ALSO BY FRANZ KAFKA
Fiction
America
The Castle
Complete Short Stories
Metamorphosis and Other Stories
The Trial
Non-Fiction
The Diaries of Franz Kafka
Letters to Felice
Letters to Milena
THE ZÜRAU APHORISMS Franz Kafka With an Introduction and Afterword by Roberto Calasso TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN BY MICHAEL HOFMANN ROBERTO CALASSO’S COMMENTARY TRANSLATED FROM THE ITALIAN BY GEOFFREY BROCK
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Published by Harvill Secker 2006
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English translation of Franz Kafka’s text copyright © Michael Hofmann 2006
Introduction and afterword copyright © Roberto Calasso 2004
English translation of Roberto Calasso’s commentary
copyright © Geoffrey Brock 2006
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First published with the title Aforsmi di Zürau in 2004
by Adelphia Edizoni S.P.A., Milan
First published in Great Britain in 2006 by
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Contents
Marginalia
The Zürau Aphorisms
Veiled Splendor
Sources
Marginalia
Every morning, in Room 132 of Oxford’s New Bodleian Library, a severe room not unlike a classroom, I studied the manuscript of The Castle. I became accustomed to those schoolboy notebooks, those unlined pages. In the first notebook, the pages were covered from one edge to the other with minute, angular writing, sometimes in pencil. In the rest, the left-hand pages had been left blank, reserved for corrections, which, however, were quite rare. Every so often the title of a new chapter was indicated on the left-hand page, while on the right, at the same level, the text continued on without even starting a new line, the end of the chapter signaled only by a kind of slanted f.
One day I came to the folder containing the Zürau Aphorisms. The scenery had changed utterly. Loose pages – a hundred and three of them—in horizontal format, measuring 14.5 by 11.5 centimeters. The pages were very thin and pale yellow, obtained by quartering a number of sheets of stationery. All the fragments were numbered sequentially, in the upper-right corner, and they varied from single, brief sentences (such as 16, 23, 30, 44, 68, and 77) to blocks of a dozen sentences (such as 86 and 104). Max Brod published these texts for the first time in 1953, including them in the collection of posthumous writings, Preparations for a Country Wedding, and giving them a now-famous title: Reflections on Sin, Suffering, Hope and the True Way.
Kafka had never before devised this sort of layout and sequencing for one of his texts. And though he made no surviving reference, either direct or indirect, to the existence of these aphorisms, one can’t help but think that he meant to publish them in a form corresponding to the way he arranged them on those thin slips of paper—especially given the fact that nearly all the fragments were taken, occasionally with slight modifications, from two octavo notebooks he was writing in those months: it was as if they had been taken out of a certain form in order to be articulated in another. Eight aphorisms do not appear in either notebook; they were added by Kafka at a later time—possibly in 1920—and were demarcated from the aphorisms that preceded them by a quick stroke of the pen, a division maintained here. The conception of the manuscript calls attention to its unicum nature: the Zürau Aphorisms bear little resemblance to anything that came before, though there are hidden affinities (most clearly perhaps to Hebbel and Kierkegaard, the latter of whom Kafka was reading at that time). As for the term aphorisms, it must be understood here as a vague approximation, since these fragments don’t hew at all to the classical form of the aphorism—as we find it represented in Karl Kraus or in Nicolas Chamfort. Or rather: they hew to that form in a few cases (28, 62, 94, 100), but they stray far from it in many others. How can we define fragment 47, for example, if not as an apologue?
The more I studied those thin slips of paper and their connections with the notebooks and letters written in the Zürau months, the more strongly I felt that those texts, like shards of meteorites fallen in a barren land, should be read in exactly the form Kafka gave them. Strangely enough, although these fragments have been published and translated many times, no edition has taken this approach—a fact that convinced me to try it.
I later decided to append the final chapter from my book K., which examines not only these aphorisms but also Kafka’s entire sojourn in Zürau—and the significance it came to have in his life.
R.C.
Footnotes
Chapter 3
*Editor’s note: Asterisks indicate aphorisms that were crossed out by Kafka on his original onionskin sheets.
Chapter 26
*