Kafka

by Mark Chmiel

kafka

I am looking, as I write of Kafka, at the photograph taken of him at the age of forty (my age)—it is 1924, as sweet and hopeful a year as he may ever have known as a man, and the year of his death.  His face is sharp and skeletal, a burrower’s face: pronounced cheekbones made even more conspicuous by the absence of sideburns; the ears shaped and angled on his head like angel wings; an intense, creaturely gaze of startled composure–enormous fears, enormous control; a black towel of Levantine hair pulled close around the skull the only sensuous feature; there is a familiar Jewish flare in the bridge of the nose, the nose itself is long and weighted slightly at the tip–the nose of half the Jewish boys who were my friends in high school.  Skulls chiseled like this one were shoveled by the thousands from the ovens; had he lived, his would have been among them, along with the skulls of his three younger sisters.

–Philip Roth, “I Always Wanted You to Admire My Fasting”; or, Looking at Kafka, in Reading Myself and Others (1973)

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