.The Lost Writings helps us linger with him, in his impassable doorways.
I think of a Kafka story as a perfect work of literary art, as approachable as it is strange, and as strange as it is approachable.
Kafka is the greatest German writer of our time. Such poets as Rilke or such novelists as Thomas Mann are dwarfs or plaster saints in comparison to him.
If the mundane is, for Kafka, the domain of improbability and impossibility—wherein even the simplest of gestures cannot be guaranteed—the extraordinary is evoked with an air of sheer certitude.