Diaries : Kafka’s intense classic still holds true for readers

Although not a new text, Franz Kafka’s Diaries is one my favorite works and still commands respect among some of the most talked about literary works. Kafka is one of my favorite authors as I especially enjoy his texts The Trial and The Metamorphosis. One aspect I notice about Diaries is it is often listed on must read lists. For example, Diaries is listed in both 501 Must Read Books and 1001 Must Read Books.

Ultimately the question becomes, “What is the key to Diaries continued success? There are many possible reasons critics and audiences still love Kafka’s work, especially his text detailing his day to day life and activities.

The first explanation to the enduring popularity of the text is the time period which the work covers. Diaries covers Kafka’s life and travels from 1910-1923, stopping the year before Kafka’s death at the age of 40. Looking broadly at this time period, we see expansion and growth as well as war and destruction. Kafka lived in Prague, Czech Republic but he often traveled to France as well as closer neighboring countries such as Germany and Austria. During this time World War I both begins and ends, Prague’s population booms among other global events; thus Kafka found himself in the middle of warring countries and expansion.

Given the geographic location of the Czech Republic and Kafka’s love of travel, Kafka was uniquely able to comment on globally and historically significant events. Kafka offers this commentary in varying ways. Often, he flat out states what is occurring at the time. However, in candidly stating events, Kafka is able to intertwine these events into his everyday life. He speaks of his feelings for his family and the woman who he is to marry, all while reflecting on life during this time. Kafka’s emotions are ultimately reflective of life during this turbulent time.

A second reason Diaries is such a beloved work: emotions. Many of Kafka’s works were left unfinished at the time of his death.  In fact, more than once throughout the text, Kafka asks acquaintance, Max Brod to burn his manuscripts and “to set fire” to his diaries. Thankfully, Brod of course does not listen to Kafka and he publishes Kafka’s works. If it were up to Kafka, the world would have never heard of him or his literary masterpieces.

In studying Kafka, one finds he is insecure and conflicted about his life and work. Diaries showcase his insecurities and the emptiness he sees in himself which he cannot seem to fill. Kafka’s writing often reflects this sentiment. There are gaps and holes which are left open in the text. Readers must fill these gaps with their own symbolic meaning. However, as Diaries reveals, if Kafka felt a draft was not up to par, he would simply stop. He would make several drafts in an attempt to revise or he would put off finishing a work. Thus many manuscripts were discovered unfinished upon his death.  The amazing aspect of Diaries is with its gaps and emptiness it is still filled with poignant ideas and genius literary composition. In what has become a metaphor for his life, Kafka was unaware of how rich and intelligent his texts were.

Finally, when discussing Kafka’s writing, this article would not be complete without what I would consider the highlight of Diaries: Kafka’s own view of the craft of writing. Writing is one of the most mentioned ideas in this text. Kafka speaks of recording dreams and trying to write when he is uninspired. I have frequently heard fellow authors state, “if they only wrote when they were inspired they would almost never write.” Kafka echoes these same sentiments. He speaks of ideas flowing freely and the joy he feels from writing but he also speaks of the times when writing feels like a job or a chore.

Toward the end of the text Kafka informs the reader, “The strange, mysterious, perhaps dangerous, perhaps saving comfort that there is in writing.” This is one of the most poetic ways to describe writing. Kafka’s works, themselves including Diaries, are “strange,” “mysterious,” “dangerous,” and at times “comforting.” Kafka is able to seamlessly combine every element which makes a writer and writing in general an expression of self.

As the reader closes the text, they will notice the back cover reads, Diaries offers “an account of life of almost unbearable intensity.” Ultimately, this intense view of life is the very reason this classic text is still beloved.