Is That Kafka? 99 Finds by Reiner Stach

Tank _summer 16_books _71

Translated by Kurt Beals 
Hardback, 352 pages
Publisher: New Directions (March 2016)
ISBN: 9780811221238
Languages: English, German
Selected by Barbara Epler

“Here we have a bonbon box of amazing facts about Kafka: 99 of them, highly illustrated, and all culled from the massive research that went into Stach’s landmark three-volume biography. The last of these will be published in the USA this autumn, for brave readers ready for an 1,800-page masterpiece of the art of biography. Those of us with less time can enjoy this romp, which clocks in at about 350 pages.” —Barbara Epler

Tank _summer 16_books _72Edward John Gregory1, Boulter’s Lock, Sunday Afternoon, 1882-97

He reflects on a picture that showed a summer Sunday on the Thames. A long stretch of river was filled from one bank to the other with boats waiting for the lock to open. In all the boats were happy young people in light, bright-coloured clothing, reclining, surrendering to the warm air and the cool water. And, having so much in common, they did not confine their conviviality to their own individual boats, but shared their jokes and laughter from boat to boat.

Now he imagined that he himself was standing on the grassy banks – the banks were barely visible in the picture, the gathering of boats dominated everything. He observed the festivities, they weren’t festivities exactly, but you could call them that. Of course he would have loved to take part, he was practically grasping at it, but he had to tell himself in all honesty that he was closed off from their festivities – it was impossible for him to insinuate himself there, it would have required so much preparation that not only this one Sunday, but many years, and he himself would have passed on, even if the time had been willing to stand still here, no other outcome would have been possible, his whole genealogy, his upbringing, his physical training would have had to go so differently.

So that was how far he was from those holidaymakers, but at the same time he was very close, and that was even harder to grasp. After all, they were people like him, nothing human could be fully alien to them, and if you were to search their minds you would have to find that the same feeling that dominated him and excluded him from their boating trip was present in them as well, except that it did not come close to dominating them, but only lurked in some dark corners. 

[1] Edward John Gregory, 1850-1909, was a painter in oils and watercolours. He was elected a Royal Academician following the exhibition of his most celebrated picture, Boulter’s Lock, Sunday Afternoon. The work coincided with a contemporary craze for boating.