Thursday, March 10, 2005

Kafka dicks: on people with their subtexts around their ankles

This subject has provoked me before. In this week's TLS Michael Maar reviews - somewhat late - the latest biography of Kafka by Nicholas Murray. Maar presents many hints that Kafka was a repressed homosexual. This is a very familiar theme. It won’t go away. This is due partly to the infinite number of subtexts one can read into Kafka’s work, and partly because we want simple answers to the most complex issues.

In fact, it seems more promising to make out a case for Kafka’s ‘secret’ being an attraction to very young women. Read his diaries (page 466 onward) for his trip to Weimar with Max Brod in which Kafka’s becomes pathetically infatuated with Grete Kirchner, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the custodian of Goethe’s wohnhaus. Kafka celebrated his twenty-ninth birthday in the city. He wrote The Judgement soon after returning to Prague after Grete used a dead bat on all his advances. The secret inspiration of that story is usually construed as homosexuality due to Georg Bendemann’s ambivalence about telling his fiancée about his 'friend in Russia' (he said 'bende’, heh heh). This corresponds with Kafka’s new relationship with Felice Bauer, to whom he was not physically attracted. Yet one could say it was a classic on-the-rebound relationship, with Kafka’s real heart being elsewhere in an impossible love for Grete ('If a person could only pour sorrow out of the window').

Moreover, what's the name of Gregor's sister in Metamorphosis with whom there is an undercurrent of incestuous love?

Alan Bennett’s comedy play takes the prurience one step further of course. It makes affectionate fun of the reductionism of small-minded people as well as appealing to them. Bennett’s work has always done this. In that other blog entry, I mention Bennett’s wonderful remark when asked to admit that he is gay ('like asking a man in the desert which brand of mineral water he preferred'). Evidently he felt it was a question that avoided more pressing matters, which is much the same as I feel about the question of Kafka’s sexuality.

(Coincidentally, I was at an event on Sunday night in which Bennett was present with his ‘partner’ – a younger man. They both seemed very happy. I suspect the people who drone on that Kafka was a closet gay are not so comfortable with themselves and need to bring others down to their level. Either that or they're very bad readers.)

As everyone who promotes this knowing reading (the other post quotes one or two) has to admit, as Maar says: 'there is no corroborating document like Kleist’s letter to Pfuel.' He goes on:

Matters are in any case more complicated with Kafka, and his happy life with Dora Diamant in the year before he died seems to [indicate] a happiness of whose private circumstances, however, posterity knows next to nothing.

Except we now know more than nothing from Kathi Diamant’s very moving book about Dora: Kafka’s Last Love. This might not include anything about whether Franz preferred Dora’s, er, posterity, but one doesn’t read about Kafka for hardcore titillation (unless you're very sad).

Finally, and on an encouraging note for Kafka fans without any German, Maar tells us that the first volume of Reiner Stach’s massive biography Kafka: the Decisive Years is being published in translation later this year (did he become less decisive later then?).

The book ‘recently created a furore in Germany’ and has 672 pages. The longer the better I say, which I’m sure Bennett’s Kafka would endorse.

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