Despite his current reputation as a giant in the world of literature, Franz Kafka was not particularly successful during his lifetime and failed to achieve much in the way of recognition or financial success as a living, breathing writer. In the diaries he began at twenty-seven, the struggle is palpable, with countless entries failing to stretch beyond a couple of downbeat sentences: “Complete standstill. Unending torments.”; “Too tired.”; “Nothing.” This particular entry came in 1922, five years on from his tuberculosis diagnosis and with his health in fast decline. Weeks earlier, he had begun work on his final novel, Das Schlosse (The Castle). He was never able to complete it.
The Diary Entry
Unnoticeable life. Noticeable failure.
The first English language edition of Kafka’s diaries was published in 1965 in two volumes, the first covering 1910 to 1913, the second 1914 to 1923. They were edited with a heavy hand by Kafka’s friend and literary executor Max Brod and translated from German by Joseph Kresh. Earlier this year, Schocken Books published a newly translated edition by Ross Benjamin. This fresh take is based upon a 1990 edition that was edited by Hans-Gerd Koch and is much fuller and more faithful to Kafka’s original journals.