Read Letters to Milena by Franz Kafka Free Online
Book Title: Letters to Milena|
The author of the book: Franz Kafka
Date of issue: November 3rd 2015
ISBN 13: 9780805212679
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 28.22 MB
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Reader ratings: 6.8
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An anthology of longing
Because I love you (you see, I do love you, you dimwit, my love engulfs you the way the sea loves a tiny pebble on its bed-and may I be the pebble with you, heaven permitting) I love the whole world and that includes your left shoulder-no, the right one was first and so I'll kiss it whenever I want to (and whenever you're kind enough to pull down your blouse a little) and that also includes your left shoulder and your face above me in the forest and your face below me in the forest and my resting on your almost naked breast. And that's why you're right in saying we were already one and I'm not afraid of this; on the contrary, it is my only happiness and my only pride and I don't at all restrict it to the forest.
When Milena Jesenskà , a Czech journalist and writer asked Franz Kafka for permission to translate his short story The Stoker (later published as the first chapter of Amerika) into Czech, she would not just become Kafka’s first translator, but also the addressee of a flood of enthralling and increasingly passionate letters - 149 letters and postcards, 140 written during 10 months, sometimes several times a day, from March to December 1920, the last ones between 1921 and 1923, a few months before Kafka’s death from TB on 24th June 1924 . Kafka’s letters, entrusted by Milena to Willy Haas, a common acquaintance, subsisted, unlike Milena’s letters to Kafka, which are presumed lost.
Soon the correspondence alters into an consuming epistolary relationship when it deepens from a sharing of a profound mutual empathy (Her poverty. The unfaithfulness of her husband. Her loneliness. His fear. His illness. His fiancée), into a mutual baring of the soul and a long distance intimacy which brings Kafka despair, torment, bliss, sleeplessness as well as uttermost happiness:
'In their entirety as well as in almost every line, your letters are the most beautiful thing that ever happened to me.'
(Alain Fleischer, Franz II ( Homage to Kafka))
Writing one another several times a day, he most of the time in German, she in Czech, the criss-crossing of letters brought Kafka, exhausted by his illness and insomnia, on the verge of collapse. Torn by the ‘constant trepidation’ brought by her letters, he asked her to stop writing while at the same time begging for her letters:
Yesterday I advised you not to write me every day, I still hold the same opinion today and it would be very good for both of us, and so I repeat my advice today even more emphatically- only please, Milena, don't listen to me, and write me every day anyway, it can even be very brief, briefer than today's letters, just 2 lines, just one, just one word, but if I had to go without them I would suffer terribly. (July 20, 1920).Both fascinated by and recoiling from Milena’s blistering personality and vivacity, Kafka writes to Max Brod his insomnia becoming unbearable because of his correspondence with her – ‘she is a living fire, of a kind I have never seen before’.
According to Brod’s Franz Kafka: A Biography, Kafka held Milena in high esteem as a writer, comparing her psychological meditations and reportages on life in Vienna, books, fashion, meditations to the letters and travelogues of Theodor Fontane; observing the deplorable state of Kafka waiting in the office for a letter of Milena to arrive, terribly exalted, undermining his already weak health, he visits Kafka at the office to help him get through the long hours waiting for another letter or telegram of Milena.
‘But whenever these other letters come, Milena, even if they are basically more auspicious than the first ones (although on account of my weakness it takes me days to penetrate to their happiness)-these letters which begin with exclamations (and after all, I am so far away), and which end with I don't know what terrible things, then, Milena, I literally start to shake as if under an alarm bell; I am unable to read them and naturally I read them anyway, the way an animal dying of thirst drinks, and with that comes fear and more fear; I look for a piece of furniture to crawl under; trembling, totally unaware of the world, I pray you might fly back out of the window the way you came storming in inside your letter. After all, I can't keep a storm in my room. .
And so we get swept away in a gruelling, paradoxical dance of push--pull relationship dynamics and inertia, a continuous veering between detachment and attachment, a relationship simultaneously intensifying and alienating partly because of the distance. Often packed in one letter, we find tender expressions of the desire to bridge the distance in a scorching longing for closeness (’I am so happy to breathe again with you so near. It is impossible to understand how my breast could expand and contract enough to breathe this air, it’ s impossible to understand how you can be far away. I kept wanting to hear a different sentence than you did, this one ‘you’re mine’. And why that one in particular? It doesn’t even mean love, just nearness and night.’) and distorted evading of the threat of bodily presence by pushing away and disheartening the woman haunting him and depriving him of his sleep: ’If you become involved with me, you will be throwing yourself into the abyss.’
We see Kafka hiding behind his fear, his illness, his work, his demons in order not to meet Milena, Milena pressing him to meet, until eventually the relationship agrounds in despondency, and they must face there will not be a common future, never.
During the frantic phase of exchanging letters, Kafka and Milena met in person only twice, four days in Vienna in June 1920, and one day in Gmünd, on the Austrian-Czech border, in August 1920. As the relationship proved without prospect, Milena not willing to leave her husband to come to live with Kafka in Prague, Kafka broke off the relationship, the letters continuing, less frequent, again more formal in tone, the time following. While Kafka later, on December 2, 1921 will write in his diary ‘Always Milena, or maybe not Milena, but a principle, a light in the darkness’, more darkness and despair creep into the letters:
‘I don’t believe the funny letters anymore. I almost said: I don’t believe any letters anymore, even the most beautiful ones always contain a worm’. (September 4, 1920)
‘No one sings as purely as those who inhabit the deepest hell – what we take to be the song of angels is their song’. (August 26, 1920)
‘It’s unfair to laugh at the lead singer in the opera who sings an aria while lying on the stage, mortally wounded. We lie on the ground and sing for years’. (September 1920)
Numerous passages recount on Kafka’s notorious ‘fear’, a fear like a living animal caging Kafka, ranging far beyond the well-known fear of intimacy, commitment and being tied down. A fear that, as well as Milena’s marriage to Ernst Pollak, will at last come between them:
'Perhaps the logical conclusion is that we’re both married, you in Vienna, I to my fear in Prague ((July 21, 1920).'
From these letters Kafka emerges not solely as an anxious and restless insomniac man on the edge, but as well as a witty, loving and playful human being bestowing his epistolary companion with endearing tenderness and affection, showing concern about her weal and woe, her health, her friendships, her – like his – equally difficult relationship with her father, her work, while at the same time exploring his own murky depths, ensuing in an enigmatic amalgamation of transparency and obfuscation, a blending of self-disclosure of his psyche as well as a delirious evocation of a ghostly inner world of delusions.
'Moreover, perhaps it isn’t love when I say you are what I love the most – you are the knife I turn inside myself, this is love.'
'The easy possibility of writing letters-from a purely theoretical point of view-must have brought wrack and ruin to the souls of the world. Writing letters is actually an intercourse with ghosts and by no means just with the ghost of the addressee but also with one's own ghost, which secretly evolves inside the letter one is writing or even in a whole series of letters, where one letter corroborates another and can refer to it as witness. How did people ever get the idea they could communicate with one another by letter! One can think about someone far away and one can hold on to someone nearby; everything else is beyond human power. Writing letters, on the other hand, means exposing oneself to the ghosts, who are greedily waiting precisely for that. Written kisses never arrive at their destination; the ghosts drink them up along the way. It is this ample nourishment which enables them to multiply so enormously. People sense this and struggle against it; in order to eliminate as much of the ghosts' power as possible and to attain a natural intercourse, a tranquility of soul, they have invented trains, cars, aeroplanes-but nothing helps anymore: These are evidently inventions devised at the moment of crashing. The opposing side is so much calmer and stronger; after the postal system, the ghosts invented the telegraph, the telephone, the wireless. They will not starve, but we will perish.'
While apparently revealing in many respects, the letters mostly left me only more mystified on Kafka’s personality for which the epithet ‘convoluted’ maybe would be an understatement (if a Freudian reading of the Letters to Milena would take your fancy, try Kafka’s Letters to Milena and the Question of the Body by Shadi Neimneh). As I read both The trial and The Castle aeons ago, the connections between these intimate musings and his fictional work - like Felice Bauer is, according to Elias Canetti, central to the plot of The Trial, Milena – and her husband Ernst Pollak– will appear in The Castle – remain for me features still to explore, (maybe in a next life).
Reading this was an overwhelming experience. Bemused by their fulgurant intensity, I couldn’t read this ardent and often painful letters but slowly, in spells, lost in the brilliant beauty of the sentences, their unexpected lyricism and tenderness, the sensuous and horrifying poetry of certain fragments.
‘And now my best regards after all – what does it matter if they collapse at your garden gate; perhaps your strength will be all the greater.’ On Christmas Day 1923, half a year before his death Kafka ended his correspondence to Milena with these last words. Arrested by the Gestapo for active resistance to Nazi occupation, Milena Jesenskà died in Ravensbrück on 17th May 1944, 47 years old.
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Read information about the authorFranz Kafka was one of the major fiction writers of the 20th century. He was born to a middle-class German-speaking Jewish family in Prague, Bohemia (presently the Czech Republic), Austria–Hungary. His unique body of writing—much of which is incomplete and which was mainly published posthumously—is considered to be among the most influential in Western literature.
His stories include The Metamorphosis (1912) and In the Penal Colony (1914), while his novels are The Trial (1925), The Castle (1926) and Amerika (1927).
Kafka's first language was German, but he was also fluent in Czech. Later, Kafka acquired some knowledge of French language and culture; one of his favorite authors was Flaubert.
Kafka first studied chemistry at the Charles-Ferdinand University of Prague, but switched after two weeks to law. This offered a range of career possibilities, which pleased his father, and required a longer course of study that gave Kafka time to take classes in German studies and art history. At the university, he joined a student club, named Lese- und Redehalle der Deutschen Studenten, which organized literary events, readings and other activities. In the end of his first year of studies, he met Max Brod, who would become a close friend of his throughout his life, together with the journalist Felix Weltsch, who also studied law. Kafka obtained the degree of Doctor of Law on 18 June 1906 and performed an obligatory year of unpaid service as law clerk for the civil and criminal courts.
Kafka's writing attracted little attention until after his death. During his lifetime, he published only a few short stories and never finished any of his novels, unless "The Metamorphosis" is considered a (short) novel. Prior to his death, Kafka wrote to his friend and literary executor Max Brod: "Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me ... in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others'), sketches, and so on, [is] to be burned unread." Brod overrode Kafka's wishes, believing that Kafka had given these directions to him specifically because Kafka knew he would not honor them—Brod had told him as much. Brod, in fact, would oversee the publication of most of Kafka's work in his possession, which soon began to attract attention and high critical regard.
Max Brod encountered significant difficulty in compiling Kafka's notebooks into any chronological order as Kafka was known to start writing in the middle of notebooks, from the last towards the first, etc.
All of Kafka's published works, except several letters he wrote in Czech to Milena Jesenská, were written in German.
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