kafka: the early years

John Banville at the NYRB:

For a person as sensitive as Kafka was, or at least as he presented himself as being—it is entirely possible to view his life in a light other than the one he himself shone upon it—inner escape was the only available strategy. “If we are to believe his own personal mythology,” Stach writes, “he drifted out of life and into literature,” to the point, indeed, that as an adult he would declare that he was literature, and nothing else. Stach, however, offers another and, in its way, far more interesting possibility when he asks, “What if literature was the only feasible way back for him?” Yet along this route into the psychological depths of Kafka’s emotional and artistic self we must pick our way carefully, recalling Kafka’s own skepticism toward Freudian analysis—“I consider the therapeutic part of psychoanalysis a helpless error”—and keeping in mind one of what are known as the Zürau aphorisms, in which he declares with uncharacteristic vehemence: “No psychology ever again!”

Naturally much of this volume is taken up with an account of Kafka’s formal education. One might expect that the student years of an artist would be of great biographical interest, but it is rarely the case, and Stach’s account of Kafka’s schooling is no exception. Perhaps the reason is that the education of an artist is for the most part a self-administered process, the progress of which is not recorded in class placings and examination results.

more here.