CESNUR - center for studies on new religions


by J. Edgar Bauer
A paper presented at The 1999 CESNUR International Conference, Bryn Athyn College, Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

For Kleines

"Kdo se bojí, nesmí do lesa. Ale v lese jsme všichni. Kazdý jinde a jinak."
Franz Kafka[1]

"Comment est-il possible qu'à Prague les romans de Kafka se confondent avec la vie, et comment est-il possible qu'à Paris les mêmes romans soient perçus comme l'expression hermétique du monde exclusivement subjectif de l'auteur?"
Milan Kundera[2]


img1. Prague, the pluralistic city in which Franz Kafka was born in 1883, hosted Czechs, Germans and Jews and accommodated their diverse religious life-styles.[3] It was, and had been for centuries, one of Europe's most distinguished centers of Jewish learning, yet it was also the point of departure of Jan Hus' pre-Lutheran attempt at Church Reformation, and besides Turin and Lyon, one of Europe's foremost capitals of occultism. Thus, it is not surprising that the gentile writer Gustav Meyrink (1868-1932), impressed by the haunting atmosphere of the city's ghetto, created a renowned version of the Golem myth which was inspired by legends surrounding the Great Rabbi Löw's creation of an homunculus in the 16th century.[4] Postmodern philosopher Vilém Flusser (1920-1991), born in Prague around the time of Kafka's death and forced to leave the city in 1939, also testifies of Prague's pervasive religious atmosphere. Although Flusser once characterized the city's Marxism with sympathetic irony as "the adequate religion for Prague Jews"[5] because of its supranationalism, he nevertheless believed that "Prague was a religious city in the deep sense of the word"[6] and that one could not live there "without living religiously"[7]. Against the background of Prague's religious complexities, Franz Kafka developed in his writings one of the most incisive and powerful critiques of religion in the 20th century. Unfortunately, the radicality of this aspect of Kafka's thought has been for the most part overlooked or disregarded. This is, in part, a consequence of the influential interpretations of Kafka's religious positions by Max Brod, the first editor of Kafka's work, most of which was published posthumously. The main reason, however, seems to lie in the intrinsic difficulty of grasping the critical scope of Kafka's atheological spirituality which moves beyond the paths of traditional Judaism and the platitudes of materialistic secularity.

2. Considering Prague's cultural and religious atmosphere, it is no wonder that Kafka's contemporaries often used hagiographical diction when describing his personality. Friedrich Thieberger, the son of a Prague rabbi, describes him as "a sort of saint"[8] and Emil Utitz, who knew Kafka since his high school years, remembers him as "quiet, delicate and almost saintly."[9] Without mentioning the word "saint", his one-time girlfriend Milena Jasenská (later: Polak) wrote to Max Brod about Kafka's "absolute, unchangeable urge to perfection, to purity and to truth [...] till his last drop of blood".[10] Gustav Janouch, a friend during Kafka's last four years, was more explicit in praising his dead friend, stressing that Kafka was not only a "visionary"[11] and "prophet"[12] of a "private religion"[13], but also "a saint possessed by truth"[14]. These testimonies did not have as much an impact as those of his friend and editor Max Brod. Brod characterized Kafka as "a renewer of the old Jewish religiosity"[15], "a religious hero with the stature of a prophet"[16], a man whose path was "that of a saint"[17]. In Zauberberg der Liebe (literal translation: "The Magic Mountain of Love"), a novel Brod wrote immediately after Kafka's passing, Richard Garda appears as a literary transposition of the mourned friend. Hence, the chapter dealing extensively with Kafka/Garda is titled "A saint of our time"[18] and towards the end of the book the narrator refers to him as an "ideal man"[19]. Brod's portrayal of Kafka's personality as saintly was criticized by Walter Benjamin, who argued that the attribute of saintliness outside a traditionally grounded religious confession was just a belletristic quibble.[20] In his insightful essay Les testaments trahis (literal translation: "The betrayed testaments"), Milan Kundera also opposed the hagiographical attempts of Brod and other more recent "Kafkologists". Pointing out that Brod, in his role as editor, had censored Kafka's works and distorted the heritage of one of the world's greatest poets, Kundera perspicaciously settles the question regarding Kafka's allegedly saintliness by asking if saints are supposed to visit brothels.[21]

3. If one, in contrast to Walter Benjamin, argues that an essential strain of modern literature from Charles Baudelaire to Oscar Wilde and Antonin Artaud actually explores the possibilities of realizing saintliness outside the organized patterns of Western traditional religions and their theistic presuppositions, it seems unreasonable, upon consideration of the available evidence, to categorize Kafka as a saint. For one thing, his pronounced understanding of the intricacies of power provides a strong argument against the assumption of saintliness, since one would expect that this sensibility would have allowed him to perceive the difference between free love in whatever form and commercial sex, and thus to adhere to stricter moral standards than those by which he abided. Against this background, Kundera's question is apt to dismantle the whole myth of Kafka's saintliness. His further elaborations on the issue, however, neglect the fact that Kafka – although not a saint – was keenly interested in religious matters. Although Kundera rightly rejects most of Max Brod's theses, he regrettably fails to present a consistent argument against the latter's artificial and misleading separation of the presumably "positive" contents of the Kafkian aphorisms from the "negative" literary descriptions of modern man in the rest of his work. In general, Kundera's elaborations on Kafka's "wisdom of the novel" as a "wisdom of uncertainty"[22] are convincing. However, his disregard of the relevant issue of how Kafka's aphorisms bear witness to his struggle against "the incapacity to face the absence of the supreme judge"[23] is far from acceptable. It is mainly in his aphorisms that Kafka's unmasking of the emptiness of theistic transcendence appears as the critical presupposition of his own resolution of the religious question. Such a resolution purports that the fundamental issue of all religion and of all life wisdom lies in the connected nature of life and death that hinders their mutual cancellation.[24] The proper assessment of this encompassing "connectedness" requires an awareness of that ultimate "fact" (Tatsache) which traditions have inadequately termed God, Life or Truth,[25] "which we try to master by our different thought constructions",[26] and which while within us, is not graspable by us[27].

4. A glimpse of the specific quality and extent of Franz Kafka's critical religiosity is offered by two passages in Gustav Janouch's book Gespräche mit Kafka (literal translation: "Conversations with Kafka"). Since their subject matter and diction is similar it can be assumed that both passages present versions of the same conversation. The first passage reports Kafka having said: "Art, like prayer, is a hand stretched out into the dark, seeking to catch something from grace, in order to transform itself into a giving hand."[28] According to the second passage, Kafka told Janouch: "Art and prayer are only hands stretched out into the dark. One begs in order to give oneself."[29] Bringing into a unified perspective Kafka's understanding of art and the core of what Janouch called his "private religion", the two passages adumbrate a grace-dispensing, ungrounded darkness that proves to be identical with the unsurveyable "fact" of existence mentioned above. Against this background, art and prayer reveal themselves as a common quest for the largely unexplainable transformation of the will to power into selfless giving. Strictly speaking, Kafka's expectation of the gift of giving can be understood as a Gnosis without Gnosticism, since it awaits the transforming advent of insight without attempting to ontologize its impenetrable source by recurring to a deus absconditus or alienus.

5. It is characteristic of Kafka's intellectual style that he used with profusion not only metaphors and figures of thought going back to Rabbinic Judaism and Kabbalah[30], but also religious and metaphysical topoi from traditions far beyond the limits of Jewish learning. Authors like Arthur Schopenhauer (whose reading Kafka insistently recommended to Gustav Janouch[31]) or Walt Whitman (whose orientation to Christianity he considered to be "very closely related to [that of] us Jews"[32]) undoubtedly reinforced Kafka's conviction about the need for a comprehensive introduction of Far Eastern wisdom in the West. Another relevant factor favouring Kafka's religious inquisitiveness was the literary salon of Berta Fanta in Prague, where, among other things, spiritism and the theosophy of Madame Blavatsky were discussed.[33] Generally speaking, Kafka's concerns with matters of alternative religiosity are well attested by the fact that after attending two lectures by Rudolf Steiner in Prague on "Knowledge of the higher values"[34], he visited him privately and later wrote a relatively detailed account of the conversation that took place[35]. It is also noteworthy that Kafka visited the Chassidic Rabbi of Grodek in Žižkow and that he conveyed his unfavorable impression in these succinct sentences quoted by Max Brod: "Strictly speaking, it was like being among a wild African tribe. Extreme superstition."[36] Although Kafka remained in the long run sceptical about occult practices and the teachings of anthroposophy, and despite his critical depiction of his visit in Žižkow, both events are indicative of Kafka's vast curiosity regarding religious issues. Nevertheless, the forms of occidental religiosity or alternative spirituality Kafka was acquainted with never became a substitute for the traditionally organised religion he could no longer adhere to. Hence it is no wonder that Kafka extended his religious inquiries to some major currents of Far Eastern thought. With respect to Indian religious philosophy, for example, he openly admitted to feeling at the same time attracted and repulsed by the "yogis and magicians", for he concluded that their transcending of nature-bound life resulted not from their love of freedom, but from their pessimism.[37] Only Kafka's enthusiasm for Chinese thought and religiosity, especially Taoism, seems to have been wholehearted and unwavering. As Janouch reports, Kafka once told him that he had dealt "quite deeply and for a long time" with Taoism and that he had in his library "almost all the volumes concerning the issue in the German translation that Diederichs in Jena had published."[38] Given Kafka's proclivities, it is not surprising that the Kafka expert Elias Canetti considers him "in essence the only Chinese poet that the West has"[39], and cites in support Arthur Waley, the renown scholar of Oriental literatures, who had called attention to Kafka's "natural" Taoism and his characteristic tinge of ritualism.[40] For Canetti, Kafka's Taoism is related to his ideas concerning "the small" (das Kleine). In a brief annotation that Canetti considers could have been taken from a Taoist text, Kafka once hinted at the relevance of this fundamental concept: "Two possibilities: to make oneself infinitely small or to be [such]. The second one is perfection, therefore non-activity; the first [is] beginning, therefore action."[41]

6. Franz Kafka's work contains possibly the most profound modern analysis of the metamorphoses and glorification of power[42]. His basic metaphor of power articulates the impossibility of mediating between a completely unreachable "above" and a "below" ever-disappearing into nothingness. The hierarchy of presumable mediations between the two extremes appears in Das Schloß ("The Castle") and in Das Urteil ("The Trial") as the "organisation", that in spite of its being "gapless"[43] fails to achieve its own purpose. This is due to the fact that the different mediating entities in the hierarchy simply repeat within their sphere of influence the basic structure of unattainability inherent in the "highest" principle of the hierarchy. Since no single mediating entity can be found that would mediate unconditionally, i.e. without presupposing a previous mediation from another entity in the endless hierarchy, the overall strategy of withdrawal steadily pursued by the supposedly mediating entities cannot be overcome. Thus, instead of the initially expected progression towards the highest source of mediation, there is a growing awareness of the insurmountable distance separating the individual from the aim of his quest. In consideration of these basic patterns, the numerous labyrinthine stairs and staircases in Kafka's novels appear to be tangible indicators of a hierarchically structured purposelessness that loses itself in the unsurveyable dimensions of the alleged system. Tellingly, Kafka notes in "The Trial": "The hierarchy and the gradation of the law court is infinite and, even for the initiate, unpredictable."[44] Due to its inherent dysfunctionality, however, this iniquitous infinity carries within itself the principle of its own dissolution. It is not by chance that in the short story Beim Bau der Chinesischen Mauer ("At the construction of the Chinese wall") Kafka points out: "If one would conclude [from the occurrences described in the story] that we actually have no emperor at all, one would be not far from the truth."[45] This careful formulation refers to an entity which, notwithstanding its ontological emptiness, does not need to give up the ostentation of its power. Correspondingly, the alleged transcendence of the mediatory hierarchical principles in "The Trial" turns out to be the token of an inherent vacuity that can only remit to actual life as the inescapable place where the "procedures" will eventually end with the "condemnation" of the accused. This condemnation is neither deferrable nor evadable, since it is not something to be expected in the future, but is always occurring within the concreteness of human existence itself. This critical insight into unredeemed life is hinted at when the priest in "The Trial" draws attention in the course of his sermon to the fact that "the judgement does not arrive at once, the trial transforms itself gradually into the judgement."[46] In "The Castle", Olga's description of her family's sufferings implies an even more intimate grasp of the basic idea: "We did not fear something [still] to come, we had suffered [so much] already under the present [conditions], we were in the midst of the punishment."[47] In the last resort, the life of man is not only the place of the "trial", but also that of the actual execution of the penalty that has been settled from the very beginning, since every human being, by the very act of existing, can only be found guilty before the tribunal of empty transcendence.

7. That transcendence pervades life with its vacuity is the basic assumption in Kafka's intrepretation of the history of Western religiosity and of its concomitant theological and metaphysical rationalization. It is not by chance that Kafka's novels and many of his short stories reveal the unmistakable atmosphere of a Jewish world in which unequivocally Christian signs and symbols are seldom absent. Kafka's critical endeavours expose not only the figure of the almighty "Father" in Judaism, but also that of his Christian mediation through the "Son". Against the background of their looming presence, Kafka positions man as arbitrarily accused and condemned, yet destined, because of his bashful weakness, to become the ultimate accuser of mighty, but void transcendence. This essential subversion of perspective occurs within the horizon of the already mentioned atheological Gnosis confronting the deceptiveness of the supposedly divine. Opposing such deceptiveness, Kafka's alter egos turn away from transcendence and towards nothingness, since enslavement to fake-being can only be overcome by accepting true naught. In an aphorism from 1917-1918, that can be considered a fundamental hermeneutical key to his work, Kafka points out: "To do the negative was imposed on us; the positive is already given to us."[48] Accordingly, the critical dismantling of the "given" might of transcendence constitutes the proper and eminent task of Kafkian negativity. It is from a position of powerlessness similar to that of the lift boy in the novel Amerika ("America"), who is "the lowest and most dispensable employee in the enormous hierarchy of the hotel's domestics"[49] and who "naturally [...] does not mean anything"[50], that Kafka unmasks the vacuity of the Jewish and Christian "History of the Spirit" at a time described as a point of "no- return"[51]. Assuming distance from the contemporary offspring of both religious traditions, Kafka writes: "I was neither conducted to life by the now already heavily sinking hand of Christianity like Kierkegaard, nor did I still catch the last tip of the vanishing Jewish prayer shawl like the Zionists. I am [an] end or [a] beginning."[52] In spite of his proverbial modesty, Kafka overtly acknowledges the universal import of his critical undertaking: the dissolution of the highest theological Principium and its concurrent Christological mediation.

8. Vilém Flusser, the post-modern philosopher mentioned above, published in Brazil in 1963 a seminal essay under the Beckettian title Esperando por Kafka ("Waiting for Kafka") whose basic tenets can be considered complementary to the present line of interpretation. According to Flusser, Kafka's main endeavour was to lead "our thought to that very thin layer that the mystics call 'unio mystica'"[53], in which the thinking and the object of thought (i.e. the "soul" and "God") amalgamate. Differing from the mystics, however, Kafka denounces this merging as inauthentic and absurd, since God becomes only "a reflection of one's own thought on the quiet and abysmal surface of nothingness."[54] From Flusser's perspective, the God Kafka depicts is only "a progressive cumulation of human thoughts about nothingness"[55], from whence the poet's work discloses the "nominalistic feeling [...] that is beginning to condense in us and around us."[56] Kafka's criticism of the idea of God is, of course, far from removing the impossibility of thinking and articulating nothingness. Thus, the issue he explicitly deals with is something completely and laughably different from the problem of nothingness whose unspeakability is the actual core of what is at stake throughout his work. The originality of Kafka's writing consists, according to Flusser, in the fact that it "calls into life, by contradistinction as it were, something unthinkable and inexpressible in the reader"[57]. As in the case of the Prophets of Israel, Kafka's message can also be understood as a parable. This parable, however, rejects traditional theological conceptions as well as secularistic atheism and concentrates on the consequences of religious inauthenticity. Consequently, towards the end of his elaborations, Flusser expresses his expectancy of a Kafkian spirituality that would enable man to courageously acknowledge coram nihilo that it is not possible to locate the meaning of existence in a religious or metaphysical transcendence. Only by abandoning all pretended ontotheological "groundings" and by refusing to accept any supposedly inherent sense in reality can one attain the freedom out of which authentic existence gives itself a finite meaning.

9. Kafka's labyrinthine staircases and corridors, his almost untrodden and sometimes even untreadable paths and tracks, can be understood as disenchanted and thus ultimately lucid counterfigures of the archetypical ladder of Genesis 28 envisioned by the dreaming Jacob at a place he subsequently called sha‘ar hashamaim - "gate of heaven".[58] On account of the ascending and descending angels,[59] Jacob's ladder has traditionally been viewed as an eminent token of an ongoing dialogue with the God of Abraham and Isaac. Against this background and with the Christological heritage in mind, Emmanuel Swedenborg[60] interpreted the biblical ladder as the communicatio between the "godly good" and the "human true". According to this 18th century visionary, the angels themselves represent the aeterna communicatio and coniunctio[61] that pervade the ordo of the godly-human world. Within this ordo the Godly descends through man to the depths of the natural world for the purpose of bringing this world back to God as the last and first aim of creation. Swedenborg, part of a long tradition of trinitarian and incarnational re-interpretation of Neo-Platonic triadism, posits Christ as the centre of mediation, a godly man who through his kenōsis/ "abasement" renders possible the coming apotheōsis / "deification". Thus, it is not by chance that in his exegeses of Geneses 28, 15[62] Swedenborg quotes John 16, 28: exivi a Patre et veni in mundum, iterum relinquo mundum, et eo ad Patrem. The underlying structure of the theologumena involving an Almighty Father communicating with man through his angels and eventually – according to the Christian Scriptures - giving his Son "power over all flesh"[63], can be considered as the fundamental matrix of Western religiosity which is present not only in mainstream denominations, but also in the more or less heterodox religious forms that pretend to be radical alternatives to the creeds from which they originate. From this perspective, Kafka's critique of the alleged Almighty (i.e. the "Father") and of his mediatory instances (including the "Son") proves to be a most radical dismantling of the basic structures of Western religiosity. Opposing the assumption of a "communicative and conjunctive" empowerment of the kenotic "Lowest" through the divine "Highest", Kafka's reflections on "the little" suggest that such an empowerment – especially if it occurs sub specie divinitatis – can only lead to the alienation of existence from its own freedom. In this sense, empowering religion is the ultimate entrapment of might's vacuity.

10. In Kafka's short story Vor dem Gesetz ("Before the Law"), a countryman whose extraction hints that he is an ‘am ha’arets, i.e. an ignoramus, asks a mighty gate guardian to be allowed into the Law. Despite his acknowledged power, the guardian, who denies the request, is only the lowest in rank of a series of guardians the countryman would have to convince in order to approach his goal. Although, after years of waiting, the dying countryman is told that the entrance gate was meant just for him, he will never give up the passive attitude implied in his expectancy of the guardian's mediation and thus will die without ever overcoming the first hurdle. Unwilling to assume the radical consequences of an autonomous existence, the insightless countryman will never tread his way to the Law. The yearned for, but basically dysfunctional mediation of power is an issue explored by Kafka in another short story entitled Zur Frage der Gesetze ("On the Question of Laws"). In this piece, Laws are the exclusive secret of nobles that rule a population that is kept in ignorance of the actual content of the Laws. Only a small group within this population realizes that there are actually no Laws, merely the arbitrary acts of the nobles themselves. Despite this critical insight, the members of the group do not dare to question the established power of the nobles. Thus, not surprisingly, the story focuses at the end on how utter might becomes the sanctioned substitute for non-existing Laws. From Kafka's perspective, the timidly dissenting party as well as the countryman from "Before the Law" dwell in a world of "unbelief" (Unglaube) with its attendant confidence in "miracles" and "violence".[64] The "unbelief", manifested in a vain expectation of miracles, led the passive countryman to wait for an external agent to open the gates of the Law for him and thus spare him the burden of confronting his freedom. The "unbelief" present in the use of violence underlies the sacrificial logic of propitiatory rites[65] aimed at participating in the arbitrary power of the ontologically empty. Thus, in a modern variant of the sacrificium intellectus, the members of the party depicted in the second story renounce their critical insight in an attempt to reconcile themselves with established power, and by so doing, contribute to sanctioning "lie [as] the order of the world"[66]. Against the self-alienation to Power encoded in the gestalt of the Mighty and their devoted representatives, Kafka asserts the Taoistic inspired strategy of "making oneself infinitely small".[67] Free from the secular need of assimilation to a dysfunctional Power devoid of truth, existence becomes possible with the realization that "truth is never and nowhere more accessible than in the instant of one's own life."[68]


[1] Janouch, Gustav: Gespräche mit Kafka. Aufzeichnungen und Erinnerungen. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer Verlag, 1968, p. 211

[2] Kundera, Milan: L'art du roman. Essai. Paris: Gallimard, 1986, p. 133 

[3] A sign of the continuous religious effervescence of Prague can be seen in this statistic: in the 1920s of 1000 inhabitants of Jewish nationality one declared himself a Catholic, one a Protestant, one a Russian-Orthodox, and six considered themselves to be without religious denomination. Cf. Art. "Prag", in: Jüdisches Lexikon. Ein enzyklopädisches Handbuch des jüdischen Wissens in vier Bänden. Begründet von Dr. Georg Herlitz und Dr. Bruno Kirschner. Unter redaktioneller Hilfe von Ismar Elbogen. (Nachdruck der 1. Auflage Berlin: Jüdischer Verlag, 1927.) Frankfurt am Main: Jüdischer Verlag im Athenäum Verlag, 1982, Vol. IV / I, p. 1090

[4] Cf. Meyrink, Gustav: Der Golem [1915]. Prag: Vitalis, Deutscher Buchverlag Prag, 1994

[5] Flusser, Vilém: Bodenlos. Eine philosophische Autobiographie. Mit einem Nachwort von Milton Vargas und editorischen Notizen von Edith Flusser und Stefan Bollmann. Bensheim und Düsseldorf: Bollmann Verlag, 1992, p. 20: "die gebotene Religion für Prager Juden". [From now on, all German and French texts quoted or paraphrased in English will we rendered in the original language in the endnotes. To facilitate the understanding of their context, the foreign language quotations are in some cases more exhaustive than the corresponding English translations in the body of the text.]

[6] Flusser, Vilém: Bodenlos, op. cit., p. 21: "Prag war eine religiöse Stadt in einem tiefen Sinn dieses Wortes."

[7] Flusser, Vilém: Bodenlos, op. cit., p. 21: "Man konnte nicht in Prag leben, ohne religiös zu leben."

[8] Thieberger, Friedrich: Kafka und die Thiebergers. In: »Als Kafka mir entgegenkam...« Erinnerungen an Franz Kafka. Herausgegeben von Hans-Gerd Koch. Berlin: Verlag Klaus Wagenbach, 1995, p. 122: "so etwas wie ein Heiliger"

[9] Utitz, Emil: Acht Jahre auf dem Altstädter Gymnasium. In: »Als Kafka mir entgegenkam...« Erinnerungen an Franz Kafka, op. cit., p. 44: "der still, fein and fast heilig aussah."

[10] Anhang: Milena an Max Brod. In: Kafka, Franz: Briefe an Milena. Erweiterte und neu geordnete Ausgabe. Herausgegeben von Jürgen Born und Michael Müller. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1994, p. 372: "diese absolute unumstößliche Notwendigkeit zur Vollkommenheit hin, zur Reinheit und zur Wahrheit [...] bis zum letzten Blutstropfen"

[11] Janouch, Gustav: Gespräche mit Kafka, op. cit., p. 21: "Seher"

[12] Janouch, Gustav: Gespräche mit Kafka, op. cit., pp. 21, 25: "Prophet"

[13] Janouch, Gustav: Gespräche mit Kafka, op. cit., p. 20: "Privatreligion"

[14] Janouch, Gustav: Gespräche mit Kafka, op. cit., p. 254: "ein wahrheitsbesessener Heiliger"

[15] Brod, Max: Über Franz Kafka. Franz Kafka. Eine Biographie – Franz Kafkas Glauben und Lehre – Verzweiflung und Erlösung im Werk Franz Kafkas. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1989, p. 279: "ein Erneuerer der altjüdischen Religiosität"

[16] Brod, Max: Über Franz Kafka, op. cit., p. 223: "ein religiöser Held vom Rang eines Propheten"

[17] Brod, Max: Über Franz Kafka, op. cit., p. 242: "[...] der der Weg (ich gebrauche das folgende Wort mit Vorbedacht) eines Heiligen war [...]"

[18] Brod, Max: Zauberreich der Liebe. Roman. Berlin, Wien, Leipzig: Paul Zsolnay Verlag, 1928, pp. 149-178: "Ein Heiliger unserer Zeit."

[19] Brod, Max: Zauberreich der Liebe, op. cit., p. 435: "Idealmensch"

[20] Cf. book review: Benjamin, Walter: Max Brod: Franz Kafka. Eine Biographie. Prag 1937. In: Benjamin über Kafka. Texte, Briefzeugnisse, Aufzeichnungen. Herausgegeben von Hermann Schweppenhäuser. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Taschenbuch, 1981, p. 49: "[...] und bedarf es des Hinweises darauf, daß das Prädikat der Heiligkeit außerhalb einer traditionell begründeten Religionsverfassung einfach eine belletristische Floskel ist?" Benjamin’s review was written in 1938, but was first published in 1966

[21] Cf. Kundera, Milan: Les testaments trahis. Essai. Paris: Folio, Gallimard, 1993, p. 57: "Mais un saint peut-il fréquenter des bordels?"

[22] Cf. Kundera, Milan: L'Art du roman, op. cit., p. 22: "[...] la sagesse du roman (la sagesse de l'incertitude) est difficile à accepter et à comprendre."

[23] Kundera, Milan: L'Art du roman, op. cit., p. 22: "l'incapacité de regarder en face l'absence du Juge suprême"

[24] Cf. Janouch , Gustav: Gespräche mit Kafka, op. cit., p. 208: "Durch das Leben wird nicht der Tod lebendig; durch das Sterben wird nicht das Leben getötet. Leben und Tod sind bedingt; sie sind umschlossen von einem großen Zusammenhang. Das ist – glaube ich – das Grund- und Hauptproblem aller Religion und Lebensweisheit.

Es handelt sich darum, den Zusammenhang der Dinge und Zeit zu erfassen, sich selbst zu entziffern, das eigene Werden und Vergehen zu durchdringen."

[25] Cf. Janouch , Gustav: Gespräche mit Kafka, op. cit., p. 95: "Gott, das Leben, die Wahrheit – das sind nur verschiedene Namen einer Tatsache."

[26] Janouch , Gustav: Gespräche mit Kafka, op. cit., p. 95: "Die Tatsache, [...] der wir mit verschiedenen Gedankenkonstruktionen beizukommen versuchen."

[27] Cf. Janouch , Gustav: Gespräche mit Kafka, op. cit., p. 95: "Sie [die Tatsache] ist in uns. Vielleicht ist sie eben deshalb für uns unüberblickbar."

[28] Janouch , Gustav: Gespräche mit Kafka, op. cit., p. 75: "Die Kunst ist so wie das Gebet eine ins Dunkle ausgestreckte Hand, die etwas von der Gnade erfassen will, um sich in eine schenkende Hand zu verwandeln."

[29] Janouch , Gustav: Gespräche mit Kafka, op. cit., p. 157: "Die Kunst und das Gebet, das sind nur ins Dunkel ausgestreckte Hände. Man bettelt, um sich zu verschenken."

[30] Cf. Grözinger, Karl Erich: Kafka und die Kabbala. Das Jüdische im Werk und Denken von Franz Kafka. Frankfurt am Main: Eichborn Verlag, 1992. The following article is also worthwhile reading: Chiarini, Paolo: Franz Kafka und die "obere Wurzel". In: Franz Kafka und das Judentum. Herausgegeben von Karl Erich Grözinger, Stéphane Mosès und Hans Dieter Zimmermann. Frankfurt am Main: Jüdischer Verlag bei Athenäum, 1987.

[31] Cf. Janouch , Gustav: Gespräche mit Kafka, op. cit., p. 122

[32] Janouch , Gustav: Gespräche mit Kafka, op. cit., p. 225. The context of the passage in question runs: "Er war wirklich ein Christ und deshalb – besonders uns Juden sehr nah verwandt – bedeutsamer Grad- und Wertmesser der Menschlichkeit."

[33] Cf. Pawel, Ernst: Das Leben Franz Kafkas. Eine Biographie. Aus dem Amerikanischen von Michael Müller. Reinbeck bei Hamburg: Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, 1990, pp. 168-169.

[34] His impressions of these conferences are recorded in: Franz Kafka: Tagebücher. Band 1: 1909-1912. In der Fassung der Handschrift. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1994, pp. 27-29

[35] Cf. Franz Kafka: Tagebücher, op. cit., pp. 29-31

[36] Brod, Max: Über Franz Kafka, op. cit., p. 137: "Genau genommen war es etwa wie bei einem wilden afrikanischen Volksstamm. Krasser Aberglauben." Cf. the comments on this and related issues in: Pawel, Ernst: Das Leben Franz Kafka, op. cit., pp. 380-381

[37] Cf. Janouch , Gustav: Gespräche mit Kafka, op. cit., p.122: "Alle diese Yogis und Zauberer beherrschen das naturverhaftete Leben nicht durch glühende Liebe zur Freiheit, sondern durch einen unausgesprochenen, eisigen Haß des Lebens. Die Quelle der indischen Religionsübungen ist ein abgrundtiefer Pessimismus."

[38] Cf. Janouch , Gustav: Gespräche mit Kafka, op. cit., p. 207: "Ich habe mich – soweit das in der Übersetzung überhaupt möglich ist – ziemlich tief und lange mit dem Taoismus beschäftigt. Ich besitze fast alle Bände der deutschen Übersetzung dieser Richtung, die bei Diederichs in Jena herauskamen." The book titles in the German translation to which Kafka refers are: Kung-Futse: Gespräche; Dschung Yung: Die große Lehre von Maß und Mitte; Laotse: Das Buch des Alten vom Sinn und Leben; Liä Dsi: Das wahre Buch vom quellenden Urgrund; and Dschuang Dsi: Das wahre Buch vom südlichen Blütenland.

[39] Elias Canetti: Der andere Prozeß. Kafkas Briefe an Felice. München, Wien: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1984, p. 89: "Doch der einzige, seinem Wesen nach chinesische Dichter, den der Westen aufzuweisen hat, ist Kafka."

[40] Cf. Elias Canetti: Der andere Prozeß, op. cit., p. 89

[41] Cf. Elias Canetti: Der andere Prozeß, op. cit., p. 89. Kafka's text runs: "Zwei Möglichkeiten: sich unendlich klein machen oder es sein. Das zweite ist Vollendung, also Untätigkeit, das erste Beginn, also Tat." (Kafka, Franz: Gesammelte Werke. Herausgegeben von Max Brod. Taschenbuchausgabe in sieben Bänden. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1976. Vol. 6: Hochzeitsvorbereitungen auf dem Lande und andere Prosa aus dem Nachlaß, p. 38)

[42] Cf. Elias Canetti's assessment of Kafka's relevance in the context of literary history: "Unter allen Dichtern ist Kafka der größte Experte der Macht. Er hat sie in jedem ihrer Aspekte erlebt und gestaltet." (Canetti, Elias: Der andere Prozeß, op. cit., p. 76)

[43] Cf. Kafka, Franz: Gesammelte Werke, op. cit., Vol. 3: Das Schloß. Roman, p. 250: "Lückenlosigkeit"

[44] Kafka, Franz: Gesammelte Werke, op. cit., Vol. 2: Der Prozeß. Roman, p. 103: "Die Rangordnung und Steigerung des Gerichts sei unendlich und selbst für den Eingeweihten nicht absehbar."

[45] Kafka, Franz: Gesammelte Werke, op. cit., Vol. 5: Beschreibung eines Kampfes. Novellen, Skizzen, Aphorismen. Aus dem Nachlaß, p. 61: "Wenn man aus solchen Erscheinungen folgern wollte, daß wir im Grunde gar keinen Kaiser haben, wäre man von der Wahrheit nicht weit entfernt."

[46] Kafka, Franz: Gesammelte Werke, op. cit., Vol. 2: Der Prozeß. Roman, p. 180: "[...] das Urteil kommt nicht mit einem mal, das Verfahren geht allmählich ins Urteil über."

[47] Kafka, Franz: Gesammelte Werke, op. cit., Vol. 3: Das Schloß. Roman, p. 198: "Wir fürchteten nichts Kommendes, wir litten schon nur unter dem Gegenwärtigen, wir waren mitten in der Bestrafung darin."

[48] Kafka, Franz: Gesammelte Werke, op. cit., Vol. 6: Hochzeitsvorbereitungen auf dem Lande und andere Prosa aus dem Nachlaß, p. 32: "Das Negative zu tun, ist uns auferlegt; das Positive ist uns schon gegeben."

[49] Kafka, Franz: Gesammelte Werke, op. cit., Vol. 1: Amerika. Roman, p. 136: "der niedrigste und entbehrlichste Angestellte in der ungeheueren Stufenleiter der Dienerschaft [des] Hotels".

[50] Kafka, Franz: Gesammelte Werke, op. cit., Vol. 1: Amerika. Roman, p. 142: "Natürlich bedeutet ein Liftjunge gar nichts […]"

[51] Kafka, Franz: Gesammelte Werke, op. cit., Vol. 6: Hochzeitsvorbereitungen auf dem Lande und andere Prosa aus dem Nachlaß, p. 30: "keine Rückkehr mehr"

[52] Kafka, Franz: Gesammelte Werke, op. cit., Vol. 6: Hochzeitsvorbereitungen auf dem Lande und andere Prosa aus dem Nachlaß, p. 89: "Ich bin nicht von der allerdings schon schwer sinkenden Hand des Christentums ins Leben geführt worden wie Kierkegaard und habe nicht den letzten Zipfel des davonfliegenden jüdischen Gebetsmantels noch gefangen wie die Zionisten. Ich bin Ende oder Anfang."

[53] Flusser, Vilém: Jude sein. Essays, Briefe, Fiktionen. Herausgegeben von Stefan Bollmann und Edith Flusser. Mit einem Nachwort von David Flusser. Mannheim: Bollmann Verlag, 1995, p. 177: "Kafkas Botschaft trägt unser Denken in jene feine Schicht, die von Mystikern 'Unio mystica' genannt wird."

[54] Flusser, Vilém: Jude sein, op. cit., p. 177: "[…] Gott [ist] nichts als ein Reflex des eigenen Denkens auf der stillen und abgründigen Oberfläche des Nichts […]"

[55] Flusser, Vilém: Jude sein, op. cit., p. 178: "[…] Gott […] ist nichts anderes als eine fortschreitende Anhäufung menschlichen Nachdenkens über das Nichts."

[56] Flusser, Vilém: Die Schrift. Hat Schreiben Zukunft? Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1992, p. 49: "[…] das nominalistische Gefühl […] beginnt seit mindestens Kafka, sich in uns und um uns herum zu kondensieren."

[57] Flusser, Vilém: Jude sein, op. cit., p. 178: "[…] etwas ganz und gar lächerlich anderes wird artikuliert und gedacht, das im Leser Undenkbares und Unartikulierbares, im Widerspruch sozusagen, zum Leben erweckt."

[58] Gen. 28, 17

[59] Cf. Gen. 28, 12

[60] The case of Emmanuel Swedenborg was chosen to illustrate this issue because this paper was originally delivered in Bryn Athyn (Pennsylvania, U.S.A.), one of the spiritual and cultural centers of Swedenborg's "New Church". Needless to say that many other pertinent instances of a Christological interpretation of Genesis 28 (taken for example from the Rhenish or Spanish mystical traditions) could be mentioned here.

[61] Cf. Swedenborg, Emmanuel: Arcana Caelestia quae in SCRIPTURA SACRA seu VERBO DOMINI sunt detecta: nempe quae in GENESI ET EXODO UNA CUM MIRABILIBUS quae visa sunt in Mundo Spirituum et in Caelo angelorum. Editio tertia. Londonii: Swedenborg Society (Inc.), 1953, Tomus III, § 3697, p. 571

[62] Cf. Swedenborg, Emmanuel: Arcana Caelestia, op. cit., Tomus III, § 3704, p. 593

[63] John 17, 2

[64] Cf. Janouch, Gustav: Gespräche mit Kafka, op. cit., p. 156: "Das Wunder und die Gewalt, das sind nur die zwei Pole des Unglaubens. […] Beides ist falsch."

[65] Cf. in this context Kafka's expression: "verbrecherische[] Feuer- und Blutorgie" [criminal orgy of fire and blood]
( Janouch, Gustav: Gespräche mit Kafka, op. cit., p. 156)

[66] Kafka, Franz: Gesammelte Werke, op. cit., Vol. 2: Der Prozeß. Roman, p. 188: "Die Lüge wird zur Weltordnung gemacht."

[67] Kafka, Franz: Gesammelte Werke, op. cit., Vol. 6: Hochzeitsvorbereitungen auf dem Lande und andere Prosa aus dem Nachlaß, p. 38: "sich unendlich klein machen"

[68] Janouch, Gustav: Gespräche mit Kafka, op. cit., p. 210: "[...] Wahrheit [ist] nie und nirgends zugänglicher als im Augenblick des eigenen Lebens."


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