The City of K:
Franz Kafka and Prague, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona
For each invalid his household god, for the tubercular the god of suffocation.
--Kafka, Diaries, 19101923
One night in August 1917, in his apartment in the Schönborn Palace, Kafka started coughing up blood. His lungs hemorrhaged for ten interminable minutes; the subsequent diagnosis almost immediately confirmed what he expectedtuberculosis. Kafka was not surprised. He described his situation with implacable lucidity as he knew he would never regain his health. He had been aware for some time that his existential drama was leading to a great illness, one to which the writer accorded a symbolic dimension, perceiving it as the climax of his relentless inner battle.
Kafka became obsessed with the spiritual world. It was the only thing he admitted as real, and through it he established a link with Jewish mysticism. From the writer Kafka feared he would never be, he took the substance of autobiography and turned it into fiction and yet again into testimony. Doubting, trusting, and denying himself, writing until the end, Kafka constructed the City of K. Let us see what happens in the advanced stages of this metamorphosis.
A Hunger Artist.
Kafka read the proofs of this short story when he was dying of starvation due to an inflammation of the larynx that made it impossible for him to eat. His friend Robert Klopstock described the sight as a macabre spectacle: the dying Kafka correcting the galleys of a story about a professional faster starving to death in his cage, forgotten by everyone. The hunger artist fasts because he has no choicehe has never found any food that he likes. We should remember here that, for many years of his adult life, Kafka was a committed vegetarian with a wry sense of humor: on one occasion, he commented that vegetarians have it easythey eat their own flesh.
During the last weeks of his life, Kafka also had to contend with thirst. He was unable to speak, his communication with the world reduced to the conversation sheets, on which he expressed his terrible desire to drink water, a great mouthful of water, good mineral water, and noted that certain flowers, such as lilacs, drink when they die, still continue to drink.
The last letter.
While in the throes of his final illness, Kafka studied Hebrew, attended lectures at the Berlin Academy for Jewish Studies, and expressed an interest in immigrating to Palestine. As he faced his mortality, his great conflict with his father eased and the psychological walls he felt surrounding him began to disintegrate. In his last letter to his parents, he said how lovely a visit from them would be, yet also stated that there is too much that argues against it. Even as he was approaching death, Kafka struck both a nostalgic and a conflicted chord.