‘The Last Days of Franz Kafka’

Franz Kafka. Etching by Jan Hladik (1978)

Sam Kinchin-Smith in the LRB Blog: The coincidence of the centenary of Kafka’s death, on 3 June, and the publication of the first complete, uncensored English translation of his diaries a month before, is less straightforward than it seems. There are more obvious texts through which to tell the story of his last days. Kafka’s final diary entry was written on 12 June 1923, almost a year before he died. Over the next eleven months, he wrote a lot of letters and a few stories, including one really substantial one, ‘Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk’. After he had been urged not to speak during the final stages of the tuberculosis that killed him, he communicated with Dora Diamant and his doctor, Robert Klopstock, by writing ‘conversation slips’ (the translation is Richard and Clara Winston’s):

Do you have a moment? Then please lightly spray the peonies.

A bird was in the room.

A lake doesn’t flow into anything, you know.

Tremendous amount of sputum, easily, and still pain in the morning. In my daze it went through my head that for such quantities and the ease somehow the Nobel Prize.

(Of which Alan Bennett wrote in the LRB: ‘Nothing if not sick, it is a joke that could have been made yesterday.’)

Put your hand on my forehead for a moment to give me courage.

Every limb as tired as a person.

‘The Last Days of Franz Kafka’, a performance at the Hay Festival on Saturday, 1 June (to be repeated, we hope, in London later in the summer), includes readings from the new translation, by Ross Benjamin, of Kafka’s diaries, as well as writing about Kafka from the LRB archive, with music from Max Richter’s album The Blue Notebooks (which takes its title from the notebooks in which Kafka wrote the Zürau aphorisms, among other things).

More here.

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