Monday, 28 September 2009

Kafka in the park







i should tell you that one photograph in this series is, of course, supposed to stand for Kafka himself (though i think i will let you wonder which one :-)
and for those who are struggling to solve the puzzle (warning: no Kafka-on-the-beach innuendos, i don't like Murakami so that would be a completely false lead) i will just offer this achingly beautiful story, which has stayed with me ever since i read it for the first time:

It’s the last year of Kafka’s life, and he’s fallen in love with Dora Diamant, a young girl of nineteen or twenty who ran away from her Hasidic family in Poland and now lives in Berlin. He gets to Berlin in the fall of 1923 and dies the following spring, but those last months are probably the happiest months of his life.

Every afternoon, Kafka goes out for a walk in the park. More often than not, Dora goes with him. One day, they run into a little girl in tears, sobbing her heart out. Kafka asks her what’s wrong, and she tells him that she’s lost her doll. He immediately starts inveting a story to explain what happened. ‘Your doll has gone off on a trip,’ he says. ‘How do you know that?’ the girl asks. ‘Because she’s written me a letter,’ Kafka says. The girl seems suspicious. ‘Do you heave it on you?’ she asks. ‘No, I’m sorry,’ he says, ‘I left it at home by mistake, but I’ll bring it with me tomorrow.’

Kafka goes straight home to write the letter.

The next day, Kafka rushes back to the park with the letter. The little girl is waiting for him, and since she hasn’t learned how to read yet, he reads the letter out loud to her. The doll is very sorry, but she’s grown tired of living with the same people all the time. She needs to get out and see the world, to make new friends. It’s not that she doesn’t love the little girl, but she longs for a change of scenery, and therefore they must separate for a while. The doll then promises to write the girl every day and keep her abreast of her activities.

That’s where the story begins to break my heart. It’s astonishing enough that Kafka took the trouble to write the first letter, but now he commits himself to the project of writing the letter every day. He kept it up for three weeks. Three weeks. One of the most brilliant writers who ever lived sacrificing his time – his ever more precious and dwindling time – to composing imaginary letters from a lost doll. Dora says he wrote every sentence with excruciating attention to detail, that the prose was precise, funny, and absorbing. In other words, it was Kafka’s prose and every day for three weeks he went to the park and read another letter to the girl.

The doll grows up, goes to school, gets to know other people. She continues to assure the girl of her love, but she hints at certain complications in her life that make it impossible for her to return home. Little by little, Kafka is preparing the girl for the moment when the doll will vanish from her life forever. He finally decides to marry off the doll. He describes the young man she falls in love with, the engagement party, the wedding in the country, even the house where the doll and her husband now live. And then, in the last line, the doll bids farewell to her old and beloved friend.

By that point, of course, the girl no longer misses the doll. Kafka has given her something else instead, and by the time those three weeks are up, the letters have cured her of her unhappiness.

Paul Auster
from The Brooklyn Follies
(thanks pensum)


  1. for me kafka sucks .
    but this series of works is splendid .
    every single detail of every single one .

  2. i don't think kafka sucks but i'm a long way off from the 'most brilliant writer who ever lived'. that said i don't buy into the popular kafka as sufferer model either so this letter writing, if true, seems entirely in keeping with his character as i perceive it.

    and not that unusual. a couple of people i've known have done this, including me, but my favourite was a woman i knew in the islands who knitted dolls for her children when they were young. inevitably the dolls 'went away' so she started writing letters from them about how they'd got the ferry to the mainland. these letters got so popular with her kids that she started getting her friends to send them back from their holiday destinations. she kept this up on a more or less regular basis until they were in their teens and, although everyone knows and her kids are in their thirties now, the dolls still mnage to send some sort of communication at christmas. i can't say if her grand-kids are receiving this correspondence but i have to assume so.

    letter writing. it's great ; )

  3. oh yes, it's the tree bark that does it for me. we don;t have that!

  4. Genius gives from an endless Sea.

  5. Where to start - quarter past three in the morning, finding him in the park, only to return me, taking a seat upon the bank, being catapulted into 1999, when I had to write a essay upon him and his story called 'gib's auf', not really able, because I was drunk, at the time I was supposed to optain my A-level (Abitur), feeling dizzy right now, thank you for re-discovering this emotion, while carrying a letter from last Christmas with me, that I did not sent, allow me to drown a while into the last picture.

  6. I arrived here through a link on Jeff's blog "life is beautiful". Glad I did. Your photos are just wonderful and I enjoyed reading the story too.
    Interesting comment Swiss makes !

  7. This is one of your very best posts, roxana. Story and photos. But how did the doll end up in your company? Are we to assume that the marriage didn't work out and that she is still looking for her old friend?

  8. Au-delà de l'intelligible, n'a rien de ce qui appartient au sens.Notre connaissance ni la connaissance d'autres être. The park n'est ni ténèbres, ni lumière, ni erreur, ni vérité, car toute affirmation reste en deçà de la transcendance de celui qui est simplement dépouillé de tout et qui se situe au-delà de tout l'autre.

  9. Very clever and amusing, but I have to confess that I looked at the images just as images (Sorry!) and I was quite bowled over by the last one and the park bench. I don't know why, but I was.

  10. The lamp, with a white porcelain base, and a large shade of dun canvas, shone on the petite library, on the mirrored Brazilian tile, on the green caressing leather couch, and on the oblong jet-black Japanese table.

    Someone approaches the glass prison and opens the doors: a musty smell circulates among the shelves in a torrent, and, among the books, a philatelist's paradise, the heliotrope cover of Metamorphosis, a passion play of suffering and forbearance.

    And, together with hermetic screenplays and other poorly bound books, The Producers, the tale of Bialystock and Bloom, rejecting Gregor Samsa's travails as - too good.

    I am anxious to learn which tableau is your Kafka. Perhaps it will surprise me (perhaps not).

  11. Poignant story of loss and grieving smoothed over slowly by reason and warmth and love, all the more so that he already had knowledge that he had not long to live, although perhaps he did not know just how long might be left to him. How terrible the war years in Europe, where food was scarce and tuberculosis rampant. Erich Maria Remarque wrote with heartbreaking beauty of a young woman dying of tuberculosis in "Drei Kamaraden"... in that period after the war.

    Are the letters that he wrote to the girl published somewhere? They must be wonderful reading. And today, would he have sent her e-mails? Letters with ink and perfume and tears and stamps, from one person to another, with no gargantuan worldwide computer memory involved, how I miss them...

    PS And not a cockroach to be seen anywhere...

    PPS I think he is sitting on the bench...

  12. C'est une très belle histoire, merci de nous la faire partager.
    Et encore bravo pour ton blog.

  13. very moving piece. but tell me, why don't you like Murakami - i'd have thought his imagery and the precise of the brushstrokes he in which he paints his characters would appeal to you (besides the japanese angle of course ;-P)?
    Also, more importantly, if this Kafka in the Park were a play (probably written by Tagore, who has the required sense of innocence and little of the cynicism of the european masters), whose role would roxana play? the girl or the imaginery doll?

    I am sorry for the questions, but the professor in the wise man of the east finishing school told me I've to ask a lot of seemingly profound and actually pointless questions (also keep a long white beard and a gnarled staff) to fit the bill...

  14. This is a lovely story. And your photos are wonderful. Perfectly matched.

  15. Fetita nu rataceste prin Romanescu,nu?
    Si nici tu nu o faci,sau poate ma insel..

  16. toute cette créativité me trouve sans mots.... amazing!

  17. you know, I've seen that doll before--in one of your earlier posts, I mean. Beginning to wonder if she really did escape from the little girl!

  18. almost lips,almost roses,aproape inapoi in pantecul edenului urban.
    Sa asculti Ordo rosarius equilibrio.
    Daca nu erau mere nu erau oameni,si fara trandafiri am fi defrisat edenul in scobitori,sa avem cu ce sa scobim cariile Taxidermului in cautare de coaste noi,inoxidabile.

  19. If this story works as a model for some kind of psychotherapy, then obviously it would be rejected in certain circles, for unconditional regard for the feelings of another is the mainstay of humanistic client centred therapies. kafka was trying o breech her loss? but the beginning is based on a lie?

    in children's therapy, i am told, such a therapeutic alliance would not be allowed, for you are sure the loss will not be restored.

    but Kafka was only strolling in the park, the girl met him by chance? maybe she was lying? maybe she knew he was kafka? wanted to test the great writer? after each letter, maybe she just had a laugh.

  20. Il est vrai que cette histoire est étonnante si on en fait la lecture telle quelle !...
    L'histoire d'un monsieur qui rencontre une petite fille qui a perdu sa poupée au parc et qui, pour la consoler, lui invente l'histoire que tu viens de nous raconter Roxana...
    Il faut savoir que Kafa était issu d'une famille du côté de son père, très humble pour ne pas dire pauvre. Franz Kafka a deux frères et trois soeurs, soeurs qui seront victimes de la connerie nazi durant la seconde guerre mondiale...
    Un autre conflit s'est engagé avec son père, lequel père avait de nombreuses ambitions pour son fils... Franz a souffert toute sa vie de ne pas être le digne fils de ce père qui avait réussi alors une ascencion sociale remarquable...
    Et vient cette histoire qui vient illustrer parfaitement cette quête éperdue d'un amour paternel point satisfait !
    Une petite fille qui a perdu sa poupée est, à mon sens, terrible pour Kafka... Il doit être inconcevable pour lui, à ce moment précis où il vit avec une jeune femme, qu'une poupée puisse rendre aussi malheureuse une enfant !
    C'est alors qu'il décide d'inventer cette histoire, peut-être pas pour cette petite fille, mais pour sauver le petit garçon qui a perdu ses soeurs et n'a pas sû satisfaire les désirs de son père...
    La réparation est une sorte d'échappatoire dans laquelle Kafka invente un personnage imaginaire pour le sauver lui d'une perte symbolisée par cette petite fille ayant perdu sa poupée...
    Mais... au fait... je disais quoi ? ! ?...
    Peu importe... La poésie fait aussi partie de la vie et inversément !...

    Bises Roxana...:-)

  21. the last photo - that's where he is, in the story, stories, as they flow like the water of life, making us who we are

  22. thank you, dear one, dark S.

    Caio, hi - i am curious as to why you reject Kafka so brutally, but before asking this question, i'll just silently enjoy your praise, it was so unexpected and means a lot to me, especially coming from a painter like you.

    and again questions for swiss, of course i would like to know how you perceive his charachter - that's funny, i have never thought i would spark a Kafka-debate with this small post :-)
    while i agree that this might be not that unusual, i think here the focus is not on merely "writing letters" to a child to aliviate loss, but on the fact that the ill Kafka wrote them with the same painstaking attention as if they were his stories, in fact that he didn't make any difference between them and his writing. this has blown me away, yet, to use your words, it is entirely in keeping with him as i perceive him.

    i'd like to hear your letter-writing story! (yes, letters! :-)

    ps. haha, it's not tree bark, take another guess :-P (i have that as well, but what do you mean, there is not such tree bark in Scotland?)

  23. dear merc, you make me blush :-)

    Robert, i can't even concentrate on answering here, i am still shocked by what happened, i can only say how grateful i am for your presence here (but you know that, don't you) - and plese, come back soon! i will be waiting, as all the others, i am sure...

    Nathalie, thank you so much for your visit and kind words of appreciation!

    Tree, i can imagine you doing the same, you know?

    b, this is such a sweet thing to say, it's dangerous to make me go into such tender moods, i'm way too sentimental as it is :-) quick, say something annoying so that i recover my irony :-)
    (i know you know that doll - i thought you forgot about it, though)

  24. the tale is a beautiful "hall of mirrors" and i don't know which is the central "voice" of a character filling the void in another... and i love that, dazzles me (maybe privately).

    The photos on their own, to juxtapose the girl in a hat with that doll, the hair so alive, ropes of longing, the tendrils; and then the girl again in her sensual gesture, the bunny shoe, small tender crushed beneath her next step--what poetry!!!

    thank you.

  25. Szia,

    Nagyon jók az oldalaid, és a képek.

    Üdv. T.

  26. Thank you for the beautiful pictures and the story. I love the empty park bench, with its intimations of night and loss, and the cheerful bunny slippers....

    I can't believe the story is only about Kafka and the girl. Surely, he is also writing for Dora, maybe even writing primarily for Dora ... his lover who is also facing an imminent loss in the person of K himself? The picture that represents K is --- whether you meant it or not :-) --- the doll --- the one who has gone or is going away, the one whose life from now on must be imagined, the one who leaves behind the stories with whatever power of healing they might have....

  27. Simply. Beautiful.
    Are these reticulated, or on grainy paper? I love the quality of the B&W so very, very much! -Jayne

  28. Allan, je ne sais pas comment tu as réussi d’écrire un commentaire parfaitment zen pour un sujet ayant trait à Kafka, mais tu l’as fait, et tout ce que je peux dire est que je suis parfaitement d’accord avec toi. Merci, de tout coeur, pour ton regard toujours aussi profond que d’habitude...

    Dave, why on earth would you be sorry for looking at the pictures as "just pictures"? :-) i am happy those two spoke to you in such an intense manner...

    Prospero, you who keeps all the mysteries to yourself, expect me to reveal mine so easily? :-P
    (but instead... i have something for you, just wait a little)

  29. Owen, i really don't know more about this story than what is mentioned there - i would love to know these answers as well...
    (i don't think i have ever taken a picture of a cockroach :-)

    and yes, i totally relate to what you say about letter writing, yet i still get such letters (oh lucky me :-) not many, but still - funny, we've just talked about the loss of this old and wonderful habit here, maybe you would like to take a look:

    K'line, tu es si gentille!!! (et la photo que tu utilises pour ton profile, j'adore :-)
    merci et bises!

    Jeff, je te réponds immédiatement après K’line, c’est grâce à toi que nous avons fait connaissance :-)
    Mais non, tu as parfaitement raison de raconter tout cela, il ne faut pas l’oublier – d’ailleurs Kafka fait partie de ces auteurs qui ont toujours fasciné par leur biographie et il y a des nombreuses études qui essaient d'interpréter ses oeuvres à partir de tels détails que tu viens de mentionner. Tu as peut-être raison et Kafka avait assumé dans cette histoire, inconsciemment, le rôle du père qu’il aurait voulu être, tiraillé comme il était entre son désir de fonder une famille et l’horreur qu’il éprouvait devant la vie bourgeoise... il y aurait tant de choses à discuter... en tout cas, merci de nous aovir fait part de tes réflexions, ce dialogue est ce qu’il y a de plus intéressant, je trouve –
    Grosses bises ! :-)

  30. Zuma, may i see the long white beard first and the glow of wisdom in your dark eyes and _then_ answering your questions? :-P

    see, trying to avoid them, the second one especially so - the first one is easier, i will just say that to me he is something like the pop version of solid japanese literature (and i don't like pop!), a bit of postmodern spice, too much effort to write exactly what is expected to bring huge public success - yet a careful mixture, i agree, keeping enough of the japanese style to fascinate. but it is just my taste, i am probably too olf-fashioned for him :-)

    now the second one, hmmm - may i see that beard first?!!! :-P

    Dirty Hope, i am so glad to have you visiting... thank you...

    nu ştiam că pot să modific asta (trebuie să învăţ să spun username-ul tău fără să mă pufnească râsul :-), e drept că fetiţa asta nu rătăceşte prin Romanescu, dar eu o mai fac, din când în cand. uite asta este chiar de acolo, toamna trecută:

    cât despre secrete, ai mare dreptate, da :-)
    şi o să ascult şi muzica aceea, după titlul care m-a captivat mă aştept la minunăţii întunecate. o sa revin cu asta, să-ţi spun.

    Line :-)
    merci de tout coeur

  31. Kubla, i have to say that i cannot answer the very interesting points you raise about children therapy, because i have absolutely no idea about such methods. have you worked in this field, or do you have friends who do it? i would really like to know more about that, it is a surprise to me that you say "it isn't allowed", i would have thought that, especially for a child who forgets things more easily than an adult, this method wouldn't be seen as "based on a lie".

    as for the hypothetical situation you present here, about the mischiveous girl secretely laughing about Kafka, i think it could make the topic of some interesting and sarcastic contemporary novel :-) (yes, a bit of postmodernism, unavoidable in this case)...
    it is impossible that such a thing happened, though, because Kafka was not "Kafka" back then, he wasn't famous at all so the girl couldn't have recognized him, i'm sure of that.

    ah, m, eram sigură :-)
    (mai multe nu spun)

    mansuetude, as always i am amazed at how your gaze and intuition function, every word you say is filled with poetry and truth - and you infuse my images with them as well, and for that i am immensly grateful...

  32. tesztfoto,


    (i am sorry i cannot say more in Hungarian)

    James, my dear James - what a troubling and challenging shift of perspective you bring - he is writing for Dora as well... i think the poets know this better, you know it, Merc knows it as well... so we'll just have to believe you,i think :-)

    and it is so fascinating for me that i got so many different answers to my implied "question", we've got the bench, the doll and the abstract flow as possible "solutions" - by now it doesn't matter any longer which picture i intended myself - because everybody here imagines her or his story, and they are all meaningful...

    merc, i know.

    Jayne, hello!!!
    i have to confess i don't understand "reticulated" in this context...?
    yes, i am in love with such textures myself, i tend to make very grainy pictures and some people don't find that appealing, they say i exagerate - but i can't help it :-)

  33. your "photos for a lost doll" make up for much that has been lost (perhaps even for childhood lost)

    (something i'll need to ponder for a longer while still: your photos' startling capability to 'imagine stories'. -- & it's not simply that they have a cinematographic quality))

  34. ffflaneur, has a more touching thing ever been said about my pictures? they could perhaps make up for childhood lost...

    and no, this must really be some conspiracy going on here on the Bridge to make me try my hand at video :-) telling stories hmmm - i have been thinking about writing a novel for some time now - i haven't given up that idea, although... but that would really become a huge story, so i'd better stop here :-)

    thank you, thank you.