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That time Franz Kafka visited Rudolf Steiner to talk about Theosophy


Franz Kafka c. 1911
 
So here is something I learned wallowing in London Review of Books’ digital archive: Franz Kafka had enough of an interest in Theosophy to visit Rudolf Steiner at his hotel and ask whether to devote his life to study of the occult sciences. Kafka wrote about the meeting in his diary. It’s just like one of his short stories.

In March of 1911, Steiner, who had not yet founded the Anthroposophical Society, delivered a series of lectures in Prague, later published as An Occult Physiology. The date of Kafka’s first diary entry on the lectures, March 26, puts him in the audience for the sixth talk, “The Blood as Manifestation and Instrument of the Human Ego.” Two days later, Kafka met Steiner at the Victoria Hotel on Jungmannstrasse:

In his room I try to show my humility, which I cannot feel, by seeking out a ridiculous place for my hat, I lay it down on a small wooden stand for lacing boots. Table in the middle, I sit facing the window, he on the left side of the table. On the table papers with a few drawings which recall those of the lectures dealing with occult physiology. An issue of the Annalen für Naturphilosophie topped a small pile of the books which seemed to be lying about in other places as well. However, you cannot look around because he keeps trying to hold you with his glance. But if for a moment he does not, then you must watch for the return of his glance. He begins with a few disconnected sentences. So you are Dr Kafka? Have you been interested in theosophy long?

But I push on with my prepared address: I feel that a great part of my being is striving toward theosophy, but at the same time I have the greatest fear of it. That is to say, I am afraid it will result in a new confusion which would be very bad for me, because even my present unhappiness consists only of confusion. This confusion is as follows: My happiness, my abilities, and every possibility of being useful in any way have always been in the literary field. And here I have, to be sure, experienced states (not many) which in my opinion correspond very closely to the clairvoyant states described by you, Herr Doktor, in which I completely dwelt in every idea, but also filled every idea, and in which I not only felt myself at my boundary, but at the boundary of the human in general. Only the calm of enthusiasm, which is probably characteristic of the clairvoyant, was still lacking in those states, even if not completely. I conclude this from the fact that I did not write the best of my works in those states. I cannot now devote myself completely to this literary field, as would be necessary and indeed for various reasons. Aside from my family relationships, I could not live by literature if only, to begin with, because of the slow maturing of my work and its special character; besides, I am prevented also by my health and my character from devoting myself to what is, in the most favourable case, an uncertain life. I have therefore become an official in a social insurance agency. Now these two professions can never be reconciled with one another and admit a common fortune. The smallest good fortune in one becomes a great misfortune in the other. If I have written something good one evening, I am afire the next day in the office and can bring nothing to completion. This back and forth continually becomes worse. Outwardly, I fulfil my duties satisfactorily in the office, not my inner duties, however, and every unfulfilled inner duty becomes a misfortune that never leaves. And to these two never-to-be-reconciled endeavours shall I now add theosophy as a third? Will it not disturb both the others and itself be disturbed by both? Will I, at present already so unhappy a person, be able to carry the three to completion? This is what I have come to ask you, Herr Doktor, for I have a presentiment that if you consider me capable of this, than I can really take it upon myself.

He listened very attentively without apparently looking at me at all, entirely devoted to my words. He nodded from time to time, which he seems to consider an aid to strict concentration. At first a quiet head cold disturbed him, his nose ran, he kept working his handkerchief deep into his nose, one finger at each nostril.

More after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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08.03.2017
09:05 am
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Global Crisis: the Convergence of Marx, Orwell and Kafka

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A guest post from our esteemed, super-smart friend, Charles Hugh Smith, publisher of the Of Twos Minds blog and author of the new book, Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change
 
The global crisis is best understood as the convergence of the modern trends identified by Marx, Orwell and Kafka. Let’s start with Franz Kafka, the writer (1883-1924) who most eloquently captured the systemic injustices of all powerful bureaucracies—the alienation experienced by the hapless citizen enmeshed in the bureaucratic web, petty officialdom’s mindless persecutions of the innocent, and the intrinsic absurdity of the centralized State best expressed in this phrase: “We expect errors, not justice.”

If this isn’t the most insightful summary of the Eurozone debacle, then what is? A lawyer by training and practice, Kafka understood that the the more powerful and entrenched the bureaucracy, the greater the collateral damage rained on the innocent, and the more extreme the perversion of justice.

The entire global financial system is Kafkaesque: the bureaucracies of the Central State have two intertwined goals: protect the financial Elites from the consequences of their parasitic predation, and protect their own power and perquisites.

While Marx understood the predatory, parasitic nature of Monopoly Capitalism, he did not anticipate the State’s partnering with Cartel/Crony Capitalism; in effect, the State has appropriated the appropriators, stripmining the citizenry to protect the financial sector from the consequences of their “business model” (leverage, fraud, embezzlement and the misrepresentation of risk). But the State doesn’t merely enable (“regulate”) the predation of financiers; it also stripmines the citizenry to fund its own expansion into every nook and cranny of civil society.

This is where Orwell enters the convergence, for the State masks its stripmining and power grab with deliciously Orwellian misdirections such as “the People’s Party,” “democratic socialism,” and so on.

Orwell understood the State’s ontological imperative is expansion, to the point where it controls every level of community, markets and society. Once the State escapes the control of the citizenry, it is free to exploit them in a parasitic predation that is the mirror-image of Monopoly capital. For what is the State but a monopoly of force, coercion, data manipulation and the regulation of private monopolies?

What is the EU bureaucracy in Brussels but the perfection of a stateless State?

As Kafka divined, centralized bureaucracy has the capacity for both Orwellian obfuscation (anyone read those 1,300-page Congressional bills other than those gaming the system for their private benefit?) and systemic avarice and injustice.

The convergence boils down to this: it would be impossible to loot this much wealth if the State didn’t exist to enforce the “rules” of parasitic predation. In China, the Elite’s looting proceeds along somewhat different rules from the looting of Europe and the U.S., but the end result is the same in all financialized, centrally managed economies: an expansive kleptocracy best understood as the convergence of Marx, Orwell and Kafka.

This has been a guest post from Charles Hugh Smith, publisher of the Of Twos Minds blog and author of the new book, Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change

Posted by Richard Metzger
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07.25.2012
11:47 am
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‘Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life’ from 1993

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This is an excellent short film, Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life, written and directed by the immensely talented Peter Capaldi. It stars Richard E. Grant, Elaine Collins, Phyllis Logan, Cripin Letts and Ken Stott, and is a comedy about Kafka’s frustrations in writing Metamorphosis - with a little nod towards the work of Frank Capra. This was a deserved Oscar winner back in 1995, for best short film, and Capaldi is now better known for his foul-mouthed Maloclm Tucker form The Thick of It. One hopes he will return to writing and directing soon.
 

 
The rest of ‘Franz Kafka…’ plus the best of Capaldi as the foul mouthed Malcolm Tucker - NSFW, after the jump….
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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08.22.2011
07:36 pm
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