k. and the creative process

[Please forgive the momentary fixation on F.K. again. I often return to him for comfort, especially when I can’t write. Reiner Stach has done K. devotees a remarkable service with his meticulous biographical research and synthesis. I have fallen into this book like I haven’t fallen into a book in a long time. And to think, there is one more published volume yet to read! Not to mention the early years that Stach still hopes to cover, should he ever gain access to Brod’s vault.]

Here are a couple of passages related to K.’s creative process…

“He knew that his best, most profound writing sometimes came from a heightened consciousness of depression. However, complete inertia and indifference lurked no more than a breath away.” (p. 151)

“If we were to observe the ebb and flow of Kafka’s literary productivity from a great height, we would see a wave pattern: an initial phase of intensive, highly productive work that comes on suddenly and lasts several hours a day, followed by a gradual decline in his powers of imagination, lasting for weeks, and then finally, in spite of his desperate attempts to fight it, a standstill and feelings of despair for months on end. We do not know why he had to go through this cycle several times, and we will not know until we have a categorical paradigm of artistic creativity. Kafka himself never uncovered the logic behind the igniting and extinguishing of his art; he was always too deeply enmeshed in the effort of tapping whatever reservoir was accessible to him at the moment.” (p. 175)

Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years (English translation © 2005; original German edition © 2002)

Leave a comment


  1. I always like reading things about Kafka. But I doubt we’ll ever have a ‘categorical paradigm of artistic creativity’ for any writer as complex as him, because there are too many unknowns and ever-shifting variables at play. You might seem to pin it down for a brief moment, but surely never for good. And in that lies the joy and the beauty, the despair and madness of creation. I would say the same of any attempt to capture a ‘categorical paradigm of love’, or even what it is to be human. That said, I don’t think we should stop trying to understand as far as we are able what made Kafka the writer he was, or Casanova the lover, or Shakespeare the human being. I just hope we never quite arrive at that final a destination.

    • I wholeheartedly agree that it’s unlikely anyone will ‘crack the code’, so to speak, of Kafka or any other writer of such complexity. The concept of such a paradigm ever existing seems absurd to me. As you note, there are too many variables, many of them impossible to know, sometimes even for the creator. Elsewhere in the book Stach talks about how Kafka himself often did not realize or understand the meaning of his work, or the sources of its inspiration. He sometimes went back over it looking for clues, some of which clarified matters and others which confused him even further. In the midst of the creative moment, subconscious or even unconscious motives are at work, beyond our control, and that’s what makes the resulting work so magical. So I share your hope that we don’t ever get beyond simply trying to understand.



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