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Monday, December 1, 2014

Franz Kafka: An Imperial Message







"Our land is so huge that no fairy tale can adequately deal with its size. Heaven hardly covers it all."


The photo: Chinesische Mauer by Bjoern Kriewald in public domain according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chinesische-mauer.jpg

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Kafka's greatest and most explicit parable is about the Emperor of China. From his deathbed he is sending a personal message to you. You are his subject. --
Kafka explains why it will take infinitely long for this message to reach you :
"The Emperor—so they say—has sent a message, directly from his death bed, to you alone, his pathetic subject, [......]. He ordered the herald to kneel down beside his death bed and whispered the message to him........and had the herald repeat it back to him. He confirmed the accuracy of the verbal message......... -- But you sit at your window and  dream it up for yourself  when evening comes."

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An Imperial Message  
complete in English




The translation is from the website of Ian Johnston . Ian Johnston gives most of his work to the  public domain to be used without charge and without permission, provided the source is acknowledged.

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Chinese Wall by gnu published at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chinese_Wall.JPG under the CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


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The Imperial Message is a short parable included in the longer story of The Great Wall of China  available at
https://records.viu.ca/~Johnstoi/kafka/greatwallofchina.htm


Kafka had the idea to investigate why and how the Great Wall was originally meant as a foundation for the Tower of Babel. --  He had a doctorate in law and worked as an insurance lawyer, and in some of his texts that shows :-) -- as for instance in the following reflection:

"In fact, not only can such a wall not protect, but the structure itself is in constant danger. "

Remember in that regard Kafka's story of the mole that dug underground to create a really safe  place for himself ? He used all his strength in the construction. Exhausted when it was (nearly) complete, he reasoned that to feel really, really safe he had better not go inside at all, but watch it from the outside. -- 
The complete text is at http://pastebin.com/9rNJecsG. --  Copyright ?

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Kafka’s ultimate greatness is in his style. It shows in his parables and does not translate. Just as Hemingway set a standard for the English language, Kafka re-invented German on a level not reached since Goethe.


But, while Hemingway established a rather simple ideal of economy easy to grasp and imitate, Kafka expanded the language, its possibilities, its vocabulary and also its syntax more than anyone had ever done in prose including even Goethe who could only show his reach in verse.

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old beijing city wall



The old city wall of Beijing : the larger version of the photo is at http://www.studiolum.com/wang/chinese/kessel-beijing/004.jpg


Eine kaiserliche Botschaft
Der Kaiser, so heißt es, hat Dir, dem Einzelnen, dem jämmerlichen Untertanen,[....] gerade Dir hat der Kaiser von seinem Sterbebett aus eine Botschaft gesendet. Den Boten hat er beim Bett niederknien lassen und ihm die Botschaft zugeflüstert......... - Du aber sitzt an Deinem Fenster und erträumst sie Dir, wenn der Abend kommt.

The German text, complete:
Deutsche Fassung, ungekürzt von http://www.textlog.de/32053.html



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Many of Kafka's parables are depressing and can't be read just anytime, unless indeed they are very short and shocking like this one:

Give Up!



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Franz Kafka
1883 – 1924 He described his father as

 "a true Kafka in strength, health, appetite, loudness of voice, eloquence, self-satisfaction, worldly dominance, endurance, presence of mind, [and] knowledge of human nature" (Wikipedia) .

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