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IlanaSimons
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Week 90: Franz Kafka Was Stingy with Self

[ Edited ]

Getting good at one thing can mean cutting down on the variety of things you do.  If you spend time building an identity, career, or personality, you're likely to bury other selves you might have been.   

 

Franz Kafka was a great historical example of this narrowing of identity.  “My life is determined by nothing but the ups and downs of my writing,” he wrote to a girlfriend in 1912.  “My [need to write] has thrust all other matters into the background,” he wrote in his diary in 1914, “[and] nothing [but writing] will ever satisfy me.”  Letter in 1912: “I once drew up a detailed list of the things I have sacrificed to writing, as well as the things which were taken from me for the sake of writing, [and I saw] there is nothing to me which, in relation to writing, one could call superfluous, superfluous in the sense of overflowing.”  He had a singular life goal and cut off the overflow.

 

 

Kafka kept a tight schedule, rising to work as an office clerk from about 8 am to 4 pm, performing “ten minutes of exercises, naked at the open window” on his arrival home, walking for one hour, quickly dining with mom and dad (to maintain a quiet writing space, he lived with them into his 30’s), and then writing at his desk from 11 pm to 6 am.  He was an ever-tired office worker with a singular and well-defined life goal.  “The tremendous world I have in my head,” he wrote in his diary in 1913.  “[To record it on paper], indeed, is why I am here, that is quite clear to me.” 

 

So…it is almost hysterically funny when, in Kafka’s diaries, you see an entry that feels so unlike him, penciled in on January 28, 1922.  “A little dizzy, tired from the tobogganing,” it begins.  That line feels almost slapstick: It’s hard to imagine this pale, bone-thin guy (“I am thin…the thinnest person I know” he wrote in 1912; and he was now suffering from tuberculosis which would kill him within 2 years) tumbling down an icy hill on a wooden board.

 

Kafka admits it’s crazy in the in the next phrase of the entry: “[So, I guess] weapons still exist for me, however seldom I may employ them.”  He means that the spontaneity of tobogganing is a “weapon” which can punch a hole in his tightly proscribed identity.  “It is so hard for me to lay hold of [spontaneity] because I am ignorant of the joys of [its] use, never learned how when I was a child.”  He says he’s a rigid person largely because his father was too disciplinarian.  But in the next sentence, he blames himself, too.  “It is not only ‘Father’s Fault’…but also my [not] wanting to disturb the ‘peace.’”  He doesn’t want to let go of the “Kafka” he is.  He writes he does not want “to upset the balance, and for this reason I could not allow a new person to be born elsewhere while I was bending ever effort to bury him here.”

 

I know what it means to “bury” one side of personality to let another live.  There is a sense of safety we get from supporting one identity and burying alternative selves.  Kafka did not want to “disturb the ‘peace’” of the loner-writer personality he’d become.  It can, of course, feel like a disturbance to keep various selves afloat.  A greater need for security can mean a greater need for some sort of routine or discipline. A “mother” decides to be a “mother,” and then it’s hard to also keep a day job.  A “teacher” decides to be a “teacher,” and then it’s hard to move from one job in New York to a radically new opportunity in Africa.  Kafka buried old selves by writing every night, nearly until sunrise, and he needed to do that to keep some track on sanity.

 

 

I wonder if you have any similar (if less maniacal) tendencies: to hold onto some habit that enhances security while it buries alternatives.  Our diets, hobbies, and other rituals can keep us feeling safe and even radically productive while they narrow spontaneity in our lives.

 

 

p.s.: Also check out my new Psychology Today blog, here.

but please also stay here at B&N.  This is where the action is.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 03-18-2009 12:09 AM



Ilana
Check out my book, here and visit my website, here.


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Everyman
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Re: Week 90: Franz Kafka Was Stingy with Self

Getting good at one thing can mean cutting down on the variety of things you do.

 

I'm sorry if this is too personal, Ilana, but as soon as I read that my instant reaction was "Egad, look who's talking."   Even before you took on your latest blog activity you have always seemed to me to be the epitome of one who had a huge number of irons in the fire, and it amazed me that you could take on another role and do them all so well.  I get dizzy just thinking of all the things you do. 

 

In fact, I get so tired from thinking about it that I need to go rest. 

 

But I won't do it naked in front of the window!  :smileyhappy:

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IlanaSimons
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Re: Week 90: Franz Kafka Was Stingy with Self

Wow, I guess I just wanna say a big thank you, from an overtired soul who's up way too late to post.

 

Go ahead and do calisthenics naked in the window.

 

We only got one life, after all.

 


Everyman wrote:

Getting good at one thing can mean cutting down on the variety of things you do.

 

I'm sorry if this is too personal, Ilana, but as soon as I read that my instant reaction was "Egad, look who's talking."   Even before you took on your latest blog activity you have always seemed to me to be the epitome of one who had a huge number of irons in the fire, and it amazed me that you could take on another role and do them all so well.  I get dizzy just thinking of all the things you do. 

 

In fact, I get so tired from thinking about it that I need to go rest. 

 

But I won't do it naked in front of the window!  :smileyhappy:


 




Ilana
Check out my book, here and visit my website, here.


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Lapin
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Re: Week 90: Franz Kafka Was Stingy with Self

hey Ilana! Nice blog. 

 

I run into this idea a lot so I can empathize with Kafka.  Some people thrive on a sense of conviction that does not allow for alternatives.  Otherwise they never achieve any momentum.   I reckon it is a personality type that is overwhelmed at, rather than inspired by, the multitude of opportunities and identities that one could potentially take on.  So when the "choice" is made, there is a fear of the skepticism that could send one tumbling back into complete bewilderment.  One has to overcompensate to avoid this, and Kafka certainly did, at times making his dedication to writing seem like divine sacrifice which damned him and saved him all at once.  I think that without this extreme sense of conviction he would have felt quite lost, especially taking into account the ambivalence and self-doubt we've encountered in reading his letters/journals.  (I find this to be a sort of existential situation as well.  So many existential writers have embodied the same kind of vicious conviction.  When the world around you is devoid of inherent meaning, there is essentially two options: give up or create your own meaning and throw everything you've got behind it.)

 

 

Lindsay 

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IlanaSimons
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Re: Week 90: Franz Kafka Was Stingy with Self

[ Edited ]

Hey Lindsay!

Thanks for writing such a thoughtful response.  You're right: He felt lost without his one, self-determined purpose.  He threw himself in, with big fears.  I like how you call it his existential crunch.

 

(I was just reading the letter he sent to Felice's parents after he dumped her:

 

"I have [defined myself as a writer] unswervingly until my 30th year, and the moment I abandon it, I shall cease to live.  Everything I am, and am not, is a result of this.  ...It is the earthly reflection of a higher necessity….  I live within my family [but speak] hardly twenty words a day to my mother [and] little more than a daily greeting with my father.  To my married sisters…I do not speak at all, although I have nothing against them.  I lack all sense of [social] life.”

 

poor, amazing guy.)

 

 


Lapin wrote:

hey Ilana! Nice blog. 

 

I run into this idea a lot so I can empathize with Kafka.  Some people thrive on a sense of conviction that does not allow for alternatives.  Otherwise they never achieve any momentum.   I reckon it is a personality type that is overwhelmed at, rather than inspired by, the multitude of opportunities and identities that one could potentially take on.  So when the "choice" is made, there is a fear of the skepticism that could send one tumbling back into complete bewilderment.  One has to overcompensate to avoid this, and Kafka certainly did, at times making his dedication to writing seem like divine sacrifice which damned him and saved him all at once.  I think that without this extreme sense of conviction he would have felt quite lost, especially taking into account the ambivalence and self-doubt we've encountered in reading his letters/journals.  (I find this to be a sort of existential situation as well.  So many existential writers have embodied the same kind of vicious conviction.  When the world around you is devoid of inherent meaning, there is essentially two options: give up or create your own meaning and throw everything you've got behind it.)

 

 

Lindsay 


 

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 03-18-2009 10:48 AM



Ilana
Check out my book, here and visit my website, here.