*Literary Spoilers abound*
Because he was a lazy get.
Not really. In fact, it was probably a confusion of paranoia and perfectionism. Dude was a bit messed up.
(Aside: I did a 4000 word essay on this question for my degree, it was shit, because Kafka gave me a breakdown, but I’ll dig it up anyway.)
Anyway, the key point, as I remember, was the fact that unfinishability and endlessness were key tropes in Kafka’s work. So whatever the why was, it was a particular aposite fact.
But then, I think there’s a reason for that. When you spend your life’s work looking at inevitability and impossibility, it must induce a certain state of mind.
Let’s look at a couple of the short stories first.
In the Judgement, we actually get a proper act of finality. Upon his father’s judgement, George Bendemann throws himself off a bridge into the river below. It seems unreasonable, even as much as we can see George is trapped by his father’s diktats. But we have an ending. It’s powerful, and the image of the traffic continuing to pass over the bridge, regardless of the uncanny death, lingers.
One of my favourite endings in Kafka is that prophesied by The City Coat of Arms. This idea of a city that starts to worship the foretelling of it’s own smiting, as it gets bored and squabbles over it’s attempted Tower of Babel.
This kind of bleak humour. Grim inevitability (of an impossible and normally unforeseen event) is hilarious to Kafka, even as it clearly gets him stuck.
I think, if you spend your life thinking about these kind of knots, you become fairly unhappy. Or at least erratic.
So he embarked on three novels, and even the ‘complete’ one (the Trial) feels ridiculously uneven, as if it is rushed towards an ending ahead of time. I imagine that Franz was just happy to realise he knew how it would end. The rushedness of it only makes the the execution of Josef K even more brutal. And again, those final words ‘Like a dog’, haunt.
And that’s one of the keys. There’s a haunting in Kafka. His characters are haunted by the accusations of intricate legal systems, or their father, or prophecy, or machinery, or ‘nature’, or whatever. Then we end up haunted. These tapered ragged endings. These monstrously inexplicable endings. The occasional bleak punchline.
They haunt. They stay with you. They never end.
I don’t think Kafka did it on purpose, I just think he was never satisfied by what he wrote. The effect is the same either way.
He wrote his most famous work (the Metamorphosis) almost entirely in one sitting. He said that was the most satisfying, successful way to write.
You can see where it tapers off towards the end. The bit he wrote the morning after. I think he would never have been happy with something he didn’t finish in one sitting. So novels were out of the question.
I know the feeling.
Illustration by Andy.