Hanns Zischler - When the cinema came to Prague a young writer found scenes from life and the world of dreams.

 Kafka Goes to the Movies

Hanns Zischler, Kafka Goes to the Movies,  Trans. by Susan H. Gillespie, University Of Chicago Press, 2002.

excerpt at Google Books

"Went to the movies. Wept. Matchless entertainment." So wrote Franz Kafka in one of his diaries, giving us but one hint of his little-known passion for the cinema. Until now, Kafka aficionados have been left to speculate about which films moved Kafka so powerfully and how those films might have influenced his writing. With Kafka Goes to the Movies, German actor and film director Hanns Zischler draws on years of detective work to provide the first account of Kafka's moviegoing life.

Since many of Kafka's visits to the cinema occurred during bachelor trips with Max Brod, Zischler's research took him not only to Kafka's native Prague but to film archives in Munich, Milan, and Paris. Matching Kafka's cinematic references to reviews and stills from daily papers, Zischler hunted down rare films in collections all across Europe. A labor of love, then, by a true man of the cinema, Kafka Goes to the Movies brims with discoveries about the pioneering years of European film. With a wealth of illustrations, including reproductions of movie posters and other rare materials, Zischler opens a fascinating window onto movies that have been long forgotten or assumed lost.
But the real highlights of the book are those about Kafka himself. Long considered one of the most enigmatic figures in literature, the Kafka that emerges in this work is strikingly human. Kafka Goes to the Movies offers an absorbing look at a witty, passionate, and indulgently curious writer, one who discovered and used the cinema as a place of enjoyment and escape, as a medium for the ambivalent encounter with modern life, and as a filter for the changing world around him.

The premise is beguiling: if you know Kafka's taste in movies, you might just know the man. Zischler, a film actor and writer, spent years researching the films Kafka watched after Prague got its first cinema, in 1907. It was an era when silents like The White Slave Girl were creating a sensation in the local papers. Zischler's detective work is impressive, bringing to light a wealth of movie posters, reviews, and stills, which he juxtaposes with Kafka's journals and letters. Unfortunately, Kafka remains a cipher, and Zischler has to compensate with lit-crit flights of fancy, complete with paren(theses). Still, his notion that movies were a place where Kafka could indulge his wish for unselfconscious loneliness is appealing, as is the thought of the writer taking a well-earned break from his nightmare imaginings. This evening tore myself away from writing, Kafka wrote in his diary. Cinematograph at the Landestheater. - www.newyorker.com/

A more accurate title for this book might have been, "What Kafka Would Have Seen Had He Gone to the Movies," for as director and actor Zischler himself admits, Kafka tended to avoid the cinema. As Kafka put it, "I myself seldom go to the cinematograph theater," noting that his need for distraction "drinks its fill from the [movie] posters." Indeed, Kafka "provides no information" about any films that affected his work, leaving "not a single hint that he drew on certain images or scenes for his writing." While Zischler is so bold as to assert this as evidence that Kafka was desperately trying to keep cinematic images out of his work, readers may prefer a simpler theory: that the movies just weren't that essential to Kafka. Apparently, Kafka was more interested in Yiddish theater, preferring to have his sister go to the movies and fill him in later on the plots. Still, when it's Kafka, even his lack of interest in cinema might have made an intriguing book. Regrettably, this poor translation fails in that endeavor, as some sections seem muddled (e.g., "One could say it is a strangely unmoved, an empty weeping that overcomes him. Nothing experienced intrudes between him and the screen"). While the illustrative material is eye-catching and some of Zischler's items are enticing-e.g., the 1920 Zionist film that may have made Kafka move to Berlin, the impact of a particular white slavery movie in 1911-the book is largely unsatisfying. Photos.  - Publishers Weekly

"A mad and beautiful project, which sends the reader spinning and tumbling into one of the great artistic minds of the last century. Zischler's book is a gem."—Paul Auster

CERTAIN books need to be written simply for the sake of their titles. ''Kafka Goes to the Movies'' sounds like a 1970's-vintage Woody Allen short story, but it's actually a piece of semi-scholarly detective work. Hanns Zischler, a German actor and director, was working on a TV movie about Franz Kafka in 1978 when he noticed sporadic references to films in Kafka's journals and letters. Curious to learn more about the writer's moviegoing, he found little research on the subject, a strange lacuna considering how thoroughly the canonical authors' lives have been strip-mined by scholars in the age of publish-or-perish.
So Zischler decided to fill in the gaps, a tough job both because Kafka often neglected to mention movie titles and because most of these obscure silent films had been destroyed or were languishing in archives. Zischler spent years crosschecking Kafka's writings with archived newspapers to find out which movies he must have watched, then trekking across Europe to locate the extant films or, failing that, playbills and reviews that described them. - James Poniewozik

"This valuable little book gives us a Kafka firmly situated in his time and merely deepens the mystery of his remarkable work."—Carter Scholz
The slenderness of this volume belies the substantial breadth of information packed within. While Kafka has always been the focus of scholarly interest, details about the influence of cinema on his work have not always been specific. Here, TV and theater director Zischler (You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover) has gone to great pains to study Kafka's comments about the early European cinema, contained in letters, diaries, and other documents, and to match them carefully with information from newspapers, programs, and other archival material. He proves that, indeed, Kafka was not only influenced artistically by the emerging art form but was also an ardent fan of it. Zischler was passionate about his research, locating many rare items and also material thought to be lost. A wealth of information about early European cinema is provided, and the reader develops a friendly acquaintance with Kafka through details of his trips with Max Brod, correspondence with fianc‚e Felice Bauer, musings about people and life, and effusive responses to the movies on a number of levels. Illustrated with film stills (e.g., The White Slave Girl; The Heartbreaker), posters, photos, and clippings, this brings an altogether fresh perspective to the life of Kafka, always an absorbing subject, and offers a fine look at a fascinating era of cinematic history. Of particular interest to scholars and to humanities and film collections. - Carol J. Binkowski
  In 1907, writes Hanns Zischler at the start of this delightful book, the first permanent cinema was established in Prague. Visitors were promised 'scenes from life and the world of dreams'. The 'explainer' enacted the story, shrieking, sobbing, becoming a dozen different characters as silent images moved stiffly on the screen. In the audience were Max Brod and his friend, Franz Kafka. For Kafka, sitting among the crowd, he felt that 'the almost demonic element challenges the way we have learned to see, confronts the author's power of sight and writing with very great agonising demands'.
Zischler was working on a TV film about Kafka, when he noticed scattered references to the cinema in early diaries and letters: 'Afternoon, Palestine film'; 'This evening... Cinematograph at the Landestheater.' Poring through cinema programmes, unearthing the silent films Kafka watched, Zischler has fleshed these allusions out, creating a cineaste's collage, studded with pictures from early-twentieth-century billboards.
Theodor Adorno, writing in 1934 to Walter Benjamin, described Kafka's novels as 'the last, disappearing textual links to silent film'. Metamorphosis has all the mute gestures of early cinema - the transformed Samsa roaming round his room, the horror of his family as they bang on the door, holding their hands up in despair. Likewise, the monumental symbolism of The Castle smacks of silent melodrama - a gothic image dominating the set, painted on a three-dimensional backdrop.
But Zischler is more interested in the internal drama played out in Kafka's diaries and in his letters to Felice Bauer, his fiancée for a while. It was a turbulent time for a young man, desperate to write, trapped in a bureaucratic job he loathed. He went on bachelor trips with Max Brod, to Munich, Paris and Milan. Zischler's Kafka is a touching figure - sitting at the Kaiser Panorama, the 'sole entertainment in Friedland', barely able to touch the carpet with the tips of his toes. Like an imaginative child, he rides in a carriage 'with a woman who strongly resembled the female slave trader from the White Slave Girl', a trash film telling the lurid tale of a young woman lured from her home and forced into prostitution.
Entwined with these enticing descriptions of Kafka in the stalls at a dozen silly shows are accounts of him 'leafing through the city', satisfying his 'hunger for images', his 'accumulated craving for newspapers'. Arriving in a Paris shocked by the theft of The Mona Lisa, Kafka and Brod head for the Omnia Pathé film hall to watch a slapstick parody of the event.
Taking a tourist's trip to a bordello, Kafka describes one of the girls in breathless notes: 'Gaps in her teeth... opened and closed her big eyes and big mouth... her blonde hair seemed dishevelled. She was thin.' He's playing a role - the writer stalking the streets, watching the crazy show - a role already subject to literary conventions, shortly to be re-fashioned in imagist terseness - 'The apparition of these faces in the crowd/Petals on a wet, black bough' (Ezra Pound) - and later to be evoked in Robert Musil's reality-has-changed blockbuster, The Man Without Qualities. Zischler comically deflates Kafka: he and Brod are more like Laurel and Hardy than Baudelaire and Co, turning tail as the whores move towards them.
Occasionally, Zischler succumbs to the temptation to spin cultural theory jargon around his trail. Kafka suffers a few times from a bout of 'constructing', or starts rather nastily 'inserting Felice into the chimera of the cinematic image', or even 'relating his boil directly to the actual bodily pain of being overwhelmed by Paris'. He suggests Kafka 'plunges into the cinema... seeking and longing for meaninglessness. He goes to the movies to forget'. But it is cinema as one of the fabulous sights of the modern city that comes through most vividly. - Joanna Griffiths

His name was Franz Kafka, and he quite often went to the movies. Some such statement constitutes both the basis of Kafka Goes to the Movies and its primary impediment: the rock it has to roll up the hill. According to Max Brod, his lifelong friend and first editor and biographer, Kafka loved the movies; at times, Brod reported, he would talk about little else. For the most part, however, Kafka abstained from written commentary on the cinema. To be sure, there are scattered remarks in diaries and letters from the period 1908-13. But that’s about it. The challenge, for Hanns Zischler, is how to say no more than that Kafka quite often went to the movies, and make it worth saying.
Zischler seems to have decided to pin his hopes on biography. That Kafka quite often went to the movies is of interest if movie-going can be shown to have extended significantly the repertoire of behaviour and reflection available to a young would-be author in Prague in the years before the First World War. It might, for example, alter our sense of the state of the family romance to know that Kafka’s youngest sister, Ottla, was, as Zischler puts it, his ‘real cinematic companion and secret "movie queen"’. But Zischler’s primary hypothesis is that Kafka’s cinema-going helped to maintain the intricate system of displacements and mediations which was his courtship of Felice Bauer.
Kafka first met Bauer, who worked for a Berlin manufacturer of dictaphones, at Max Brod’s on 13 August 1912. His first impressions, recorded a week later, were nothing if not severe. ‘Bony, empty face, which wore its emptiness openly . . . Almost broken nose. Blonde, rather stiff, unalluring hair, strong chin.’ Kafka’s writerliness is evident, here, both in the unflinching adherence to physical fact, and in the recognition that even the most physical of facts cannot escape meaning (the empty face that intends its emptiness), and may contain or hint at a virtual existence (the unscathed nose which bears witness to the possibility of accident or assault). But the act of severity which announces writerliness is also its dissolution. Its double edge folds neatly up into the choice of a mate. ‘While I was sitting down, I saw her at close quarters for the first time, when I sat, I had already reached an unshakeable judgment’ (‘ein unerschütterliches Urteil’).
If the judgment itself remained unshakeable, at least for a while, everything around it immediately began to shake from the recoil. Productively, at first. An entry for 23 September 1912 records the completion the previous night of a story entitled ‘The Judgment’; and the author’s ‘trembling entrance’ (‘zitternde Eintreten’) into his sisters’ room the next morning to read it to them. Literature’s double edge keeps it in a tremble, forever awaiting confirmation (however fast the author might have sat down at his desk the evening before). At this point, Kafka evidently hoped that his new commitment to Felice would strengthen his old commitment to literature; that both would prove unshakeable, and the cause of much shaking. He trembles with ‘intolerable excitement’ while expecting letters from Felice, and then with joy once they have arrived. A long letter makes him wonder what he has done to deserve such bounty. ‘There is no choice but to tremble and read it over and over again.’ The very thought of communication by phone – of waiting to be put through, of eventually being summoned and rushing ‘all of a tremble’ (‘dass alles zittert’) to the apparatus – is enough to rule out such immediacy.
Agitation has a tendency to overspread its source. Kafka began to worry that Felice herself might recoil from so much recoiling: ‘it is objectionable to keep laying myself bare before you without knowing whether or not you tremble inside from it in horror, impatience or boredom.’ His desperate pleas for calm (‘das Gefühl der Ruhe’) make it clear that he had lost faith in the proposed reconciliation of literature with marriage. The correspondence with Felice had begun at the end of September 1912. Two months later, he turned down an invitation to spend Christmas with her in Berlin. The first thing to get shaken in this relationship, it seems, was one party’s desire to see the other again. The ‘madness of so many letters’ (more than 500, over a period of five years) became the relationship. - David Trotter

Or, How Franz K. spilled his popcorn.
In a narrative as enigmatic and atmospheric as anything by the Czech novelist, Hanns Zischler builds a biography of Kafka around K’s obsession with early cinema. Like Kafka’s novels it’s a weird idea rendered real by its single-minded pursuit. Zischler jump-cuts from commentary to diaries to postcards and letters.
The analytic connections made by Zischler are ambitious. Or, as novelist Paul Auster notes in the blurb, brilliantly mad. What’s compelling is how Kafka is revealed as the twentieth-century Everyman, where image flows into everyday life. Cinema becomes less of an art form and more the eyewear through which we see life. Zischler, like Paul Virilio and Paul Elliman, technologises culture and biology ‘Horrific was the din of the Métro,’ Kafka writes ‘when I rode it, for the first time in my life, from Montmartre to the big boulevards. Otherwise it is not bad, even intensifies the pleasant, calm feeling of speed.’
As Zischler’s (cine-) biography flows between diary, postcards, film review and analysis, Franz Kafka lives through feedback. Films become dreams, become seeing, become writing. Seeing a poster advertising the film Theodor Korner Zischler notes Kafka signing his name with the exact curved calligraphy of the K in the poster.
Cinema is Kafka’s Walkman, the videotrack unfurling in his mind as he moves through the metropolis. The melancholy writer seeks sanctuary in the cinema’s kinetic impact, it’s a medical resource which he uses to try and empty his head and purge his self-consciousness. It’s why he remains rapturously ambivalent about the technology.
The top five Kafka films? 1. Donnie Darko 2. Mulholland Drive 3. The Parallax View 4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers 5. Coming To America. - www.eyemagazine.com/

Here's number 3 in an occasional series that reviews unfamiliar or neglected books on film (which of course you can find here at the British Library). Today's choice is Hanns Zischler, Kafka Goes to the Movies (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2003)
"Was at the movies. Wept. Lolotte. The good pastor. The little bicycle. The reconcilitation of the parents. Boundless entertainment. Before that a sad film, Catastrophe at the Dock, after the amusing Alone at Last. Am completely empty and meaningless, the electric tram passing by has more living meaning." (Kafka's diary, September 1913)
This unique book has received ample praise, so it is hardly obscure, but it remains little known among the general film readership. Though not a casual read, it is mysterious, learned, engrossing, and beautiful to behold.
Its author is a German film actor with a taste for literary history. Its subject is Franz Kafka, author of Metamorphosis, The Trial, The Castle and inveterate moviegoer in his younger days. In 1907 the first permanent cinema was built in Prague, and soon among the enthusiastic cinemagoers of the city were Kafka (born 1883) and his friend Max Brod. From the diaries, letters and other writings of Kafka and Brod, Zischler traces the films that they saw, sometimes from just the vaguest hint of a title or plot, identifies the originals, finds reviews, stills, posters, and on occasion tracks down the films themselves.
But this is no mere exercise in producing an anecdotal filmography. Zischler is interested in what is revealed of Kafka in his impressions of cinema, how the cinema reflected his psyche, and the interelationship between the fevered world of early cinema and Kafka's own emerging artistic vision. In the background there is the home of the cinema, the modern city, endlessly stimulating, bombarding its inhabitants with images.
From fragmentary evidence Zischler leads us to detailed descriptions and analyses of such titles as The White Slave Girl, Nick Winter and the Theft of the Mona Lisa, Theodor Korner, Danzig, The Other, Hamlet (with Albert Bassermann), The Heartbreaker, Little Lolotte, Catastrophe at the Dock, Return to Zion, The Kid and several others, seen by Kafka between 1908 and 1921. He provides a filmography (noting which titles survive), and places the experience of each film within a particular point in Kafka's personal and artistic life.
On one level it is trainspotting with a heavy dash of cultural theory. On another, its bringing together of the everyday with the imaginary (much like the experience of cinema-going itself) makes for a thrilling read, particularly as one gets carried along by the detective work, as a fleeting mention of a film subject in a letter leads to an advertisement in the contemporary press, then to the film title, then to the film itself and back to Kafka's personal history.
Kafka Goes to the Movies is a pleasure to look at, and has particularly attractively arranged notes pages (which include illustrations). Zischler has gone on to repeat the trick with James Joyce, documenting not so much Joyce's renowned though brief period as a cinema manager in Dublin in December 1909, but rather his first documented experience of filmgoing in Pola (then part of the Autro-Hungarian Empire, now Pula in Croatia) in 1904. Unfortunately (for monolingual me at any rate) the book, Nase für Neuigkeiten, published in 2008, is only available in German (and is not held by the British Library). - Luke McKernan

John Zilcosky: Boundless Entertainment?

There are at least three ways to read this book, which first appeared as Kafka geht ins Kino in 1996: as a discussion of the significance of film and new media for Kafka's writing; as a mission of cultural recovery, including never-before-published archival film footage; and as a "mad and beautiful project" (Paul Auster) that combines autobiography, detective novel, art collage, and literary scholarship. In the first sense the book fails, but in the other two it succeeds in surprising, original ways.
To begin with the last point: Zischler's book opens unusually, with a series of images including a spectacular 1914 photograph of Prague's Bio Lucerna cinema. The small "1" in the bottom right corner alerts us to the fact that this photograph has a footnote, and we thus begin Zischler's strange readerly trip. We start flipping pages, like the attendant Kafka noticed at the Kaiser Panorama, from front to back, image to word, and vice-versa. Zischler's intellectual collage develops toward metaphysical detective fiction--we can see why Auster liked it!--when the main text opens: "I was working on a television movie about Kafka in 1978 when I first came across the notes on the cinema in his early diaries and letters." This leisurely curiosity of the actor in a Kafka movie eventually developed into an obsession: into "regular detective work" that took Zischler on the route of Kafka's early bachelor trips with Max Brod (Munich, Milan, Paris) in search of old cinemas and films. Carrying out his literary sleuthing in "the shadow of my work as a movie actor," Zischler worked his way through the labyrinth of Prague's 1980s bureaucratic socialism to locate an apparently lost Zionist film; searched out an historically-minded Veronese baker who owned an image of the cinema in which Kafka cried in 1913; and descended into the "witches' cauldron" (the restoration library) of the Cinematheque Francaise to watch two women wearing enormous rubber gloves hook out the slimy negatives of The Heartbreaker--one of Kafka's favorites (pp. 3-5). Here we have the making of something other than another scholarly inquiry into Kafka: a suspenseful, cerebral literary detective story reminiscent of Auster's New York Trilogy (1985-86) and W.G. Sebald's Schwindel. Gefuehle (1990), which also takes place partly in Verona.
Perhaps it would have been best for Zischler to continue in this vein (playing the actor/detective obsessed with Kafka at the movies), because when he begins to perform more traditional literary scholarship his work becomes less convincing. That Kafka used the movies as a form of escape--Zischler's main biographical point--does not require much elaboration or defense because Kafka's pertinent diary entries are straightforward ("Went to the movies. Cried," "Boundless entertainment").[1] What is less evident and more significant is the role that this new medium might have played in Kafka's invention of his literary style. Many attempts have been made to answer this complex question, and it is surprising that--without a footnote!--Zischler bemoans the "strange lack of concern shown by scholars" (p. 3).[2] Zischler himself wavers on the relation between film and Kafka's style. On the one hand, film is unimportant for Kafka's literary technique (he uses it only to "forget"). On the other hand, film is central to Kafka's literary development, but in a way that Zischler does not clearly delineate: film is at once a catalyst for Kafka's "cinematic" style but also a technological rival to his own more "photographic" prose (pp. 91, 107, 37, 28, 61).
Zischler sees Kafka at his most "cinematic" (a term that remains vague) in the novel fragment Kafka wrote with Brod in 1911-12, Richard and Samuel: A Short Journey through Central European Regions. Here, Kafka turns a real-life automobile ride with a young woman into what Zischler terms "pure, cinematic fiction" (p. 37). But by insisting that Kafka's style in Richard and Samuel, which the friends wrote together under the fictional voices of "Richard" and "Samuel," is filmic whereas co-author Brod's is not, Zischler misses the radical point of the novel.[3] As Kafka and Brod both state in their diaries, the project's "avant-garde" goal was to subvert the very notion of individual style: each author was to attempt to describe "the other's perspective."[4] "Richard" is thus not "Kafka's alias," as Zischler would have it, but rather a cipher for double-impersonation: a mise en abyme of Kafka mimicking Brod mimicking Kafka mimicking Brod (p. 36).[5] As Brod points out, person "A" or person "B" did not separately compose individual segments that were later collated; rather, "A and B" were "indistinguishably involved" in the creation of "the whole." Even figuring out who held the pen is not easy since the writers transcribed the fair copy alternately, handing the pen back and forth in order to make this aspect, too, communal.[6] Thus, Zischler's attempt to locate a cinematic Kafka and an uncinematic Brod simplifies the anti-subjective spirit of the piece and, what is more, disregards Brod's attitude toward the cinema, which was generally more progressive than Kafka's.[7] Even if Richard's language is "cinematic," the most filmic aspect of Richard and Samuel remains its attempt--only partially realized--to efface the literary author and replace him with a mechanism that the friends referred to, in the novel's preface, as "contradictory stereoscopy."[8]
Kafka's interest in stereoscopy--a three-dimensional photographic technology that preceded film--brings us to his well-known fascination with the new media: specifically, to his attempt to relate both stereoscopy and film to his own writing.[9] As Zischler points out, Kafka loved the stereoscopic Kaiser Panorama in Friedland, claiming that its pictures were "more alive than in the cinematograph because they offer the eye all the repose [Ruhe] of reality. The cinematograph communicates the agitation [Unruhe] of its motion to the things pictured in it; the eye's repose seems more important."[10] Kafka thus rejects cinematography as anathema to "reality," yet borrows some of its techniques for Richard and Samuel and The Man Who Disappeared (Amerika).[11] Instead of fully rejecting or embracing film, then, Kafka dreams of a utopian technology that could mimic the cinema's sublime motion while, at the same time, holding fast to the photograph's authentic calm: "Why can't they combine the cinema and the stereoscope in this way?"[12] Zischler correctly views this technological fantasy as central to understanding Kafka's relationship to the new media, but he prematurely dismisses this vision as impossible (p. 27), thus overlooking the likelihood that Kafka understood his own writing as a "machinery" capable of rivalling film by creating a simultaneous effect of cinematic swiftness and photographic immobility.[13] I think here of "The Judgment," which rolled out of Kafka "like a real birth" or, better, like the movie of a real birth, but a movie that was interrupted by an ornate photographic gesture: the father's erect body, half-naked and threatening, on his bed.[14] Kafka's self-proclaimed 1912 literary breakthrough, then, hints at the invention of a new literary technology that supersedes film by uniquely merging its fluidity with the reality-effect of the still.[15]
If Zischler's book thus fails to offer new insights into Kafka's writing, it nonetheless succeeds as both an enthralling text-image collage and a project of cultural recovery. Kafka Goes to the Movies tells a suspenseful story of the early cinema by digging up images from films that were long thought to be lost (Shivat Zion [Return to Zion], 1920, and La Broyeuse de coeurs [The Heartbreaker], 1913). Zischler also presents photographs of old cinemas and of the elaborate advertising posters that fascinated Kafka as much as the films themselves. This book offers those of us who grew up late in cinematic history a view into the simple plots and overstated physical comedy of film's primitive days. One prominent example is The Thirsty Gendarme, which Kafka recommended to Brod's wife: A gendarme arrests a drunken sailor who then escapes through the gendarme's legs and begins a madcap bicycle chase that ends with the now thirsty gendarme deciding to get drunk too (p. 12). Here, we see the aptness of Adorno's point that Kafka's characters--especially from The Man Who Disappeared--often resemble movie actors and thus contain the "last, disappearing textual links to silent film."[16] Supplying another historical insight, Zischler describes the role of the fin-de-siecle "explainers," who invented more or less fantastic stories to accompany silent films; the Yiddish term for them was Versteller, a word that fittingly "plays on both the German verstellen, to distort or disguise, and vorstellen, to imagine or present." Zischler is right to see in Kafka (or, better, in Kafka/Brod) a Versteller in the narrative of "Dora L." who, in Richard and Samuel, bears a startling resemblance to the heroine of the popular 1911 trash film, The White Slave Girl (pp. 15, 40).
Zischler's book ends as it began, delighting us with poetic speculation and enchanting images but perplexing us with less-than-persuasive argument. Kafka's terse 1921 diary remark, "Afternoon, Palestine film," is hardly enough evidence to support Zischler's notion that Kafka understood Palestine primarily as a "film," but the metaphor is suggestive enough: at the panorama and in the cinema, Kafka had already traveled virtually to Venice and Verona, to Paris and "the equator." Kafka longed for Palestine but, like Moses, never made it to the Promised Land. It remained for him, Zischler tells us, "near enough to touch and far away--an imaginary space, a film" (pp. 106, 115). Palestine as Kafka's movie? This goes a bit too far. But, as before, Zischler fascinates even if he does not convince, by leading us on an eccentric cinematic flight back into the disappearing space of Franz Kafka and the movies he loved.

[1]. Franz Kafka, Tagebuecher, 3 vols., ed. Hans-Gerd Koch, Michael Mueller, and Malcolm Pasley (Frankfurt a. M.: Fischer, 1994), v. 2: p. 204.
[2]. Some of the works that deal with the importance of film for Kafka's (all published well before Zischler's 1996 German edition) are: Wolfgang Jahn, "Kafka und die Anfaenge des Kinos," Schiller Jahrbuch 6 (1962), pp. 353-68, and Kafkas Roman "Der Verschollene" ("Amerika") (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1965); Malcolm Pasley, "Kafka als Reisender," in Was bleibt von Franz Kafka?, ed. Wendelin Schmidt-Dengler (Vienna: Braumueller, 1985), pp. 1-15 (especially 6-10); Bettina Augustin, "Raban im Kino: Kafka und die zeitgenoessische Kinematographie," in Franz Kafka, ed. Oesterreichische Franz Kafka Gesellschaft (Vienna: Braumueller, 1987), pp. 38-69; Mark Anderson, Kafka's Clothes: Ornament and Aestheticism in the Habsburg Fin de Siecle (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), especially pp. 115-22. Zischler's pilot article on Kafka and film preceded much of this work, but not Jahn's pioneering efforts (Zischler, " 'Masslose Unterhaltung": Franz Kafka geht ins Kino," Freibeuter 16 [1983], pp. 33-47).
[3]. Zischler writes: Kafka's "special trick, to deprive the scene of its reality by translating it into cinema," remained "obscure" to Brod (p. 41).
[4]. This is Brod's comment on "Kafka's suggestion," in Max Brod and Franz Kafka, Eine Freundschaft, 2 vols., ed. Malcolm Pasley (Frankfurt a. M.: Fischer, 1987-89), p. 73. On the same day, Kafka seems to want to recant his own idea, calling it "bad": "the bad idea: simultaneous description of the journey and our inward attitude [innerlichen Stellungnahme] toward each other concerning the journey" (Kafka, Tagebuecher v. 1: p. 943). Brod refers to this project as "avant-garde" in Der Prager Kreis (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1966), p. 111.

[5]. Even if many of Richard's words do come out of Kafka's notebooks, some of Richard's words also come directly out of Brod's notebook. For example, Brod's "we really see only as far as the first floor of all the buildings" is attributed to Richard (Brod and Kafka, Eine Freundschaft, v. 1: pp. 74, 198). Moreover, many of Richard's (and Samuel's) words do not appear in either writer's notebook. See John Zilcosky, Kafka's Travels: Exoticism, Colonialism, and the Traffic of Writing (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), pp. 25-27, 210n23.

[6]. Brod, Der Prager Kreis, p. 110.

[7]. See Max Brod, "Kinematograph in Paris," Der Merker 3:1 (February 1912): pp. 95-98.

[8]. The German term is "widerspruchsvolle Doppelbeleuchtung" (Brod and Kafka, Eine Freundschaft, v. 1: p. 193).

[9]. For Kafka's interest in media technologies in general, see F. Kittler, Discourse Networks 1800/1900 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990 [1985]); and Gramophone, Film, Typewriter (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999) [1986]); and Wolf Kittler, "Schreibmaschinen, Sprechmaschinen: Effekte technischer Medien im Werk Franz Kafkas," in Franz Kafka: Schriftverkehr, ed. W. Kittler and Gerhard Neumann (Freiburg: Rombach, 1990), pp. 75-163.

[10]. Kafka, Tagebuecher, v. 2: p. 937. Cited in Zischler, p. 26.

[11]. For the filmic aspects of The Man Who Disappeared, see Jahn's Kafka's Roman "Der Verschollene" ("Amerika") and Anderson's Kafka's Clothes. Zischler blankly rejects these arguments (the "evidence" for the cinematic aspects of The Man Who Disappeared is "nowhere to be found"), but his criticism rings thin since he does not address any of the evidence that Jahn and Anderson present (p. 107).

[12]. Kafka, Tagebuecher, v. 2: p. 937.

[13]. Kafka considered his body to be a writing "organism" for which all basic human activities had to be sacrificed: "When it became clear in my organism that writing was the most productive direction for my being to take, everything rushed in that direction and left empty all those abilities which were directed toward the joys of sex, eating, drinking, philosophical reflection, and above all music. I dieted in all these directions" (Kafka, Tagebuecher, v. 2: p. 341). Following on this and other observations, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari speak of Kafka's writing "machine": "[Kafka] knows that all the lines link him to a literary machine of expression for which he is simultaneously the gears, the mechanic, the operator, and the victim. So how will he proceed in this bachelor machine?" See Deleuze/Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1986 [1975], p. 58). On Kafka's view of the new media (esp. gramophonic media) as literature's rival technology, see F. Kittler, Discourse Networks, p. 362, and Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, pp. 223-26.

[14]. Kafka, Tagebuecher, v. 2: p. 491.

[15]. See Zilcosky, Kafka's Travels, pp. 13-14.

[16]. Letter from Theodor Adorno to Walter Benjamin dated December 17, 1934, in Theodor W. Adorno / Walter Benjamin: Briefwechsel, 1928-1940, ed. Henri Lonitz (Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 1994), p. 95. Cited in Zischler, p. 58.


Torn Away, or Lützow's Wild Chase

In September 1912, in the margins of a stormy entry in his diary, Kafka abruptly makes mention of a visit to the cinema. The weeks before had been filled with exciting inner and outer events. On August 13, in the Brod family home, he had met the Berlin office worker Felice Bauer—and immediately he produces, as he had earlier with Alice Rehberger, a minutely observed photographic signal that immediately takes on the solidity of a "judgment": When I arrived at Brod's on the 13th, she was sitting at the table and yet seemed to me like a servant . . . Bony, empty face, which wore its emptiness openly. Bare throat. Blouse tossed over. . . . Almost broken nose. Blonde, rather stiff unalluring hair, strong chin. As I was sitting down, I looked at her more closely for the first time, when I sat, I had already formed an immutable judgment.
In November, as Kafka writes to Felice Bauer, he will introduce a new daily regimen. The schematic character of the new schedule is less surprising than the happiness he hopes to achieve by writing: My way of life is arranged solely around writing and if it undergoes changes, then only in order to be better suited to writing, for time is short, my powers are few, and the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and one has to try to squeeze through with tricks when it can't be done with a lovely, straightforward life...From 8 until 2 or 2:30 office, until 3 or 3:30 dinner, after that sleep in bed...until 7:30, then 10 minutes exercises, naked, with open window, then an hour taking a walk...then evening meal with the family...then at 10:30...sit down to write and remain there as long as strength, desire, and happiness permit until 1, 2, 3 o'clock, once even until 6 in the morning.
During the night of September 23-24, on a train, he had written the short story "The Judgment" in his journal notebook and already the next morning had read it aloud to his sisters. On September 25, finally, after the furor surrounding "The Judgment," he is ready to recommence work on Amerika. But like Odysseus, he resists the lure of the sirens: "Forcibly prevented myself from writing." He reads "The Judgment" in his circle of friends and notes, "The indubitable character of the story is confirmed." In the evening, finally, after succumbing to writing like an addict, he can think of no other antidote than the cinematograph. This evening tore myself away from writing. Cinematograph at the Landestheater. Box seat. Fräulein Oplatka, who was once pursued by a clergyman. She arrived home completely drenched in a cold sweat. Danzig. Körner's life. The horses. The white horse. The smoke from the gunpowder. Lüzow's wild chase.
A line in ink across the page, and Karl Rossman's fate takes its course.
In the morning edition of Prague's German-language daily in Bohemia, the following ad appeared on September 25, 1912:
German Landestheater / Popular Comedies / (Scientific cinematographic showings) / Wednesday, September 25, 1912 / Three showings: I. Showing 2:00 / II. Showing 4:30 / III. Showing 7:30 / Program: / 1. Strange Insects / 2. The Island of Ceylon / 3. Danzig / 4. In Remembrance of the Birthday of Theodor Körner: Theodor Körner, His Life and Writing—Early Years—the Student—the Playwright and His Bride—the Freedom Fighter.
Schedule of the German Landestheater: Saturday, September 28: V. Popular performance at reduced prices, Eva—Sunday, September 29: VI. Popular performance at reduced prices: The Talisman.
This ad, which at first glance does not appear unusual, testifies to the severe crisis that befell the theater—not only in Prague—in the years between 1911 and 1914. The best-known German-language theater, the Landestheater, also known as the Nostiz-Theater, suffered a massive decline in audience numbers due to the enormous popularity of the cinema.
Looking back at the difficult period, the chronicler of the German theaters in Prague, Richard Rosenheim, complains in 1938, in the plaintive tone of conservative cultural criticism, about the "Americanization of Central Europe":
Problem years.—Despite such peak achievements and despite the fact that opera and the theater approached even their day-to-day work with the greatest diligence and the most profound seriousness, the years from 1911 to 1914 were difficult problem years. Those who, like the writer of these lines, were active at that time in the direction of great theaters, know why. These were the ten years in which the peace of Europe was in its death throes. A tremendous tension, the premonition that something terrible was ineluctably approaching, had taken hold of the populace, and as an antidote they sought distraction and oblivion at any price. It was the era of the dance contests, the beginning of the cultural Americanization of Central Europe and, hence, the era of empty cash registers for every serious-minded theater. This was no different in Prague than in Hamburg and Berlin, in Vienna and Paris...
The awakening came too late.—For three years, Heinrich Teweles directed the German-language theater in Prague. The premiere of Parsifal, the brilliant upbeat of the fourth year, was not a bad omen for the future. But the creeping crisis in the theater's business conditions did not allow the director to enjoy this momentary success for very long. Until now, Teweles had seen the origin of the crisis primarily in terms of difficulties resulting from the technical backwardness of the Landestheater...But the really productive utilization of the old theater remained a problem even after Teweles at last succeeded in having electric lights installed in the Landestheater. What had been a sensation in 1888 was an outmoded aperçu in 1911. Teweles, however, believed so firmly in Edison as the savior that, in his efforts to draw larger audiences to the Landestheater—the venerable theater on the Obstmarkt that had been consecrated by Mozart's genius—he came up with the odd notion of installing a cinema. His energy succeeded in realizing even this idea, against all resistance from above and below, and thus the first German cinema in Prague actually made its home, for several years, in the Landestheater. Naturally, Teweles adhered strictly to the guidelines that had been established when he received his permission and offered the public only culture films. But for this very reason the anticipated business success did not materialize, and a few years later, after great sacrifices for which he was only partially compensated, Teweles quietly allowed the cinema at Landestheater to disappear again.
Kafka's excitedly flickering stenogram describing the opening night recalls the tumultuous nightmare of Paris. And by including the fearful episode of Fräulein Oplatka, he approaches melodrama.
Danzig has survived only in description. Theodor Körner, on the other hand, has been preserved as a film. Danzig adheres to the "strict guidelines" for enjoyable culture films that Teweles preferred. That description of the film's content reflects the bombastically pedagogical tone appropriate to a Bildungsreise: Danzig. Near the mouth of the powerful Vistula River, only a few kilometers from the gulf of the Baltic Sea known as the Bay of Danzig, lies the charming city of Danzig. Once a mighty Hanseatic city, Danzig remains an important mercantile center even today, when world trade is focused more on the North Sea. Its harbor, which reaches into the center of the city, is one of the most important in the German empire. Danzig is quite remarkable in other ways, as well, especially for its architecture. If we gaze down upon the city from the tower of the splendid Gothic Rathaus, which stems from the 15th century, our attention, as the illustration shows, is drawn to the powerfully medieval style in which both private and the public buildings are constructed. We see numerous towerlike houses with tall, closely spaced windows and delicate, arabesquelike rooftops reaching upward; in particular, the Long Market, which lies directly below us, displays these characteristic features in purest form. Continuing our visit, we arrive next at the so-called Crane Gate, a massive Gothic structure, then at the monument to Kaiser Wilhelm I, in front of the High Gate. Evening has fallen, and we stroll down to the banks of the Mattlau River, where we admire the colorful splendor of the setting sun, which glints from the waves. As our visit draws to a close, we have an opportunity to get acquainted with the inhabitants as they go about their daily chores and conclude today's walk, which has been interesting and enjoyable in every respect, with a view of the oldest structure in Danzig, the Bakers' Workhouse.
In Theodor Körner, we have to do with a sentimental, sensational film with a perceptibly nationalistic tendency—the ad proclaims loudly that it is being shown "on the anniversary of the Battle of Sedan!!!" On August 31 of the year 1912, this is a minor sensation—with anonymous protagonists. The wild equestrian stunts are spectacular, as Kafka happily notes.
In the months that follow, no visits to the cinema are recorded—as, indeed, Kafka only writes about his cinematic experiences very sporadically and hardly ever in any systematic way.
Felice Bauer has entered less into his daily life than into a boundless correspondence with him. During the following months, she is the recipient of the most important communications concerning his abruptly vacillating impulses, his crises, his moments of unhappiness. Kafka makes her into the great screen onto which he projects his mostly late-night letters at a steadily accelerating pace. To her, above all, he reports on his progress and the difficulties of writing the novel The Man Who Disappeared (Amerika), on the creation and the first reading of "The Metamorphosis," on his enthusiasm for the Yiddish theater. "The whole Yiddish theater is lovely, last year I probably attended these performances twenty times, and the German theater perhaps not at all." Along with the magical gestural world of "dramatist" and "explainer" Jizchak Löwy and his troupe, the new cinematograph at the Landestheater held a greater attractive power for Kafka than the theater itself. The moviegoer and theater deserter confirms Herr Teweles's most tormenting fears. Always anxious, half asking for advice, half playing with this attitude, Kafka initiates Felice into all the business of his life. He is in love, quite evidently and with thoroughly conflicting emotions, and the most exciting aspect of this high-strung, panicky lovesickness may be the fact that it is possible to write so many things to the object of one's love and—with gentle pressure—expect and demand that she will respond in kind.


Kafka Goes to the Movies
Directed by Hanns Zischler
France/Germany, 2002, 54 min.

While working on a television movie project about Franz Kafka, German actor Hanns Zischler discovered a series of passionate writings in Kafka's journals about his own moviegoing. Zischler, who also wrote a book of the same title, spent the next twenty-five years combing through archives and libraries to locate many of the now-extinct films cited by Kafka in his journals. The result is a witty conjecture on the Czech writer's fascination with film and Zischler's fascination with Kafka.

watch it

A Franz Kafka Encyclopedia

read it at Google Books


Popular posts from this blog

Steven Seidenberg - a dramatic intensification of Seidenberg’s career-long blurring of fiction, poetry, and philosophy—an accomplishment recalling the literary contributions of Blanchot, Bernhard, and pre-impasse Beckett

Leon Forrest - Fabulous, wildly comic, and Ulysses-like. a huge oratorio of the sacred and the profane, set in bars, churches, and barbershops .

Futures and Fictions - In what ways could we imagine a world different from the one in which we currently live?