Kafka’s oeuvre contains innumerable fragmentary pieces which can be placed into three categories — parables, aphorisms and story sketches (what we call “flash fiction.”). Of the latter, there are several that teeter on the edge of metaphor, or where the structure of the sentence is made to collide, in all its cold logic, with its hyper-real sense[1], or some which calmly radiate the luminosity of ephemeral worlds glimpsed in clouds during sunset, whose light however remains with us for long, guiding us through dimly lit streets on our way home.

The dexterity with which Kafka handles the sentence, making its stretch, accordion-like, from a short phrase to a lengthy paragraph, justifies revisiting him as a prose poet.

* * *

A cart with three men in it was slowly going uphill in the dark. A stranger came towards them and called out to them. After some brief exchange of words it turned out that the stranger was asking to be given a lift. A place was made for him to sit in and he was helped up. Only when they were driving on did they ask him: “You were coming from the other direction and now you’re going back?” – “Yes,” the stranger said. “First I was going in your direction, but then I turned back because darkness had fallen earlier than I expected.”


* * *

The windless calm on some days, the noise made by those arriving, the way our people come running out of the houses to welcome, flags are put out here and there, people hurry down to the cellar to fetch wine, from a window a rose falls on to the cobbles, nobody has any patience, the boats, instantly gripped by a hundred arms, scrape the beach, the foreign men gaze around them and climb up into the broad daylight of the square.


* * *

You know the Trocadéro in Paris? In that building, the extent of which you cannot possibly imagine from photographs of it, the main hearing in a great lawsuit is going on at this very moment. You may wonder how it is possible to heat such a building adequately in this frightful winter. It is not heated. To start by thinking of heating in such a case is something people can do only in the pretty little country town where you spend your life. The Trocadéro is not being heated, but this does not interfere with the progress of the case; on the contrary, in the midst of this cold, which radiates up and down from all sides, litigation is going on at exactly the same pace, this way and that, lengthwise and across.


The Truth Abut Sancho Panza

Sancho Panza, who, incidentally, never boasted of it, in the course of the years, by means of providing a large number of romances of chivalry and banditry to while away the evening and night hours, succeeded in diverting the attentions of his devil, to whom he later gave the name Don Quixote, from himself to such an extent that this devil then in unbridled fashion performed the craziest deeds, which however, for lack of a pre-determined object, which should, of course, have been Sancho Panza, did nobody any harm. Sancho Panza, a free man, tranquilly, and perhaps out of a certain sense of responsibility, followed Don Quixote on his travels and had much and profitable entertainment from this to the end of his days.


The Wish to Be a Red Indian

If one were only an Indian, instantly alert, and on a racing horse, leaning against the wind, kept on quivering jerkily over the quivering ground, until one shed one’s spurs, for there needed no spurs, threw away the reins, for there needed no reins, and hardly saw that the land before one was smoothly shorn heath when horse’s neck and head would be already gone.

[1] Mark Harman, in his Translator’s Preface to The Castle, gives a good example of this: “He moved about freely now, rested his stick here and there, approached the woman in the armchair, and was, incidentally, the biggest in the room.” This stylistic trait is visible again in the Trocadéro story.