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Script, Work and Published Form: Franz Kafka's Incomplete Text by Gerhard Neumann
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Script, Work and Published Form: Franz Kafka's Incomplete Text
Gerhard Neumann [*]

My topic is one which extends beyond the field of editorship in the strict sense and impinges on the theory of literary interpretation. For I should like to try to extend the concept of 'incompleteness' beyond the sphere of manuscripts to embrace as well the idea of the literary work and that of its 'published form'.

I do not know whether this problem is of general relevance. But with Kafka it seems to me essential to widen the concept of 'incompleteness' beyond what it commonly signifies. This is something of which I have been convinced as a result of my work on the critical Kafka edition. I shall therefore attempt to show how the peculiar nature of Kafka's 'incomplete text' is manifest firstly in the manuscripts, secondly in the way the work is constituted and lastly in the context of those works published in Kafka's lifetime. I believe there is no other author in the German language who offers us greater problems of understanding when we try to define 'text', 'work' and, indeed, 'authorship' itself so as to do him justice. This is essentially a reflection of the peculiar nature of Kafka's creativity which shows itself in what one might call an inner dividedness. I shall explain what I mean by this term. This will mean looking at the problematical nature of his literary production under four headings.

Firstly: the ambivalences towards the act of writing, which are very common among modern authors, develop in Kafka's case into conflicting opposites: on the one hand, the uncompromising retreat to a position which affirms the act of writing as something wholly individual and private; on the other, the desire to gain literary fame and to impinge on the world of letters.

Secondly: these tensions are made more pronounced by certain


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dissonances within the historical relation of Kafka's work to its readership. While Kafka largely owes his standing as a world literary figure to his novels, he himself had a very low opinion of them and published none. He believed that, if he were to achieve fame at all, then it would be through his short prose pieces.

Thirdly: the conflict attending the transmission of the manuscripts to us, the unrealised intentions of the author with regard to their publication. Kafka's friend, Max Brod, discovered a last will and testament of the author, which reads as follows:

Dear Max, perhaps I shall not leave this bed ever again; after this last month of inflammation of the lungs, pneumonia is a fair probability, and not even writing the fact down will avert it—although writing it does have a certain power.

For the worst eventuality therefore, this is my last will with regard to everything I have written:

Of all that I have written, only the following has any validity: the books: Judgement, Stoker, Metamorphosis, Penal Colony, Country Doctor and the story: Hunger Artist. (The few copies of Meditation can be left, I do not wish to put anyone to the trouble of pulping them, but nothing from the volume is to be reprinted.) When I say that these five books and the story have validity, I do not mean by this that I want them to be reprinted and transmitted to future generations; on the contrary: should they be lost entirely, then this would correspond to my real desire. It is merely that I would not wish to obstruct anyone in their preservation, should he wish to preserve them, since they are, after all, there.

On the other hand, anything else written by me that may still exist (whether printed in periodicals, still in manuscript or in letters) to the extent that it is still available or can be recovered by asking the correspondents (you know who most of them are, and . . . has most of the material, and in particular do not forget the couple of note books in the possession of . . .)—all of this is without exception and preferably unread (but I shall not forbid you to have a look at it, although I would really prefer you didn't, and on no account is anyone else to set eyes on it)—all of it is without exception to be burned and I ask you to do this as soon as possible, Franz [P. 316-318][1]

By instructing his best friend to destroy the manuscripts, Kafka effectively placed him in a double bind. By giving Max Brod, whose devotion to him made it likely that he would, in fact, not obey the instruction, the task of destroying the manuscripts, Kafka was really saying: carry out my command by ignoring it.

A fourth instance of conflict follows on from this and concerns the production of the texts Kafka actually meant to publish. Kafka himself prepared very few of his own texts for the press. They can be assembled in a single volume of the critical edition (Drucke zu Lebzeiten). The remainder of the manuscripts remained unpublished in Kafka's lifetime, and therefore the whole of the rest of his work presents the problems typical of a posthumous edition. Max Brod had a difficult role to play in the process of publication, the more so as his aim was to make as many texts of Kafka as possible into 'works'. He published the novels as if they were complete; he extracted finished or half-finished texts from the


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manuscripts, gave them titles of his own and thus made them into 'works'. But it had been Kafka's express wish that these texts should never be published, and thus should never be made into 'works' in the classical sense. This is a dilemma that our edition must confront and resolve; but, as well, the dilemma itself must remain a visible reality for the reader.

Certain consequences result from this wealth of conflicts. It should, at any rate, be clear that the simple division into "posthumous works' and 'works published by the author' could not do justice to the situation, since in the case of Kafka these two areas are related to one another in complex and subtle ways.

I shall attempt to contrive a confrontation of the problems of one area with those of the other.

Firstly, the problems of the posthumous edition:

It is a peculiarity of Kafka's way of writing that it is governed by the antithetical principles of flux and inhibition, of—if you like: inundation and drought. The alternation of the one with the other was determined not only in the private sphere but also within that which social psychology has made its province. The cultural ritual that is writing includes both possibilities. On the one hand it paves the way to maturity and individual independence; on the other hand, this path to freedom must be learned in school as compulsion and discipline. Whenever Kafka writes, this duality, this contradictory linking of freedom and compulsion, comes into its own. Kafka is a paradigmatic example of the problems of the middle-class individual in his quest for identity—a quest that takes place against the background of a stern pedagogical discipline.

Kafka was acutely aware of this himself, and again and again in his work turned a fundamental incompatibility between living and writing into the stuff of his writing. Thus he never tires of expounding the problem of the 'birth of the individual' into society, of the process that leads from the strictures of life within the family into the relative freedom of society at large. Again and again, Kafka poses the question: can artistic creation offer such a path to freedom? One that leads out of the constraints of discourse within the family into a wider social and cultural milieu?

This constant antithesis of compulsion and freedom led in Kafka's case to two different forms of production. On the one hand, there is a creative state that is almost unconscious, dream-like, and which results in some texts turning out to be virtually definitive when first written down. On the other hand, there are what I call 'thickets of scratchings out' that spring up when the internal censor has been active and when


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the thread of creativity has broken and could not be joined again.[2]

Secondly, the problems of editing those works Kafka saw through the press:

The relationship of script and printed word is, in Kafka's case, particularly fraught with difficulty. While he felt handwriting to be something congenial to the life of the body, he always experienced the printed word as a distancing from the body, indeed as its elimination, which, in turn, leads to the ultimate survival of the script in the transmuted form of the book. An example from Kafka's writing is the text entitled A Dream which belongs to the complex of The Trial. In this fragment, Josef K.'s body sinks into the earth while his name flashes in a strong, ornate script across the tombstone above him.

This structure reflects a cultural issue, namely the ambivalent role of writing within the process by which the individual acquires an identity. For this process is guided on the one hand by the body and on the other by a conglomerate of social codes. As an expression of the body, writing appears as something unique, bearing the unmistakable and inalienable stamp of individuality. This is something which, incidentally, accounts for the market prices of autograph manuscripts. The negative obverse of this is the ready reproduction of such unique scripts through the machines we all have at our disposal.

From the perspective of society and its codes, writing appears in a different guise: on the one hand, it partakes of the anonymity of social discourse, on the other, it manifests itself in the positive concept of authorship. Authorship means the legitimation of the individual in terms of legal and economic structures. The situation Kafka faces when writing can thus be seen as a general cultural problem. We may describe this as the individual's dilemma as to where to seek or to locate his identity: in the untidy scribblings of the manuscripts or in the 'luxury editions' of which Kafka himself was always so fond.

This is the central problem confronting the self that sets out to acquire legitimacy in an age dominated by the written word. Shall it be attained by the purely 'intimate self', defined by the fact that feelings are private and inalienable, and are mirrored as such by the handwritten text? Or shall it be achieved as a 'public individual', determined by the opinions of others and by the effects of one's own printed works within the cultural sphere that guarantees the personal unity of 'authorship'?

The real problem of modern authorship can be summed up in the question: how can the one experience of subjectivity be transmuted into the other? How can the fluid situation of the manuscript be converted into the static one of the literary work? In general it is a process of segmentation, of dissecting the script in a way that will be to the advantage


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of the future work. In this act of dissection the intimacy of the creative flow cannot help but be converted into the public phenomenon that is the literary work.

Over the decades, the problematic figure of 'Kafka the author' has been shaped on this basis. It was Max Brod who set the process in motion when he transformed the novels, which Kafka himself thought of as failures, into finished documents and works of World Literature. As against Brod's practice, one must never lose sight of the fact that Kafka put most value on his collections of short narrative pieces. These he arranged carefully within each volume, and thus created new structures of meaning through their positioning. In a sense, this was Kafka's attempt to work against the closed 'work structure' of the individual printed text. He saw this structure, but wanted to re-open it by combining several such texts into a sequence suggestive of a new flow of creativity.

Our Kafka edition attempts to do justice to these contradictory factors. I should now like to discuss three areas of our editorial work where they have been significant.

The first area is that of the critical apparatus of the edition and our attempt to adapt the reproduction of the text to reflect the different modes of composition, which means, in effect, using both the linear and the stereometric presentation of variants as the need arises. In the last analysis it is the editor's own decision as to which method is appropriate.

I offer a simple example to make this clear:

  • B Presentation of variants:
  • 6120 linear: wie er flüchtig feststellte] <wie (ich>er) flüchtig feststellte> H
  • 6120 in stages: ___] (1) <wie ich flüchtig feststellte> (2) wie (ich>er) flüchtig feststellte
  • C Interventions of the editor:
  • 6120 hatte,] hatte feststellte,] feststellte
  • D Edited text:
  • [Page 61, line 20] Olga hatte, wie er flüchtig feststellte, doch den Weg zu ihrem Bekannten gefunden.

A second problem which the edition has to face is that of the relationship of the manuscript to the printed text. This means taking account of


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the dialectical interaction of the flow of creativity, on the one hand, with the closed structure of the finished work as it is manifest throughout the whole of Kafka's work on the other. Here we have adopted the solution of the 'double edition'. Texts which exist both as part of the creative flow within a manuscript and which were also lifted out of it by Kafka himself and prepared for the press are to be printed twice, once as components of a larger context, namely the manuscript, and then a second time as 'works' published separately. One example of this is the famous parable from The Trial Before the Law, which is in the first instance embedded in the manuscript of the novel, but which was also published by Kafka as the only part of the novel to be printed in his lifetime.

A third problem is that of representing within the edition the way in which Kafka went about determining the printed form of those works he did publish. The point of view I wish to defend here is that even those texts Kafka was willing to publish do not constitute 'finished works' in the normal sense. Rather, their ordering is meant to preserve the character of the 'open text', as does the manuscript that reflects the process of composition. This is obvious when we consider that all the work Kafka published himself is subject to the dual principles of segmenting and integration. There are various texts which he first published singly, for example in a periodical, then as part of a small group of texts in another periodical, then as part of a collection, and finally as a single text extracted from this complex and republished.

The following figure illustrates the second collection of texts which Kafka published himself: A Country Doctor.

From it we see, for example, that Kafka first published the two texts Jackals and Arabs and Report for an Academy singly, then together in a periodical Der Jude and finally together with twelve other pieces in the collection A Country Doctor.

It is important to recognise that, while each of these texts can be understood by itself, they do have a common field of reference when paired, namely the problem of attaining an identity in the context of cultural systems. As well, we can see them forming an intertextual structure with the other stories in the volume A Country Doctor, and we can try and reconstruct this through precise interpretation. I have, in fact, tried to do this in various essays.[3]

As editor, one can only deal with this phenomenon by adding a commentary. One cannot reproduce all the various contexts of a single text in extenso within the edition. It would be far too costly. Therefore we need a commentary to draw the reader's attention to the patterning of themes and motifs created by such juxtapositions. We must ensure that the reader becomes aware of the 'open' character of this collection of


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texts. This means we must demonstrate its incompleteness. Our edition will endeavour to present the changing configurations of the printed texts as clearly as possible, using tables similar to the one reproduced above.

These indications should suffice to show that the problem of the 'open' text, of 'unfinished writing' is present on all levels of Kafka's work. It is evident in the manuscripts in the alternation of the flowing and drying up of the stream of creativity; it is evident in the relationship of manuscript to printed text once we show the process of segmentation; finally it is evident in the way in which Kafka published, that is: in the way he arranged single texts into groups and collections.

I should now like to give individual examples of all of these instances, starting with the manuscripts.

The first problem is how to show the various stages in the composition of a text, specifically those places where the creative flow dries up and various levels of correction overlay one another. There are two main contexts in Kafka's works where complications occur in shaping the text and where it frequently breaks off: this happens on the one hand, where the text becomes metaphorical and, on the other, where passages of an explanatory or interpretative nature are found.

As an instance of the complications that arise from metaphor, I should like to take part of Building the Great Wall of China. The example shows very clearly how the 'incompleteness' of a text is rooted in the difficulty of finding precise metaphors for the ideas seeking expression. In this story Kafka sets out to depict a collective identity, which supplants that of the individuals making up the Chinese people. It was written in that phase of his creativity when he was prone to replace his earlier images of the family and of its power to create identity with fantasies of collective identity. The underlying issue is, once more, that of European subjectivity between the conflicting claims of private and public spheres. It is important to note that Kafka purports to survey these problems with the distanced regard of the anthropologist.

Within this fantasy of collective identity, the point is reached where the identity of the people needs to be legitimised. Within our own cultural framework this would normally be achieved by invoking the concept of a purely 'representative' power as it developed within the feudal system: as the 'ideal' subject of the ruler who in turn validates the existence of the other members of the body politic.

This idea is expressed by Kafka himself at one point and, significantly, in metaphorical guise. If we take the last stage of the manuscript version and leave aside all previous crossings-out, the text reads:


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Wenn man aus solchen Erscheinungen folgern wollte, daβ wir im Grunde gar keinen Kaiser haben, wäre man von der Wahrheit nicht weit entfernt. Immer wieder muβ ich sagen: Es gibt vielleicht kein kaisertreueres Volk als das unsrige im Süden, aber die Treue kommt dem Kaiser nicht zugute. Zwar steht auf der kleinen Säule am Dorfausgang der heilige Drache und bläst huldigend seit Menschengedenken den feurigen Atem genau in die Richtung von Peking—aber Peking selbst ist den Leuten im Dorf viel fremder als das jenseitige Leben. Sollte es wirklich ein Dorf geben, wo Haus an Haus steht, Felder bedeckend, weiter als der Blick von unserem Hügel reicht und zwischen diesen Häusern stünden bei Tag und bei Nacht Menschen Kopf an Kopf? Leichter als eine solche Stadt sich vorzustellen ist es uns, zu glauben, Peking und sein Kaiser wäre eines, etwa eine Wolke, ruhig unter der Sonne sich wandelnd im Laufe der Zeiten.

If one wished to conclude from phenomena such as these that we have, in reality, no Emperor at all, then one would not be far from the truth. I must say it again and again: there is perhaps no people so loyal to the Emperor as we in the South, but the Emperor derives no benefit from our loyalty. Certainly the holy dragon stands on its little column at the exit to our village and blows, as it has since time immemorial, the homage of its fiery breath in the precise direction of Peking—but Peking itself is much more alien to the people in the village than even the hereafter would be. Could there really be such a thing as a village where house stands by house, covering the fields and stretching further than one can see from our hilltop, with people standing crammed together in the spaces in between? Rather than try to imagine such a city, it is easier for us to believe that Peking and its Emperor are one and the same thing, for instance: a cloud, calmly altering its contours beneath the sun, throughout the passage of the ages.

Here, the order of the state derives its legitimacy from an ideological construct disguised as a natural phenomenon: the institution of the Emperor is thought of as a cloud. Roland Barthes has said that it is a trademark of ideologies that they seek to assume the quality of natural phenomena.[4]

Kafka never did publish this text. He was dissatisfied with the metaphorical construct and tried various other ways of expressing the derivation of legitimacy before the text was finally abandoned in an incomplete state. We can see this if we look at the state of the variants. The transcription of the text above, beginning with line 7, is accompanied by an apparatus of its variants in the system used in our edition:

  • 7 in die . . . Peking -] (1) in der Richtung in der Peking liegt, (2) in der Richtung [in der] <von> Peking [liegt,]
  • 8 Dorf] Dorfe H
  • 9 wo] [mit] wo H


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  • 9 steht,] steht, [weiter als der BliA] H
  • 9 Felder bedeckend,] bedeckend Felder, H
  • 10 stünden] [stehen] <stünden> H
  • 11 Kopf?] Kopf (.>?)
  • 11 eine solche] [solche] [ei]ne[1] solche
  • 12 vorzustellen,] vorstellen, H
  • 12 uns,] (1) <etwa> (2) (etwa>uns)
  • 12 und sein Kaiser] <und (der>sein) Kaiser> H
  • 12-13 wäre . . . eine] (1) wäre eine (2) wäre<n>[2]<nur> eine (3) wären (nur>eines) eine (4) wären eines <,etwa> eine
  • 13-14 Wolke . . . Zeiten.] (1) Wolke, langsam sich wandelnd wie Wolken an Sommerabenden und | [in ihrer Mitte] [sässe] in diesem Peking sässe erscheinend in der geheimnisvollen Farbe Violett der Kaiser, aus der Ferne [best] [X] bestrahlt von den fernen elterlichen Sonnen, jener im Aufgang und jener im Untergang — (2) Wolke, <im Laufe der Zeiten> [langsam] <ruhig> sich wandelnd wie Wolken a(n>m) Sommerabend[en] und | <und [im⧘] durchschnitten vom Strahl der mütterlichen Sonne> [in diesem Peking] <dort> sässe [erscheinend in der geheimnisvollen Farbe Violett] der Kaiser, [aus der Ferne bestrahlt von] <im Strahlenkranz> de(n>r) [fernen] elterlichen Sonnen, jener im Aufgang und jener im Untergang — (3) Wolke, [im Laufe der Zeiten ruhig sich wandelnd wie Wolken am Sommerabend und | und durchschnitten vom Strahl der mütterlichen Sonne dort sässe der Kaiser im Strahlenkranz der elterlichen Sonnen, jener im Aufgang und jener im Untergang — ] <ruhig sich wandelnd im Laufe der Zeiten wie Wolken am Sommerabend unter dem Strahl der mütterlichen Sonne.> with the draft text presumably extending to herrüberreicht. On the second manuscript page, this insertion and the subsequent ones were probably inscribed in the blank space below, under a separating rule across the page (4) Wolke, [ruhig sich wandelnd im Laufe der Zeiten wie Wolken am Sommerabend unter dem Strahl der mütterlichen Sonne.] Absatz <die sich ruhig wandeln im Laufe der Zeiten unter dem Strahl der mütterlichen Sonne.> (5) Wolke, die sich ruhig wandel(n>t) im Laufe der Zeiten <am Sommerabend>[3] unter [dem Strahl] der mütterlichen Sonne. (6) Wolke, [die sich ruhig wandelt im Laufe der Zeiten am Sommerabend unter der mütterlichen Sonne.] <ruhig unter der Sonne sich wandelnd im Laufe der Zeiten.> separated by a rule across the page from the preceding draft sketches; a mark of insertion before ruhig links back to a corresponding mark on the previous manuscript page after Wolken


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Thus it is clear that Kafka experimented with various metaphors in order to render the process of making the Imperial Power legitimate. First he speaks in terms of a patriarchal system and uses "parental suns". In a second attempt the empire is legitimised in matriarchal terms and so we find "motherly suns". Finally he opts for the natural phenomenon, unembellished, and the imperial institution becomes a "cloud".

This passage documents Kafka's attempt to express the nature of familial and social structures by means of a model based on feudalism and shows, as well, its failure: the retreat to a 'natural' model of legitimation. A passage like this reveals the essence of Kafka's 'construct' of middle-class individuality—and does so precisely by the unresolved tensions which are evident here, the vacillation between two different legitimising structures: culture, in the sense that it is an outgrowth of the family and develops into a genealogical ordering; nature, to the extent that it can be exploited to clothe an ideological construct.

An example of how Kakfa's flow of creativity may dry up when he is inhibited by his own explanatory mode of writing is to be found in the Report for an Academy. A transcription dramatically emphasizes the nature of the text in the bottom half of the manuscript page; the lemmatisation of the last sentence demonstrates this complication:

kommen. Es wird für die Akademie nichts wesentlich Neues beibringen und weit hinter dem zurückbleiben, was man von mir verlangt hat und was ich beim besten Willen nicht sagen kann—immerhin, es soll doch die Richtlinie zeigen, auf welcher ein gewesener Affe in die Menschenwelt eingedrungen ist und sich dort festgesetzt hat. Ergibt sich dann vielleicht, daβ alle vom Tore des Paradieses ab diesen Weg eingeschlagen haben, einer früher einer später desto besser, desto schlimmer dann: und wir liegen uns alle in den Armen.

festgesetzt hat.] festgesetzt hat. [Ergibt sich <dann vielleicht>, dass alle vom Tore des Paradieses ab diesen Weg eingeschlagen haben, einer früher einer später desto besser, desto [schlechtA] schlimmer <dann:> und wir liegen uns alle in den Armen.] H

I should now like to illustrate the problems that concern the relation of the manuscript to the published work. I have chosen examples from what are called the "Octavo Note Books" which contain some of the manuscripts later used for the volume A Country Doctor. In this context, there are four different points I must bring out. The "Report for an Academy" is particularly instructive. Kafka tried no less than four beginnings before he produced a version which seemed good enough for him to publish. The difficulties he had were essentially those of narrative perspective. How can an ape, who becomes human so as to survive


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in a human world, depict the process he has undergone? Let us consider the table on the next page.[5]

Kafka's first attempt at the story takes the form of an interview with the impresario of the ape become human (I). The second beginning (II) is an interview with the ape himself. In the third (III) and fourth (IV) attempts the ape addresses a human academy. A fifth beginning (V) takes the form of a letter from the ape's teacher, who has lost his wits as a result of his pedagogical exertions. Only the third and fourth attempts satisfied Kafka as being suitable for publication. All the other perspectives on the story were ruled out, but they still belong to one and the same thematic complex and cannot be separated from it. There is, in addition, what I can only term a 'counter fantasy' concerning an "old man with wings", which is interpolated into the middle of the text (a). In it the ape become human is, as it were, confronted by a human being who has become an angel.

What concerns me here as editor is the following: the Report for an Academy appears in two different contexts. On the one hand it is interwoven with various other fantasies in the "Octavo Note Books"; on the other it is embedded in the volume A Country Doctor. If the text is to be interpreted adequately, one must make both extended contexts tangible for the reader. Hence the critical Kafka edition will publish the text twice, once as it appears in the creative flow of the manuscript, then a second time within the framework of the collections which Kafka himself published.

A further text from the "Octavo Note Books" provides a good demonstration of another problem. It is a text that breaks off during the process of composition, as it were, and which one would falsify as editor if one tried to turn it into a definitive text with the closed quality of a literary work. A feature of this text is that Kafka first planned it as a general observation, then tried to cast it as an autobiographical narrative, but gave up half-way through the process of transforming it. I shall first quote a version of Kafka's text, as it might present itself to the reader if an editor were to turn it into something looking like a finished 'work', and then append an English translation.

Eine stinkende Hündin, reichliche Kindergebärerin, stellenweise schon faulend, die aber in meiner Kindheit mir alles war, die in Treue unaufhörlich mir folgt, die ich zu schlagen mich nicht überwinden kann und vor der ich ihren Athem scheuend schrittweise rückwärts weiche und die mich doch, wenn ich mich nicht anders entscheide in den schon sichtbaren Mauerwinkel drängen wird, um dort auf mir und mit mir gänzlich zu verwesen, bis zum Ende—ehrt es mich?—das Eiter- und Wurmfleisch ihrer Zunge an meiner Hand.


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A stinking bitch, that has had many litters, whose body is already rotting in places, but which meant everything to me as a child, which never ceases following me faithfully, that I can't bring myself to beat and before whose foul breath I retreat backwards step by step and which will nevertheless, if I don't change my mind about beating it, force me into that corner in the wall I can already see, so as to putrefy entirely upon me and with me there, and till the last moment—should I feel honoured?—the pussy, wormy flesh of its tongue on my hand.

If we have access to the manuscript and can survey all the variants, then the following picture emerges:

  • 1-2 Eine . . . die] (1) Die Welt ein stinkender Hund, stellenweise schon [verwesend] <faulend>, der (2) [Die Welt] (e>E)in stinkend(er>e) Hünd(,>in), reichliche (H>K)indergebärerin stellenweise schon faulend, d(er>ie)
  • 2-3 unaufhörlich . . . und] (1) unaufhörlich <,> [und vor dem i] den ich nicht [([mi]>Zuzu)] [Zu] schlagen darf (2) unaufhörlich <mir folgt>, den ich [nicht] <zu> schlagen [darf] <mich nicht überwinden kann> und (3) unaufhörlich mir folgt, d(en>ie) ich zu schlagen mich nicht überwinden kann und
  • 3 die] d(er>ie)
  • 4 vor . . . schrittweise] (1) vor dem ich schrittweise [nach] (2) vor dem ich <jede seiner Berührungen scheuend> schrittweise (3) vor de(m>r) ich [jede] (seiner>ihre) Berührungen <ihren Athem> scheuend schrittweise (4) vor der ich [ihre] Berührungen [ihren] <ihre(n>s)> Athem scheuend schrittweise (5) vor der ich [Berührungen] ihres Athem scheuend schrittweise
  • 4 rückwärts] [nach] rückwärts
  • 4 die] d(er>ie)
  • 5 doch,] doch <,>
  • 5-6 den . . . Mauerwinkel] (1) die schon sichtbare Ecke (2) d(ie>en) schon sichtbare [Ecke] <Mauerecke> (3) den schon sichtbare Mauer[ecke]<winkel>
  • 6 auf] (miA>au)f
  • 7 ehrt] ehr(ts>t)
  • 8 ihrer] (seiner>ihrer)
  • 8 an] (auf>an)

Once we are in a position to follow the genesis of the text in this manner, then we see that Kafka originally meant to make it a maxim. He began: "The world [is] a stinking dog, already rotting in places . . ." Thus a judgement about the world was to be made in the form of a metaphorical comparison. In the course of working over the text, Kafka then turned it back into a kind of autobiographical reminiscence. Traces of this process are visible in the grammatical uncertainty that marks two places in the text. If an editor does as Max Brod did and removes these


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'grammar mistakes', then he produces a text which the author never intended. We, on the contrary, are of the view that the unfinished quality of the text—by which we mean: the text as process—must be respected, and so the grammatical errors have to appear in the edited text to bring this aspect out clearly.

A further problem that comes under the heading of the 'incomplete text' is demonstrated by Kafka's only attempt at drama, namely The Warden of the Crypt—Der Gruftwächter.[6] Kafka revised this long scene again and again and the method he used was to sketch a situation in one of the "Octavo Note Books", cross it out, copy it again with alterations, then cross it out again so as to produce, on a third or fourth attempt, further different versions. The following diagram shows the sequence of texts in the 'Octavo Note Books A to E' and in particular the six stages of composition of The Warden of the Crypt (1-6).

Kafka's first editor, Max Brod, conflated these different versions and made of them a text that could be played on stage. He had, as it were, distilled a definitive text out of a series of re-writes by conflating them with one another. But this destroys the 'incompleteness of the text'. Therefore it is our task to present the successive versions in their entirety as a series and as a process—moreover in such a way that the crossings-out are signalled by the edited text, but the reader can still reconstruct all the changes in their proper order.

A fourth set of problems centres around Kafka's struggle to evoke adequately what Emile Benveniste calls 'the authorities of discourse', "les instances du discours" in various texts. The text The New Advocate provides an eloquent demonstration of this. There are five different versions of this story, as shown in the diagram above. Kafka first (15) tries a first-person-singular narrative, then one in the third person (16), then one in the second (17). Finally he finds the solution of telling the story in the first person plural (18). If we were to suppress all the earlier attempts, we would be left with only the last, definitive text, which Kafka in fact had published. But it is equally important to document the fact that within the same textual ambience Kafka had three other tries at establishing the point of authority for his creative discourse. Now this is something the 'double edition' can do by printing the same text twice: once in the context of the "Octavo Note Books" where the various stages of composition are clearly revealed, and then a second time in the context of the collection published as A Country Doctor where Kafka himself ultimately placed it.

Finally, we should be aware that Kafka also applied the principle of the 'unfinished text' to his own attitude towards publication. Let us look once more at the table which demonstrates what Kafka did when putting


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together the collection of stories published as A Country Doctor. (Cf. figure 1.) We must recall that Kafka first published many of his texts singly, then in small groups of texts, then in a larger collection and, finally, that a few of them were taken out of the collections again and republished singly. It is very interesting, for example, with regard to the stories in A Country Doctor, that Kafka had previously published thematically related stories separately in groups of two and three—also that he took a text out of the collection at the last moment, in fact from the page proofs, and then subsequently published it by itself in a newspaper. The text is Der Kübelreiter, meaning roughly The Rider on the Pail.

What I think is significant is that Kafka tried in this manner to restore the originally fluid and unfixed quality which these texts had possessed in the manuscript stage through their inter-relation with their context and other texts, and to do so again and differently in the printed medium. I have shown that the printed collections have their own unique manner of construction, that they manifest changing perspectives in a play of fantasies of identity,—one which Kafka in the printed version arranged in a new order. But, in doing so, he applied the principle of the 'open text', so as to suggest the flow of creativity rather than that of the definitive, the closed 'work'.

To sum up what I have tried to show in this discourse: whereas with many other writers the concept of the 'incomplete manuscript' is only relevant to their posthumous works, in Kafka's case it has to be applied to the whole of his literary achievement. Problems of the 'incomplete manuscript' or the 'open text' confront us not only when dealing with the manuscripts themselves, but they also affect the relation between manuscript and printed text and the separate issue of the structural composition of the printed collections. The dialectical interaction between the flow of creativity and the consolidation of texts into literary works is evident at every stage of Kafka's achievement, both in the intimacy of the autograph version and in the public manifestation of the printed work. His desire on the one hand, to shape closed works that are perfect in themselves, and his contrary desire: to keep the flow of creativity going, constantly interact with one another, and this interaction has its effects at every stage of his literary endeavour, right up to the ordering of texts in the collections he published. We find a similar situation with the work of the German writer Arno Schmidt. He too tried to preserve the open quality of his writing and the process of its composition by publishing his manuscripts with all their corrections in facsimile, thus making of them a 'work' and inscribing them as such in the world of letters. The work in question is called Zettels Traum, i.e. Bottom's Dream.


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In conclusion, it seems to me that the issues which are so conspicuous in Kafka's work are bound up with the complication of three fundamental concepts which all bear on what we have to understand by 'text' in the modern situation. These are firstly the concept of 'script' or 'writing'; secondly the concept of the 'work' and thirdly the concept of a 'fluid composite' which is never wholly the one nor the other. If one allows only one of these concepts to emerge into the foreground, then of necessity one falsifies the unique textual character of what Kafka produced. If we consider only the aspect of 'script' or 'writing', acknowledging only the flow of creativity, we would certainly reproduce the autograph versions, but we would have excluded the area of 'authorship' as an institution and the communicative function of literature as a social phenomenon. If we only consider the idea of the 'work', then we would do justice to the concept of 'authorship' and its emblem of authority the 'definitive version', the 'Ausgabe letzter Hand' as one says in German, but the questions of textuality and communication would remain unanswered. Finally, if we only look at the aesthetics of potential effect and concentrate purely on the intertextuality of the collections Kafka arranged as the 'fluid composite' of the various textual units, then we would have done nothing to shed light on the areas of manuscript and authorship. So one has little choice but to bring out all three aspects in an edition as the only way of doing justice to one specific understanding of textuality in the sphere of modern writing.

Our edition employs various means to achieve this. To represent adequately the 'creative flow' of Kafka's manuscripts the whole of the "Octavo Note Books" are reproduced in a more or less 'diplomatic' version which remains faithful to the visual form of the original. These 'diplomatic' renderings will have on the facing page a facsimile of the manuscript. Then, through sheer fidelity to the principle of authorial approval, we shall print the texts Kafka himself published again in the volume Work Published in his Lifetime and thus do justice to the concept of the 'definitive version'. Then, finally, the edition will set out to demonstrate a third aspect, namely that of intertextuality, and by this I mean the interrelation of texts both in the manuscripts and in the collections. Such interrelations are extremely difficult to indicate typographically and so we must have recourse to commentary, using figures and tables such as I have shown here. This threefold technique should ensure that the edition conveys as complete an impression as possible of Kafka's 'open texts'.

The success of this undertaking assumes, of course, that the same person must be both editor and interpreter. Editing is no longer a mechanical task of unquestioning reproduction, but rather the project of


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combining the skills of interpreting and philological reconstruction so as to do justice to modern concepts of author, work and text. These concepts became increasingly problematical in the course of the nineteenth century, as they developed out of the complications that beset the legendary 'unity of self' of the middle-class individual and today still reflect the problems of identity which are his chronic affliction.



This essay was a contribution for the Symposium on Textual Criticism and Editing held in Charlottesville, Va., from 20th to 23rd April 1985. My sincere thanks are due to Anthony Stephens for the translation.


Franz Kafka, Amerika. Roman. New York/Frankfurt, 1953 (Gesammelte Werke, ed. Max Brod), p. 316f. All translations of Kafka's texts are by Anthony Stephens. For the kind permission to reproduce Kafka's manuscripts the author wishes to thank Mrs. Marianne Steiner, Sir Malcolm Pasley, the Fischer Verlag (Frankfurt am Main) and especially the Bodleian Library.


This state of affairs had practical consequences for the typography of the edition. It proved necessary to combine two types of editorial technique: for large segments of text: a linear reproduction, a syntagmatic type of editing, as it were; but in those places where Kafka had made many corrections, we had to apply the principle of reproducing the text by stages, thus pursuing a more paradigmatic method. One might term this 'stereometric' in the sense that it is meant to reveal the stratification of the various levels of the text and thus reproduces the process of composing the text. Wherever these two modes of writing which, in turn, call for two different modes of editing, intersect, two typical kinds of correction appear in Kafka's text: on the one hand the first letter of a word never written out ('Buchstabenansatz': (KA > G)eorg), and, on the other, letters and parts of words written over one another ('Überschreibung': (Brief > Blick)). In these two forms the interruption and the resumption of the flow of creativity are manifest. A model for the 'stereometric' representation of variants is offered for Hölderlin's poem Hälfte des Lebens in my essay (co-author Martin Ehrenzeller): "Rudolf Borchardt: Der unwürdige Liebhaber." In: Zeit der Moderne. Zur deutschen Literatur von der Jahrhundertwende bis zur Gegenwart, ed. Hans-Henrik Krummacher, Fritz Martini and Walter Müller-Seidel. Bernhard Zeller zum 65. Geburtstag. Stuttgart, 1984, pp. 89-118. I have also treated aspects of this problem in the following articles: "Werk oder Schrift? Vorüberlegungen zur Edition von Kafkas 'Bericht für eine Akademie'." In: Jahrbuch für Internationale Germanistik. Reihe A. Kongressberichte vol. 11. Edition und Interpretation. / Edition et Interprétation des Manuscrits littéraires, ed. Louis Hay and Winfried Woesler. Bern/Frankfurt/Las Vegas, 1981, pp. 154-173; and simultaneously in Acta Germanica 14 (1981), 1-21.—Wolf Kittler and Gerhard Neumann, "Kafkas 'Drucke zu Lebzeiten'—Editorische Technik und hermeneutische Entscheidung." In: Freiburger Universitätsblätter 21 (December 1982), Heft 78, pp. 45-84.—"Der verschleppte Prozess. Literarisches Schaffen zwischen Schreibstrom und Werkidol." Poetica 14 (1982), 92-112.—"Schrift und Druck. Erwägungen zur Edition von Kafkas Landarzt-Band." Zeitschrift für Deutsche Philologie 101 (1982), 115-139 (Sonderheft: Probleme neugermanistischer Edition).—"L'écrit, l'oeuvre, l'imprimé: le texte inachevé de Franz Kafka." In: Le manuscrit inachevé. Écriture, création, communication. Louis Hay, Jacques Neefs, Pierre-Marc de Biasi, Jean-Yves Tadie, Gerhard Neumann, Jean Levaillant, Jean-Louis Lebrave. Textes et manuscrits. Collection publiée par Louis Hay. Paris, 1986, pp. 87-99 (Éditions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique).


Cf. my essays on "Der verschleppte Prozess" and "Schrift und Druck" in note 2 above.


Cf. Roland Barthes, Mythologies. Paris, 1957.


In the diagram different shadings indicate related bodies of text. For our purposes the sequence of composition of the "Report for an Academy" (I-V) is relevant here.


The compound "Gruftwächter" appears to be Kafka's own coinage.

Notes from the list


eine probably deleted only by accident


The insertion perhaps belongs to stage (3) or (4)


A place of insertion is not marked for im Laufe der Zeiten which appears as an interlinear addition above these words