Haft: Kafka in Process

Most processes begin with a revision of sorts, with a re-examination and correction of what has been previously accomplished or received. To proceed means to ‘move’ (cedere) ‘forth’ (pro-), to advance or progress, to come forward and appear. As the term’s prefix underscores, a process sets its sights on what comes ahead; it alters the view of what happened before (pre-) for the sake of what stands before (pro-). Like every project or progression, processes are future-directed, determined by a goal that manipulates and steers the past in conformance with a destination, a terminus ad quem. A process enables someone or something to depart from a former state in order to arrive somewhere else, to enter into a new situation, to perform somehow differently, or to appear otherwise, which requires taking a fresh look at things. The process of every process begins with this shift in perspective, this re-envisioning, one that relinquishes the precedent and focuses instead on what could be called the procedent. Whatever has been in place must cede ground for the new to take place. Thus, processes may involve wholesale inventions or ingenious reformulations, as well as the slightest of changes, modifications and emendations, which are all achieved by readjusting one’s perspective or realigning one’s scope. To begin — that is, to revise and proceed. 

Driven by a decisive revisioning, a process often entails the interruption of what preceded. It grabs hold of the past, seizing it and bringing it to a halt so that it can be submitted to scrutiny and proceed in a new light. Hence, in its initial usage, beginning in the late twelfth century, the English term process specifically defined legal proceedings or legal action — a judicial trial — which continues to be the primary sense of the French procès and the German Prozeß. An indictment disrupts a certain state of affairs and often one’s life, and subjects them to assessment and judgment. Court proceedings begin by stopping what up to that point has been going on, arresting whoever is accused of being responsible, and re-viewing the case in accordance with fresh criteria, that is, with criteria imposed by law. The person who stands before the law stands before a set of principles that differ from those that guided one’s actions beforehand. A trial intervenes by redefining the status of agents and actions, now in terms of guilt or innocence, rectitude or culpability. The life of the person indicted comes under arrest, compelled to occupy a new position that is henceforth governed by different aims and expectations. The indicted person is still the same person but now viewed otherwise, recast vis-à-vis other principles, other beginnings, reconsidered, reformulated or transformed, and thereby re-envisioned or revised

A similar gesture can be ascribed to artistic processes, by which a prior ground suffers an interference. The inscription of any mark — by hand or typographic, a word, a number, or merely a scribble — proceeds by revising the blankness of the page, just as sounds revise the silence, just as colors and lines revise the vacuity of the plane, just as sculptural form revises the formlessness of the material. Of course, creative processes also seize upon prior processes — for example, an earlier draft, received motifs and themes, traditional plots and forms, conventional definitions and idioms, figures and syntax — again, with the view of moving forward, be it fully pronounced or evasively vague, conscious or unconscious, foreseeable or inscrutable. Opening the door onto a new project entails closing the door on a previous state. Every overture presumes a prior fermata. Nonetheless, the material precedent continues to affect that which proceeds. Prior conditions, prior formats, and prior formulations persist, qualifying the process itself. Once begun, the procedure includes what came beforehand and transforms it, now in line with what looms ahead. The material precedent thus operates as the included exclusion, belonging to the work as that which has been overwhelmed by the work, revealing itself as that which has withdrawn, ceding its place so that something else may issue forth and appear. 

Beginning a work — revising and proceeding — is thought to consist in the seizure of something prior, experiential or material. The Latin verb for beginning, incipere, vividly denotes this act of grasping (in + capere, ‘to take hold of, to take in hand’), which correlates precisely to the German anfangen, ‘to begin’, that is, ‘to catch, grab hold of’ (fangen). In Latin, a ‘beginning’ is a coeptum, that which has been ‘taken up’, an ‘undertaking’, just as in German an Anfang signifies that a previous state has been ‘caught’ or ‘captured’ (gefangen), snatched up and re-purposed. Etymologists are less clear on the English begin, which reaches back to the eighth century as the Old High German biginnan. Yet, there is sufficient linguistic evidence to suggest that the verb relates to an Indo-European root, *ghen-, which appears in the Greek χανδάνειν(chandanein), ‘to take in, to hold’ and the Latin prehendere, ‘to grasp, catch, seize.’ In all these cases, again, to begin implies to seize hold, stopping what has heretofore preceded and manipulating it in such a way that it henceforth proceeds otherwise. 

*

In the opinion of most biographers, who derive their conclusions from the author’s letters and diaries, the originating impetus to Franz Kafka’s The Trial — Der Prozeß — can be traced back to 12 July 1914, when Kafka visited his fiancée Felice Bauer in Berlin. Over dinner at the Askanischer Hof Hotel, in the presence of Felice’s sister Erna and their friends, Grete Bloch and Ernst Weiss, Kafka suddenly and quite unexpectedly announced that he was breaking off the engagement. One week later, now back home in Prague and utterly ridden with guilt for causing the embarrassing scene, Kafka described the incident in his journal, referring to the dinner guests in the hotel as a Gerichtshof (‘law court’).[1] In the days that followed, he started drafting a new story centered on a protagonist whom he named Josef K., a man arrested without knowing the crime.  The implication is that Kafka began the project by halting the process that was heading toward marriage and redirecting it towards other, literary ends. 

            As usual, Kafka began composing the work in one of the store-bought notebooks (Hefte) that he used as a daily journal. The Tagebuchheft (‘diary-notebook’) employed in this case was in quarto format (24.6 x 19.7cm) containing thirty-four unlined pages, without any watermark, bound in brown wax cloth.[2] The draft of what would become the opening chapter of The Trial began on the recto page following a diary entry dated 30 July 1914 and would eventually comprise sixteen sheets, written on both sides with black ink. Subsequent chapters were likewise drafted in similar bound notebooks. Then, at some point in early 1915, Kafka tore each page out of the Hefte and organized the loose papers into single bundles held within a folded folio sheet, marked by unnumbered chapter titles. The manuscript sheets, which still bear slight traces of the red trim from the notebook’s gutter, are now held in the Deutsches Literaturarchiv in Marbach.[3]  

            Kafka never brought the novel to completion. Over a decade later, before succumbing to laryngeal tuberculosis, he entrusted all his papers — the diaries, manuscripts, letters, and sketches — to his close friend, Max Brod, with specific instructions to burn the pages, ‘unread’.[4] Instead, Brod revised the manuscript for publication, which appeared in 1925, just over a year after the author passed away. On 14 March 1939, the night before German troops marched into Prague, Brod packed Kafka’s manuscripts into a rucksack and, together with his wife Elsa, took the last night train that would cross the Czech-Polish border before it was shut down by the Nazis. They arrived in the Romanian port of Constanta on the Black Sea and there boarded the liner Bessarabia, which stopped over in Istanbul, Athens, Crete, and Alexandria, before docking in Tel Aviv.[5]Although most of the manuscripts were transferred to a Swiss bank vault by the publisher Salman Schocken during the Suez Crisis in 1956, Brod held on to The Trial until his death in 1968, when it was bequeathed to Brod’s longtime secretary, Ilse Esther Hoffe. In 1988, Hoffe ultimately consigned the handwritten sheets to auction at Sotheby’s, where Heribert Tenschert purchased them on behalf of the Literaturarchiv for a record-breaking $1.98 million[6] — an appropriately hefty sum for these unique pages that Kafka once tore loose from his personal Heft. 

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The first sentence of The Trial stands as one of the most well-known and hauntingly powerful expressions in German literature: Jemand mußte Josef K. verleumdet haben, denn ohne daß er etwas Böses getan hätte, wurde er eines Morgens verhaftet.[7]  Mike Mitchell’s English translation for the Oxford World’s Classics series reads: ‘Someone must have been telling tales about Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything wrong, he was arrested.’[8]

Quite pertinently, the trial or process begins with an arrest (Verhaftung). Josef K.’s prior life has come to a halt so that a new life — the life of the accused — can proceed. Again, the arrest amounts to revising the conditions of the protagonist’s position. K. is seized or grasped, and thus the novel can begin. Yet, when one returns to Kafka’s manuscript, one discovers that the novel not only begins with a thematic revision but also with a literal revision:

Figure 1. Franz Kafka, Manuscript of The Trial (Deutsches Literaturarchiv, Marbach). Image Marijan Murat. Eine Restauratorin hält am Donnerstag (29.10.2009) im Deutschen Literaturarchiv in Marbach die erste Seite des Originalmanuskripts des Romans “Der Process” (auch “Der Prozess”) des Schriftstellers Franz Kafka in den Händen. Die Originalseite liegt auf einem Dummy, der aus dem Original nachgebildeten leeren Blättern besteht. Foto: Marijan Murat dpa/lsw +++(c) dpa – Report+++ | usage worldwide

The text can be transcribed thus:

Jemand mußte Josef K. verlämdet haben denn 

                                                                             wurde 

ohne daß er etwas Böses getan hätte, war er eines  

                               verhaftet

Morgens gefangen.   

Originally, it had been written that Josef K. ‘was caught’ (war gefangen); but then, Kafka modified the verbal phrase to say instead that he ‘was arrested’ (wurde verhaftet). In addition to changing the participle (from gefangen, ‘caught’, to verhaftet, ‘arrested’), it is important to note that one grammatical form of the passive voice has been replaced by another. K. war gefangen (‘K. was caught’) is typically described as a Zustandspassiv (‘statal passive’), employing the verb sein (‘to be’) as the auxiliary in order to denote a resultative state or condition: ‘K. was caught’, which is to say, he was in a captured state. In contrast, the revised version, K. wurde verhaftet (‘K. was being arrested’) is formulated as a Vorgangspassiv (‘processual passive’), employing the verb werden, otherwise denoting ‘to become’, as the auxiliary in order to denote the process of being affected: K. wurde verhaftet, which is to say, he was in the process of being arrested. In other words, whereas the statal passive signifies the result of an action, the processual passive describes the action itself. One recalls further that the participle gefangen, from the verb fangen (‘to catch’), evokes the capture expressed in the notion of the ‘beginning’ (Anfang). Yet once begun, the text is literally revised to describe an action. The initial state is obliterated so that the process or trial may begin. 

Moreover, by substituting the statal passive war gefangen (‘was caught’) with the processual passive wurde verhaftet (‘was being arrested’), the novel’s incipit now closely  approximates the sentence, equally well-known, which opens Kafka’s Verwandlung (‘The Metamorphosis’): Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt, which, in Willa and Edwin Muir’s standard translation is rendered: ‘As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.’[9]In both cases, the beginning begins with an ending of sorts. ‘One morning’, Josef K. was a man who was being ‘arrested’ (verhaftet), just as ‘one morning’ Gregor Samsa finds himself ‘transformed’ (verwandelt). No backstory is provided, no information pertaining to what led up to this opening point is supplied. There is nothing to be discerned before the beginning. Rather, while lying somewhat vulnerably in bed, both Josef K. and Gregor Samsa discover that they are in the process of being trapped in a new, surprising state, the consequences of which will be unfolded in the narrative that follows. For Kafka, the threshold moment between sleep and waking is the moment that one must seize, lest one be seized. Hence, as Kafka describes it in a deleted passage from The Trial, this borderline moment is ‘the riskiest moment’.

Someone [Jemand] said to me — I can’t remember who it was — it is really remarkable that when you wake up in the morning you nearly find almost everything in exactly the same place as the evening before. For when asleep and dreaming you are, apparently at least, in an essentially different state from that of wakefulness; and therefore, as that man truly said, it requires enormous presence of mind or rather quickness of wit, when opening your eyes to seize hold [fassen] as it were of everything in the room at exactly the same place where you had let it go on the previous evening. That was why, he said, the moment of waking up was the riskiest moment of the day.[10]

According to the protagonist, an anonymous ‘someone’ (Jemand), who may or may not be the ‘someone’ of the novel’s opening sentence — the ‘someone’ who ‘must have been telling tales about Josef K’. (Jemand mußte Josef K. verleumdet haben) — the riskiest moment is that initiating point of seizure which will determine whether or not the day will proceed as one would want it to proceed. 

Reading the opening sentence of The Trial alongside that beginning of The Metamorphosis, one finds two participles, verhaftet and verwandelt, featuring the prefix ver-, which often denotes some kind of displacement or qualitative change. In the opening of The Trial, this prefix appears not once but twice: ‘Someone must have been telling tales [verleumdet] … [K.] was being arrested [verhaftet].’ The verb verleumden, which can also be translated as ‘to slander’ or ‘to calumniate,’ derives from the noun for ‘reputation’ or ‘renown’ — Leumund — which according to a popular folk-etymology alludes to ‘the mouth [Mund] of the people [Leute]’. Here, to be verleumdet means to be subject to the perverse effects of rumour, to be held accountable to what ‘people’ (Leute) are saying. An alternative, more scientifically verifiable etymology, preferred by historical linguists, essentially amounts to the same basic sense, linking the leu- root to the adjective laut (‘loud’). In this regard, Leumund (‘reputation’) directly corresponds to the English loudmouth, the person who cannot keep quiet, someone who likes to spread news or even lies about others, sometimes making allegations that could very well result in a formal arrest. 

Haft, the root of verhaften (‘to arrest, to apprehend’), is related to the common verb haben (‘to have, to possess’), which in turn points to the Indo-European root *kap– (‘take, grab, catch’), as in Latin capere (‘to take, grasp’). To repeat, for Kafka, the moment of waking up, the beginning of a fresh day, is the decisive time when one may either seize the day (carpere diem) or be seized (captus). The English lexicon is replete with words derived from capere, including capture and captiveconcept (‘what is grasped by the mind’), reception (‘what is taken in’), and inception (‘the beginning that begins by seizing’). In Ancient Greek, the related verb is κάπτειν (kaptein), which denotes ‘to swallow’, To be verhaftet, then, means to be seriously displaced: to be taken into custody, to become someone who is seized or captured, perhaps to be swallowed up by the authorities, or even to become a concept. Josef K. is the protagonist that Kafka the writer has seized upon in order to begin the process known as narrative fiction. Indeed, the root haft is also cognate with the noun Heft, a ‘notebook’, the bound codex that captures and holds one’s writing. Who is Josef K., if not a figure who subsists solely in Kafka’s book? Verhaftet — to be displaced into a Heft.

The verb haften signifies ‘to stick, adhere, or grip’. The primary sense points to the state of being fixed in place, adhering or belonging to a location. In Swiss dialect, the verb behaften means ‘to commit a statement to somebody’; hence, the German participial adjective behaftet signifies ‘afflicted,’ for example, mit Risiken behaftet (‘risky, to be afflicted with risk’ [Risiko]) or mit Launen behaftet (‘capricious, to be afflicted with varying moods’ [Launen]). Haft also serves as a common suffix for German composita, roughly similar to the English suffix –ful, as in schamhaft (‘bashful, or to be full of shame [Scham], to be gripped by shame’) or sündhaft (‘sinful, wicked, to be in the grip of sin [Sünde]’).

Haften is not only related to the verb haben (‘to have’) but also to the verb heben (‘to lift, raise, heighten’). Given the semantic field to which it belongs, heben denotes the act of grasping something and taking it, lifting it to the heights, like a bird of prey (captor), like the German ‘hawk’ (Habicht). The cognate adjective is erhaben, which describes that which is ‘elevated, lofty, sublime’. In the ancient rhetorical treatise On the Sublime, attributed to Longinus, the lofty or sublime style is one that enraptures listeners, grabbing them and captivating them, tearing them from the ordinary, ripping them away from the everyday, from routine, and transporting them to an elevated realm. From a biographical perspective, one can perhaps view Josef K., the one verhaftet, as a sublimation of the author’s guilt, as a figure who marks an ‘elevation’ (Aufhebung) into literature, which could further mark the Aufhebung (‘suspension’ or ‘cancellation’) of the life, Kafka’s life, which cedes to the literary process.

As someone explicitly verhaftet, Josef K. has been lifted up by his captors, torn out of bed like a page from a Heft, afflicted (behaftet) with a crime of which he will remain unaware. In many respects, his capture in bed should be seen as a brutal sublimation, a rude awakening, the beginning of the end. It is no accident that, in Kafka’s story, In the Penal Colony — begun in October 1914, while he was working on The Trial — the captured man must lie explicitly on the ‘bed’, which is part of the torturing-writing machine, with the promise of some lofty epiphany — the sublime moment when he finally grasps or is grasped by the Law. Typically, one’s bed belongs to a private, domestic realm, distinguished from one’s public life; but it also represents that liminal border between reality and the world of dreams. The recumbent position underscores the protagonist’s passivity and vulnerability. In bed, Josef K., Gregor Samsa, and the condemned man in the Penal Colony simply lie there, hovering between sleep and wakefulness, as though waiting for something or someone to tear them away. 

The capture that often marks Kafka’s incipits tends to transport or displace the protagonist away from sensible, familiar reality into an unreal, rather dreamlike zone. This sense of transportation or displacement is already implicit in the ver- prefix: Samsa is verwandelt (‘transformed’), that is, displaced into a changed state; Josef K. is verhaftet (‘arrested’), that is, displaced into custody (Haft). Analogously, the characters who are ‘condemned’ (verurteilt), not only the prisoner in the Penal Colony but also Georg Bendemann, the unsuspecting son in The Judgment, are displaced by being placed under ‘judgment’ (Urteil). The term Vermesser (‘surveyor’), which is the official, yet dubious title assigned to K., the protagonist of The Castle, belongs to this series of ver-words. The verb vermessen means ‘to measure’ or ‘to survey,’ yet when used as an adjective, the perverse force of the ver-prefix comes to light, vermessen as ‘presumptuous’, ‘impudent,’ or ‘over-confident’, describing a person who does not respect conventional boundaries or accepted measures. 

            Arguably, the displacement portrayed in The Metamorphosis is the most striking and the most memorable. The captivating inception (in German, I would say, der fangende Anfang) is a transformation ‘to a gigantic insect’ — zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer. Before discussing the main terms, it is useful to note that English translators invariably domesticate what remains an odd feature in Kafka’s German, by rendering the phrase as ‘transformed into a giant insect’. In standard German, this sense would be syntactically formulated with the preposition in plus the accusative case: in ein ungeheueres Ungeziefer. But Kafka does not write in. Rather he uses, quite surprisingly, the preposition zu, which governs the dative case: zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer. In order to respect this difference in English, one would have to translate the phrase somewhat awkwardly, that Samsa was transformed ‘to (zu) a giant insect’, rather than ‘into (in) a giant insect’. The distinction is slight yet significant. With the preposition in, the implication is that the change is continuous — that something latent has become manifest, that the transformation is part of an inner development. In contrast, with the preposition zu, the change comes across as more disjunctive — that something has changed into something entirely new, seized and transported to an altogether new and strange state. 

            This strange state is identified as an ungeheueres Ungeziefer, which the Muirs translate as a ‘gigantic insect’. However, what is at once noteworthy in the German, is that both terms are marked by the negating prefix un-. Certainly, the adjective ungeheuer can describe anything that is ‘enormous, tremendous, or monstrous’. Indeed, the nominal form, ein Ungeheuer, is typically translated as ‘a monster’. Yet to be more precise, in German, the prefix un– negates what is ‘familiar and safe’ (geheuer). The old Germanic hēore means ‘pleasant, friendly’, with connotations of feeling at ease or at home; hence, the cognate Heirat (‘marriage’). Thus, ungeheuer comes quite close to the meaning of unheimlich(‘uncanny’), understood as the negation of what is ‘homey’ (heimisch). That which is depicted as ungeheuer negates all familiarity, it exceeds domestic safety and cosiness. Ungeheuer is not merely ‘immense’ or ‘gigantic’, but also highly unpleasant, profoundly disturbing. 

            The noun Ungeziefer can refer to any kind of bug, insect, or vermin. The verbal root comes from the Old High German term zebar, which specifically denotes ‘an animal fit for sacrifice’, an unclean creature. Ein Ungeziefer, therefore, originally signifies a negation of this ritual appropriateness — that is, a creature that is unfit for sacrifice. Kafka could have chosen to use the German Insekt or Kakerlake (‘cockroach’), but neither term appears once in the story. Ungeziefer is arguably far creepier, much more unpleasant, much more disgusting and repulsive. Within the domestic setting of the Samsa home, the presence of this immense, defamiliarizing Ungeziefer is viscerally unsettling. As a creature unfit for sacrifice, the Ungeziefer must be expelled from the community in order to ensure the safety of that community. The Ungeziefer can thus be killed with impunity. Transformed into such a creature, Gregor Samsa is already ostracized from his family and home, while still occupying the family home. 

            Yet, although the text refrains from using the words ‘insect’ or ‘cockroach’, towards the end of the story, the old charwoman pejoratively calls Gregor a Mistkäfer (‘dung beetle’). This is the only clue in the story that might help us to identify the type of insect Kafka has in mind with some biological specificity. Of course, the word for ‘beetle’ (Käfer) already bears some resemblance to the name Kafka, just as the word for ‘cockroach’ (Kakerlake) exhibits the same double K. Is the repulsiveness of the ‘dung beetle’ or even the implied ‘cockroach’ somehow self-referential, a judgment that the author passes on himself? An entry from Kafka’s diaries is perhaps pertinent here: ‘I find the K ugly, almost repugnant, and yet I keep writing them; they must be very characteristic of myself.’[11]

            Within the context of the story, coming from the old charwoman, the term Mistkäfer is clearly being used as an insult. Still, one should recall that the dung beetle, like the Ungeziefer, conjures earlier, ritualistic settings. The dung beetle possessed an especially hallowed power in Ancient Egypt, where the insect, known in Latin as the scarabaeus or‘scarab’, was worshipped as sacred. There is evidence that, in 1910, Kafka read a study in Egyptology, where one learns that the hieroglyph for the scarab represents the triliteral phoneme xpr or hpr, which also spells the verb for ‘becoming’ or ‘transforming’, The verb gives us the name of the god Khepri (‘he who has come into being, he who has been transformed’) — the god of metamorphosis.[12]  

It can be observed how the scarab, for no apparent reason, commonly rolls a large ball of dung over a dung heap. In Egyptian mythology this act was seen as a representation of the god Khepri who rolled the sun across the sky and then pushed it over the horizon in the West, where it traveled through the underworld, before re-emerging the next morning in the East. On this basis, Khepri, the god of transformation, was also the god of rebirth or resurrection, depicted hieroglyphically as a scarab grasping the sun’s disk, the sign of a new day, a new life, or a new beginning.

Figure 2. Throne, Tomb of King Tutankhamen Exhibit. Photo: Christian Rodas.

Taking place ‘one morning’, at daybreak, Gregor’s transformation, his Verwandlung, could be regarded as a sublime, sacred resurrection, as a metamorphosis representing the protagonist’s death as a traveling salesman and his rebirth as a man liberated from his former life. When read autobiographically, the text suggests that the transformation marks the death of Kafka the insurance expert and his rebirth as a writer — a writer of stories that have in fact become immortal. A propitious beginning. 

At first, the start of The Trial would appear to be less auspicious: being taken into ‘custody’ (Haft) can hardly be deemed as glorious as a resurrection or rebirth. By revising the initial gefangen (‘caught’) to verhaftet (‘arrested’), the author seems to have relegated his protagonist to a miserable fate, as someone who is irredeemably guilty. The insect-transformation that incites The Metamorphosis thus contrasts with the apprehension that triggers The Trial. 

Curiously, however, the noun Haft not only denotes ‘custody’ or ‘detention,’ but also appears as an old zoological term for the ‘mayfly’, known as the Eintagsfliege—the ephemeral ‘fly’ (Fliege), which lives for only ‘one day’ (ein Tag). In his comprehensive study of Natural History, first published in 1815, the German biologist, Lorenz Oken, explained that the mayfly is called a Haft because, upon molting, its striped wings ‘stick’ (haften) to the leaves of plants that grow along the riverbank.[13] As Oken further points out, this final molting marks the stage when the mayfly or Haft becomes sexually mature —  the last stage of insect metamorphosis, which entomologists call the imago. The imago is the stage when the pupal insect becomes an ‘image’ or ‘picture’ of the mature species, ready to fly off and procreate. Thus, Josef K.’s Verhaftung (‘arrest’) may also imply that he has been transformed into an insect, or perhaps into a sexually active bachelor, ridden with the guilt of someone who believes he has been unfaithful to his former fiancée, a burgeoning writer who longs to be creative — to fly away from all commitments and obligations, a mortal who surrenders to the day. Carpe diem!To begin something cleverly can be expressed idiomatically in German as beim rechten Hefte angreifen — ‘to seize something at the right end, to set about something expertly, with the right Heft’. Here, the noun Heft refers to the ‘grip’ or ‘hilt’ of a sword or dagger which one must seize (angreifen) in order to execute one’s assault (Angriff). The English clever vividly retains this figure. Likely derived from the Middle English clivers, ‘claws, talons, clutches’, to act cleverly is to grab things adroitly, dexterously, to have the brain in the hand. By grabbing on to the hilt or the Heft, the writer writes cleverly, in a way that makes him or her ‘responsible’ in the sense of being ‘accountable’ (haftbar). Yet, as every writer knows, every beginning is difficult — omne initium difficile estaller Anfang ist schwer. The mere thought of seizing the right moment, of plunging in up to the hilt, capturing it and re-envisioning a new process, can be debilitating, even for those who are generally esteemed for their eloquence and confidence and sureness of mind, like Cicero, for example, who once confessed: 

Semper equidem magno cum metu dicere; quotiensque dico, totiens mihi videor in iudicium venire. (Cicero, Pro Cluentio, 51)

Indeed, I always begin to speak with great trepidation; and as many times as I speak, so often it seems to me that I am myself on trial.


[1] Franz Kafka, Tagebücher 1914–1923, ed. by Malcolm Pasley (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1990), p. 24 (23 July 1914).

[2] For information on the material format, see Franz Kafka, Der Proceß: Apparatband, in the Kritische Ausgabe, 15 vols., ed. by Jürgen Born, Gerhard Neumann, Malcolm Pasley and Jost Schillemeit (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 2002), VI, pp. 73–86. Subsequent references to this edition are marked KKA, with volume and page number.

[3] For a comprehensive account, see Peter-Paul Schneider, ‘Das Manuskript von Franz Kafkas Roman “Der Prozeß”’ in Franz Kafka – Der Prozeß – Manuskript des Romans, ed. by Ulrich Ott (Marbach: Deutsches Literaturarchiv, 1989), pp. 9–10.

[4] See Benjamin Balint, Kafka’s Last Trial: The Case of a Literary Legacy (London: Picador, 2018), pp. 124–25.

[5] Cf. Balint, Kafka’s Last Trial, pp. 142–47.

[6] Terry Trucco, ‘A Kafka Manuscript is sold for $1.98 Million,’ New York Times, 18 November 1988, C 30.

[7] Franz Kafka, Der Proceß, Original edition [1925], ed. by Malcolm Pasley (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1990), p. 9.

[8] Franz Kafka, The Trial, trans. by Mike Mitchell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 5.

[9] Franz Kafka, Die Verwandlung [1915], in Ein Landarzt und andere Drucke zu Lebzeiten, ed. by Malcolm Pasley (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1990), p. 93 [‘The Metamorphosis,’ in The Complete Stories, ed. by Nahum Glatzer (New York: Schocken, 1983), p. 89.]

[10] ‘Jemand sagte mir, ich kann mich nicht mehr erinnern, wer es gewesen ist, dass es doch sonderbar sei, dass man, wenn man früh aufwacht, wenigstens im allgemeinen alles unverrückt an der gleichen Stelle findet, wie es am Abend gewesen ist. Man ist doch im Schlaf und im Traum wenigstens scheinbar in einem vom Wachen wesentlich verschiedenen Zustand gewesen, und es gehört (wie jener Mann ganz richtig sagte) eine unendliche Geistesgegenwart oder besser Schlagfertigkeit dazu, um mit dem Augenöffnen alles, was da ist, gewissermaßen an der gleichen Stelle zu fassen, an der man es am Abend losgelassen hat. Darum sei auch der Augenblick des Erwachens der riskanteste Augenblick im Tag, sei er einmal überstanden, ohne dass man irgendwohin von seinem Platze fortgezogen wurde, so könne man den ganzen Tag über getrost sein. Zu welchen Folgerungen der Mann – ich habe mich übrigens schon erinnert wer es gewesen ist, aber der Name ist ja gleichgültig’ (KKA, VI, p. 168) [Franz Kafka, The Trial, trans. by Willa and Edwin Muir (New York: Schocken, 1968), pp. 257–258.]

[11] Kafka, Tagebücher 1912–1914, ed. by Malcolm Pasley (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1990), p. 145 (27 May 1914).

[12] On the significance of the Egyptian scarab in regard to Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, see Karl H. Ruhleder, ‘Ein Skarabäus in der modernen deutschen Literatur,’ Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde 96 (1969/1970), 47–48.  

[13] In the historical dictionary prepared by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the Haft is likewise defined as ‘the mayfly [Eintagsfliege], named from the fact that when the pupa transforms into the winged insect, the molting remains or adheres to a bank where the transformation takes place.’ Deutsches Wörterbuch, vol. 10, p. 132, available online: <http://dwb.uni-trier.de/de/> [accessed 14 May 2020]. 

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