Kafka’s Daily Grind


Every writer is different. Each has his or her own way of working, a method for getting words down on paper. Some are procrastinators, some are methodical, some write in between juggling a daytime job and caring for a family.
Franz Kafka (3 July 1883 – 3 June 1924) was born into a middle-class, German-speaking Jewish family in Prague, the capital of the Bohemia, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was a writer of novels and short stories and is widely regarded as one of the major figures of 20th-century literature. His work, which combines elements of realism and fantasy typically features a lone protagonist faced with a bizarre or surrealistic predicament. His work explores the themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity.
Over the course of his life, Kafka wrote hundreds of letters to family and close friends, including his father, with whom he had a strained and formal relationship.
Louis Begley, in his biography of Kafka, describes his daily routine. Kafka had been trained as a lawyer and then began work as an insurance officer for the insurance company, Assicurazioni Generali. Because of the long hours (12-hour shifts) he found little time for writing. But eventually he was promoted and this afforded him more time, since the shifts were shorter.
[…] promoted to the position of chief clerk at the Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute, he was now on the one-shift system, 8:30 AM until 2:30 PM. And then what? Lunch until 3:30, then sleep until 7:30, then exercises, then a family dinner. After which he started work around 11 PM (as Begley points out, the letter- and diary-writing took up at least an hour a day, and more usually two), and then “depending on my strength, inclination, and luck, until one, two, or three o’clock, once even till six in the morning.” Then “every imaginable effort to go to sleep,” as he fitfully rested before leaving to go to the office once more. This routine left him permanently on the verge of collapse. (Begley)
His fiancée once suggested to him that he might alter his schedule to something more manageable and easier to deal with. His response? “The present way is the only possible one; if I can’t bear it, so much the worse; but I will bear it somehow.”
His crushing schedule and the unbearable torture it gave rise to sound like a description of one of his own short stories – the lone hero trapped in an impossible situation, unable to escape from the constant pressure because of his compulsion to write, yet suffering from sleep deprivation and extreme mental and physical exhaustion. Add to this the frustration that few of his writings were published during his lifetime and those that were received very little popular or critical attention, and you have a perfect storm and an ideal recipe for disaster.
There can be no doubt that Kafka’s grueling daily grind contributed greatly to his early demise, in 1924, due to complications arising from consumption at the premature age of 40.

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