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Posts Tagged ‘Zadie Smith’

Two Essays on Kakfa

In 20th c. Literature on January 6, 2009 at 5:50 pm

Matthew Thomas, Kyoto

This post discusses two essays on Kafka, a decade apart. The first, from the recently departedkafka4 David Foster Wallace is called “Laughing With Kafka,” and appeared in Harper’s from 1998; the second, “F. Kafka, Everyman,” comes from Zadie Smith in the New York Review of Books, written in the fall of 2008.

One of the striking things about Kafka is the degree to which people are interested in the way he lived his life; his relationship with Felice, for instance, has attracted about as much attention as the love life of deceased author can. Smith reviews Louis Begley‘s biography of Kafka, “The Tremendous World I Have Inside My Head: Franz Kakfa: A Biographical Essay,” from which we learn that in many respects Kafka was more normal than he has sometimes been cast; he kept a 9-5 job (actually 8:30-2:30, but more on that later), worked hard, lived with his parents, liked swimming. Kafka was not a very prolific writer, but this is perhaps because he kept a full time job throughout his life, an insurance job that was surely more prosaic than it is presented in Steven Soderberg’s overlooked Kafka, in which Kafka is shadowed at the office by two malevolent and miniature “assistants.” Smith says that his writing day was oddly organized–work from 8:30 to 2:30, nap, dinner, and writing from around 11 until late. We learn that Felice tried to rationalize his schedule, but that this approach worked best for him. As a would-be writer with a full-time job myself, I find nothing strange about this schedule–in fact the late nights here seem seems like a perfectly rational solution to the problem of carving out a block in time to devote to work. Continue Reading

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