This sign used to hang in one of the many greenhouses on the U.C. Davis campus. I like its chatty, humorous tone, something rarely seen when needing help. It also reminds me of Kafka’s The Castle, in which a driven protagonist named K seeks to gain a way in, not out.
The Castle or Das Schloß, is an unfinished 1926 work by Franz Kafka. K is a land surveyor who vainly tries to gain entrance to the Castle, meeting the most confusing and contradictory bars to admission along the way. He thought he was wanted, perhaps not. Only on his deathbed, with a few breaths remaining, is the surveyor told he has been granted provisional status to the grounds.
A myriad of translators has attempted the novel over the decades. That it remains powerful writing despite the fussing is a testament to Kafka’s original prose. It is a wonder we have it at all.
Kafka wanted all of his work burned on his death but his good friend Max Brod saved Kafka’s writing from the bonfire.
The link below is to a raw text file, the Muirs first translating it from German, Wilkins and Kaiser adding to it later. A large university library or a well stocked used bookstore may have different translations on the same shelf to compare. The text that follows is from the Shocken Books edition and it is good.
I’ve included only a few hundred words from a raw text file at the link below. This site also has a properly formatted online version which is profitable if you can’t find it in hard copy. A paper book is best.
IT was late in the evening when K. arrived, The village was deep in snow. The Castle hill was hidden, veiled in mist and darkness, nor was there even a glimmer of light to show that a castle was there. On the wooden bridge leading from the main road to the village, K. stood for a long time gazing into the illusory emptiness above him. Then he went on to find quarters for the night. The inn was still awake, and although the landlord could not provide a room and was upset by such a late and unexpected arrival, he was willing to let K. sleep on a bag of straw in the parlour. K. accepted the offer.
Some peasants were still sitting over their beer, but he did not want to talk, and after himself fetching the bag of straw from the attic, lay down beside the stove. It was a warm corner, the peasants were quiet, and letting his weary eyes stray over them he soon fell asleep. But very shortly he was awakened. A young man dressed like a townsman, with the face of an actor, his eyes narrow and his eyebrows strongly marked, was standing beside him along with the landlord. The peasants were still in the room, and a few had turned their chairs round so as to see and hear better.
The young man apologized very courteously for having awakened K., introducing himself as the son of the Castellan, and then said:
“This village belongs to the Castle, and whoever lives here or passes the night heredoes so in a manner of speaking in the Castle itself. Nobody may do that without the Count’s permission. But you have no such permit, or at least you have produced none.”
K. had half raised himself and now, smoothing down his hair and looking up at the two men, he said: “What village is this I have wandered into? Is there a castle here?”
“Most certainly,” replied the young man slowly, while here and there a head was shaken over K.’s remark, “the castle of my lord the Count West-west.”
“And must one have a permit to sleep here?” asked K., as if he wished to assure himself that what he had heard was not a dream.
“One must have a permit,” was the reply, and there was an ironical contempt for K. in the young man’s gesture as he stretched out his arm and appealed to the others, “Or must one not have a permit?”
“Well, then, I’ll have to go and get one,” said K. yawning and pushing his blanket away as if to rise up. “And from whom, pray?” asked the young man.
“From the Count,” said K., “that’s the only thing to be done.”
“A permit from the Count in the middle of the night!” cried the young man, stepping back a pace.
“Is that impossible?” inquired K. coolly. “Then why did you waken me?”
At this the young man flew into a passion.
“None of your guttersnipe manners!” he cried, “I insist on respect for the Count’s authority. I woke you up to inform you that you must quit the Count’s territory at once.”
“Enough of this fooling,” said K. in a markedly quiet voice, laying himself down again and pulling up the blanket. “You’re going a little too far young fellow, and I’ll have something to say to-morrow about your conduct. The landlord here and those other gentlemen will bear me out if necessary. Let me tell you that I am the Land Surveyor whom the Count is expecting. My assistants are coming on tomorrow in a carriage with the apparatus. I did not want to miss the chance of a walk through the snow, but unfortunately lost my way several times and so arrived very late. That it was too late to present myself at the
Castle I knew very well before you saw fit to inform me. That is why I have made shift with this bed for the night, where, to put it mildly, you have had the discourtesy to disturb me. That is all I have to say. “Good night, gentlemen.” And K. turned over on his side towards the stove.
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