Windows in a Poet’s House: Observations on Kafka’s Prozess
In his postscript to Beschreibungen einer Form, Martin Walser criticizes the liberal speculations about Kafka’s work and its appropriation by theoreticians alien to literature; instead, he stresses the importance of close reading—even if it means having to count all the references to doors and windows “im Kafkaschen Gebäude” (in the Kafka edifice)—to achieve a scientific foundation of and juncture for literary analysis (130). Although many of Kafka’s buildings, from The Castle to “The Burrow,” are ruins or rudiments, critics would do well not judge the poet’s edifice according to their personal sense of architecture, but, as Walser suggests, to count entrances and apertures to investigate their functions and purposes. Prepared for a scrutiny of language as the building stones of the “Kafkasche Gebäude,” with an occasional glance at the builder’s personal penetrations of the interior and a doubtful eye on the at times obstructing scaffolds erected by its inspectors, it is quite appropriate to a begin the analysis of Kafka’s Der Prozess by taking Walser’s advice literally.
Much has been written about the importance of doors in Der Prozess; but its windows have attracted few discerning spectators. A notable exception is H.J. Fickert, whose essay “The Window Metaphor in Kafka’s Trial” is a serviceable introduction to window gazing. To be exact, the word “Fenster” (window) is mentioned seventy-three times in the novel’s ten extant chapters (i.e. without considering the omitted chapters and passages, such as “Ein Traum” and “Das Haus”), including derivatives such as the nouns “Fensterbrett” (window sill) or “Fensterscheibe” (windowpane), and the adjectives “fensterlos” (windowless), “einfenstrig” and “zweifenstrig” (with one and two windows, respectively). While this number alone does not add to an understanding of the novel—other than offering proof that the “Kafkasche Gebäude” may not be as a bleak house as some critics care to lay it out—and is, perhaps, not even an impressive statistic considering the urban indoors settings of Der Prozess, Kafka’s windows are so prominently positioned as to become conspicuous and significant.
One of Kafka’s techniques to draw attention to windows is the frequent repetition of the word “Fenster,” often in such proximity that it could easily have been substituted by a pronoun, as the following example from the novel’s first chapter illustrates:
“Nein, ich will nicht mehr,” sagte K. und ging zum Fenster. Drüben war noch die Gesellschaft beim Fenster und schien nur jetzt dadurch, dass K. ans Fenster herangetreten war, in der Ruhe des Zuschauens ein wenig gestört. (Der Prozess 10-11)
Similar triplications of the word “Fenster” also occur in chapters two, five, and ten.
Kafka often begins his descriptions of rooms by mentioning whether they have windows or not. In chapter two, K., searching for the scene of his investigation, enters several apartments, noticing that they are, “in der Regel, kleine, einfenstrige Zimmer, in denen auch gekocht wurde” (29), whereas the investigation hall is introduced as a “mittelgrosses, zweifenstriges Zimmer” (30). Advocate Huld’s study is first described as a room barely lit by “drei grossen Fenster” (84); yet even though windows are most prominent in the novel’s first chapter, Der Prozess features a fenestral frame, as onlookers observe the beginning and end of K.’s trial from their windows.
Kafka’s frequent references to windows, especially in his earlier fiction, are not surprising if one considers the writer’s personal background. Kafka’s life is well documented, which makes it worthwhile momentarily to stray from the path suggested by Walser. As Wagenbach reminds us in his Kafka biography, Kafka had, as a young child, witnessed the dark, decayed tenements of the ghetto in turn of the century Josefstadt, Prague, with its narrow streets, named “Zum Tode” (“To Death”) or “Keine Zeit” (“No Time”), and its lightless passages in which one could get lost (68). It is quite possible that Kafka tried to capture this atmosphere in his lost fragment “Das Kind und die Stadt” (“The Child and the City”), written in 1903. “Brought up in the narrow and deep rooms of city apartments, Kafka had a natural affinity for windows,” reasons Fickert (347). In the early 1920s, discussing Gustav Meyrink’s Der Golem, Kafka remarked to Janouch that, even though the Jewish Quarter had been torn down, the slums continued to live “[i]n us all” (Janouch 80). Apparently, by the time Kafka began his work on Der Prozess, living conditions in Prague were still rather depressing. In a letter to Felice B. dated 29 April 1914, Kafka, looking for new lodgings, describes a downright nightmarish apartment. Life in such living quarters, which is almost impossible, he continues, can only be seen as the workings of a curse. In addition to filth, vermin, and bad odors, Kafka writes about the darkness of such rooms (“finstere Küche”), and a dirty, grated window:
Gestern habe ich eine Wohnung mit 3 Zimmern gesehen, [ . . .]. Eine Wohnung, wie man sie manchmal in Angstträumen bewohnt. Schon auf der Treppe kämpft man mit verschiedenen Gerüchen, man muss durch die finstere Küche eintreten, in einem Winkel weint ein Haufen Kinder, ein vergittertes Fenster hat Blei- und Glasglanz, das Ungeziefer wartet in seinen Löchern auf die Nacht. Das Leben in solchen Wohnungen kann man fast nur als Wirkung eines Fluches verstehn. Hier wird nicht gearbeitet, gearbeitet wird anderswo, hier wird nicht gesündigt, gesündigt wird anderswo, hier will man nur leben und kann es kaum. Wir sollten uns nicht nur Wohungen ansehn, die wünschenswert sind, wir sollten einmal zusammen auch eine solche Wohnung ansehen, Felice. (Briefe and Felice 566-67)
Approximately three months after this inspection, Kafka begins writing Der Prozess. During the process of composition, which probably ended before October 1915 (Dietz 70), Kafka continued to experience the trial of searching for a new abode and expressed his frustration in another letter to Felice B. on 2 February 1915, in which he complains about dust and grime that gathers everywhere, and about carpets in front of a window.
Was das Wohnungssuchen bedeutet, wissen wir beide. Was für Zimmer habe ich jetzt wieder gesehn! Man muss glauben, dass sich die Leute unwissend oder mutwillig im Schmutz begraben. Wenigstens ist es hier so, sie fassen Schmutz, ich meine überladene Kredenzen, Teppiche vor dem Fenster, [ . . .]. Seit gestern bin ich in meinem neuen Zimmer und habe gestern abend Verzweiflungsanfälle gehabt, dass ich glaubte, die Notwendigkeit aus dem Zimmer und aus der Welt hinauszukommen sei für mich die gleiche. Und dabei geschah nichts besonderes, [. . .] und trotzdem, die Wohnung ist eben klein. (626-27; emphasis added)
This need for windows in his world, unsatisfied in his youth, begins to explain, perhaps, Kafka’s particular attention to windows in his fictional edifices, especially in his collection of early short stories, entitled Betrachtung, which includes “Zerstreutes Hinausschaun” (“Absend-Minded Window-Gazing”), “Der Nachhauseweg” (“The Way Home”), “Der Kaufmann” (“The Tradesman”), and “Das Gassenfenster” (“The Street Window”). Yet the windows in Kafka’s writings are not only ubiquitous, but have, implications of defenestration and voyeuristic intrusions aside, overwhelmingly positive qualities, even though, as we will discover later, these qualities are not necessarily understood or appreciated by Kafka’s characters. In a letter to Pollack dated 9 November 1903, Kafka goes as far as to compare “window” and “friend” in the simile “you were somewhat like a window to me”:
Du warst, neben vielem andern, auch etwas wie ein Fenster für mich, durch das ich auf die Gassen sehen konnte. Allein konnte ich das nicht, denn trotz meiner Länge reiche ich noch nicht bis zum Fensterbrett. (Briefe 20)
To Kafka, the mere presence of many windows in a poet’s house could become, quite literally, an indication of the wellbeing of its occupants. Visiting the house of the poet Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim on 7 July 1912, he remarked enthusiastically: “Wie gut es diese deutschen Dichter hatten! Sechzehn Fenster auf die Gasse” (Briefe 94).
Having counted windows, we must proceed to account for their significance. The three vital functions of windows as instruments of ocular penetration, as purveyors of light and air, and as social connectors between the secluded, inner realm and the outside world, are realized in the “Kafkasche Gebäude,” especially in the vivid description of urban life of the tenements in Juliusstrasse and its occupants in the second chapter of the novel. In what is arguably the liveliest passage of Der Prozess, Kafka writes that most of the windows “waren besetzt,” were occupied, thus put to use, as people look out of their homes and into the world. In an entry in his diary from 17 March 1915, Kafka expresses his dependence upon a room with a view: “Ich bin von der Aussicht so abhängig, die ist hier schön” (Tagebücher: 1910-1923, 340). Without this view, as he writes a few days later, on 21 March 1915, he is a miserable, depressed man. Once again, Kafka discovers that he depends upon the location of his apartment and the view from his window:
Ich bin übergesiedelt, in ein Zimmer, in dem der Lärm etwa zehnmal grösser ist als in dem frühern, das aber im übrigen unvergleichlich schöner ist. Ich dachte unabhängig von der Lage und dem Aussehn des Zimmers zu sein. Aber das bin ich nicht. Ohne freiere Aussicht, ohne die Möglichkeit, ein grosses Stück Himmel aus dem Fenster zu sehn und etwa einen Turm in der Ferne, wenn es schon nicht das freie Land sein kann, ohne dieses bin ich ein elender, gedrückter Mensch. (631-32)
In fact, the good view from the window of his parents’ apartment made such an impression on Kafka that it has found its way into “Das Urteil” (“The Judgment”). Georg Brendemann’s view onto the Niklasbridge resembles, as Demmler points out, the view from Kafka’s study (Demmler 113). In Der Prozess, however, only the poor tenents in Juliusstrasse know how to appreciate the luxury of an open window. To them, looking out onto the street is a social experience shared between young and old, as men in shirtsleeves carefully and tenderly hold up small children to the window-ledge. Occupants connect, communicate, laugh and shout across—or down into—the street, interact in problem solving (setting up a clothes-line) and business (the fruit seller offers his goods to the people in the windows) (27-28). Others simply use their windows to dry cleaned clothes or to air out bedding, a practice that was considered healthy even in urban, industrial areas. Kafka, too, believed in windows as purveyors of fresh air. In a letter to a headachy Grete Bloch dated 15 March 1914, he holds her unhealthy lifestyle, her sleeping with the window closed, responsible for her ailment: “Wie ist es aber möglich, bei Ihrer Lebensweise Kopfschmerzen abzuhalten, da Sie so viel arbeiten, kaum ausgehn, gar nicht turnen, . . bei geschlossenem Fenster schlafen” (Kafka, Briefe an Felice 508).
Yet even though K. is unusually fascinated by the life in the streets and stays for a while to observe the scene, against his habits, “[g]egen seine sonstigen Gewohnheiten sich mit all diesen Äusserlichkeiten genauer befassend” (28), he nonetheless allows himself to be drawn into the windowless, dark and suffocating world of the court, to be subjected to inspection, while himself forgetting the importance of close observations.
By forgetting—or ignoring—these vital fenestral functions, Josef K. becomes the antihero of Der Prozess. K. is a manipulated, uninspired, narrow-minded man who, willing to see and unable to connect, simply surrenders his life. Ultimately, as we will discover through an analysis of the possible influences of Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s essay “Der Dichter und diese Zeit,” (“The Poet and This Time”) on Kafka’s Prozess, Josef K. is portrayed as the anti-poet, since he allows his life to be created, directed, and destroyed by others. Quite clearly, Josef K. is a man without vision.
Kafka’s fascination for the ocular is well documented, a preoccupation with the ocular, which, as Binder puts it, led to a pleonastic use of the word “Auge” (“eye”) in his writings (Binder 141). According to Gustav Janouch, Kafka, who once proclaimed “Ich bin ein Augenmensch” (I am an eye-person), described himself as being “too ‘optical’ by nature” to tolerate the distortions and forced perspectives of film and photography (160). Kafka rejected photography since he believed that a photograph
concentrates one’s eye on the superficial. For that reason it obscures the hidden life which glimmers through the outlines of things like a play of light and shade. One can’t catch that even with the sharpest lens. One has to grope for it by feeling. Or do you think that one can successfully apprehend the profound depths of this ever-returning reality, before which, through all former ages, whole legions of poets, artists, scientists and other miracle workers have stood in trembling longing and hope, by pressing the knob of a cheap machine? (144; emphasis added)
Kafka seems to have followed a maxim by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, whose writings had a profound influence on Kafka, especially in his earlier years, as Brod attests in his biography (59). Even though Heinz Politzer goes as far as calling Kafka’s fragmentary dramatic poem “Der Gruftwächter,” “The Warden of the Tomb,” which was written in December 1916, “a poor man’s Hofmannsthal” (24), by March 1908, Kafka’s early fiction was already being published in the literary magazine Hyperion, along with the works of Mann, Rilke, and Hofmannsthal. (Karl 214). Emrich points out that Hofmannsthal influenced Kafka, especially “Gespräch über Gedichte” und “Brief des Lord Chandos” (412). However, even more influential was perhaps Hofmannsthal’s essay “Der Dichter und diese Zeit.” In it, Hofmannsthal writes that a poet, seeing and feeling, cannot leave anything out; it is as if the poet’s eyes had no lids:
Er sieht und fühlt; sein Erkennen hat die Betonung des Fühlens, sein Fühlen die Scharfsichtigkeit des Erkennens. Er kann nichts auslassen. Keinem Wesen, keinem Ding, keinem Phantom, . . darf er seine Augen verschliessen. Es ist als hätten seine Augen keine Lider. (1: 28)
Max Brod saw Kafka as a man who thought in images (Brod 68), and whose “deep interest in every detail, in every little crease of reality,” was based upon his belief in the visibility of truth: “Überall ist Wahrheit sichtbar. Sie blickt durch die Maschen der sogenannten ‘Realität.’ Daher Kafkas tiefes Interesse für jedes Detail, jedes Fältchen dieser Realität . . .” (65).
A photography can only depict objects in a limited, whereas the poet, as the observer of life, has to penetrate deeper, beyond the visible, while his eyes may never disavow the finer threads, as Hofmannsthal puts it: “Aber die Gewebe sind durchsetzt mit noch feineren Fäden, und wenn keine Auge sie wahrnimmt, sein Auge darf sie nie verleugnen” (29). Thus, perception may have its limits—the true, poetic vision, however, knows no boundaries.
Kafka’s focus on the ocular already becomes apparent in the opening scene of Der Prozess, in which Josef K. is introduced as a man who wakes up on the morning of his thirtieth birthday, looks around him and immediately perceives that something has changed. Change—the old neighbor staring at him with uncommon curiosity, the presence of a man Josef K. has never seen before, and the absence of his landlady—becomes visible. By comparison, the omitted opening describes a disorientating twilight state between being asleep and being awake, thus focusing more on—and questioning—the reliability of sense experience. This passage, too, seems to be influenced by Hofmannsthal’s essay, in which he asks whether we not awaken from sleep sometimes, believe to awake, hear everything, see everything and are nonetheless profoundly drugged, filled with the secret healing poisons of sleep, lie there for a short while and our seemingly alert thinking stares into the depth of our being with a terrifying iron look. The passage continues: Nothing withstands this look. How do I endure this? asks a voice within us. How do I live and do not put an end to myself?
Wachen wir nicht manchmal aus dem Schlaf auf, meinen aufzuwachen, hören alles, sehen alles, und sind doch im tiefsten betäubt, von den geheimen heilsamen Giften des Schlafes erfüllt, und liegen eine kurze Weile und unser zum Schein so waches Denken starrt in irgend eine Tiefe unseres Daseins mit einem furchtbaren eisernen qualvollen Blick? Nichts hält diesem Blick stand. Wie trag ich das? fragt eine Stimme grässlich in uns. Wie leb ich und trage das und mache nicht ein Ende mir? (Hofmannsthal 41)
Yet, as Hofmannsthal assures us, no one, neither now nor later will have to respond to this piercing look of the sleeper: “Aber es ist der bohrende Blick eines Schlafenden und niemand, weder heute noch späterhin, wird ihm Antwort schuldig sein” (41-2).
Instead of presenting his weltanschauung in the abstract, Kafka removed the opening passage and quickly, but carefully, draws K.—as well as the readers’ attention—to windows. A strange man, whose presence is the main change in Frau Grubach’s living room, for example, sits by the open window. K. wishes to sit down, but the only available seat is the easy chair at the window (Prozess 3). Later, K. starts when suddenly addressed by one of the guards who sits at a small table by the open window (4). Then, in Fräulein Bürstner’s room, a white blouse is described as hanging from the handle of the open window (9). Thus, in the early stage of the trial, desirable objects (chair, blouse) appear to lure a reluctant Josef K. to the windows. In contrast, in chapter four K. only notices Fräulein Montag’s pocket book on the window sill when she takes it back (63). Whereas this unassuming woman has to him no sirenic qualities, the wife of the court usher “verlockte ihn wirklich,” really tempts him (45). And as she strokes his hand, she jumps up and runs to the window. Yet “diese Frau am Fenster,” this woman at the window, proves to be a rather too successful temptress, as she only draws K. attention to her own frame. In chapter nine, the office window itself “lockte ihn,” lures, or entices, K.; however, he resists this temptation and goes back to work, reprimanding himself for having sat much too often lately by the window (160). Thus, unlike Kafka, K. appears to be a reluctant window-gazer, a careless viewer.
A poet, as Hofmannsthal puts it in “Der Dichter und diese Zeit,” has to express an interest in everything, not just in his own, immediate problems. Hofmannsthal uses the window metaphorically when he writes that the poet must always look into the windows of others, and, indeed, cannot get away from them, were it not for all the different things and people that still remain to be watched:
Der Dichter, wenn er an dem Haus des Töpfers vorüberkommt, oder an dem Haus des Schusters und durchs Fenster hineinsieht, ist so verliebt ins Handwerk des Töpfers oder de[s] Schusters, dass er nie von dem Fenster fortkäme, wäre es nicht, weil der dann wieder dem Jäger zusehen muss oder dem Fischer oder dem Fleischhauer. (32)
In his openness, the poet must not reject anything. It is not that he thinks incessantly about all things in the world—but they think about him: “Er darf nichts von sich ablehnen. . . . Es ist ja nicht, dass er unaufhörlich an alle Dinge der Welt dächte. Aber sie denken an ihn” (34). In Der Prozess, objects think about—and lure—K. to no avail; the windows cannot manage to draw a reluctant, rejective K. out of the dark and suffocating world of the court and its windowless, hence impenetrable order.
Even though some critics, discussing the limits of sense experience, argue that K. is childish in relying too much upon the surface world of appearances, this does certainly not apply in K’s case. Reiss asserts that characters in Kafka’s works, when depending upon their own senses, view everything from a “wrong visual angle”:
Wer [. . .] auf seine eigenen Sinneskräfte vertraut, betrachtet alles unter einem falschen Winkel, wie der Hund [in “Forschungen eines Hundes”], der sich die Tierexistenz zum Massstab nimmt, ohne an den Menschen zu denken, der sein niederes Dasein beeinflusst. (121)
However, K.’s mistake is not necessarily a wrong visual angle. In looking out of the window, there may not even be such a wrong visual angle, nor does subjectivity have to be misleading, as Kafka suggests in one of his writing fragments, collected as “Fragmente aus Heften und losen Blättern.” A nondescript man, looking out of a window on a foggy, rainy day, pondering whether watching is worthwhile, whether one can actually discern changes, since outer appearances are always deceiving, comes to the conclusion that, since one is human oneself, looking at other human beings one can nonetheless learn something and knows what to make of the traffic which keeps itself in motion:
Er blickte aus dem Fenster [. . .]. Aber das ist vielleicht nur der äussere Anblick, der immer täuscht, denn da sich die Menschen als Gesamtheit allem gleich anpassen und man doch zunächst nach dem Anblick der Menschen urteilt, sollte man eigentlich niemals eine Veränderung der Weltlage wahrnehmen können. Aber da man auch selbst ein Mensch ist, seine Anpassungskraft kennt und von ihr aus urteilt, erfährt man doch einiges und weiss, was man davon zu halten hat, dass der Verkehr unten nicht stillsteht, sondern[ . . .] mit [. . .] unermüdlicher undurchdringlicher Überlegenheit sich in Gang erhält. (Hochzeitsvorbereitungen 278)
Thus, through perception, Kafka argues here, one can make sense of the world, even the seemingly impenetrable (“undurchdringlicher”). Instead of having the wrong visual angle, K. often shows an inability or unwillingness to observe more carefully. Even though he wishes to get “Klarheit über seine Lage” (3), clarity about his situation, he is too easily distracted, his “zerstreute Blicke” (8), his unfocused glances, are not attracted by visual stimuli, but by noise, such as sudden exclamations from the guards who try—and succeed—to catch his attention. Throughout the novel, K. and other characters rarely look out of windows in order to see, but rather stare absend-mindedly outside for no particular reason, only to distract themselves for a while, “[o]hne besonderen Grund, nur um vorläufig noch nicht zum Schreibtisch zurückkehren zu müssen” (107), or to avoid eye contact with others. K.’s uncle, when annoyed by the presence of a young clerk in K.’s office, looks out of the window (75), only shortly after having reproached K. for doing the same: “Du schaust aus dem Fenster” (73). To K. looking out of the window mostly serves as a substitution for a more appropriate or meaningful reaction. In chapter five, for example, when
K. discovers the scene of a beating in the office store-room, he not only slams the door on it, he goes over to a window and gazes out. He has had a glimpse of some deeper reality and now he tries to penetrate its meaning—”to pierce in the darkness of the courtyard,” or more explicitly in German: “mit den Blicken in das Dunkel eines Hofwinkels einzudringen.” (Thorlby 57)
It is apparent, however, that K. only looks out of the window because he wishes to avoid talking to the servants (“Um sich in kein Gespräch mit den Dienern einlassen zu müssen”) and because he does not dare to look into the lumber room (“in die Rumpelkammer wagte er nicht zu gehen”) (Prozess 69). Rather than trying to penetrate the meaning of the scene in the lumber room, K.’s looking out of the window is a looking away, a defense mechanism similar to the rationalization with which K. covers his guilty conscience: “Es quälte ihn, dass es ihm nicht gelungen war, das Prügeln zu verhindern, aber es war nicht seine Schuld” (70).
One should not confuse K.’s wanderings with searching, especially since he, remembering the words of the guard Willem, who says that the court is drawn to and attracted by guilt, and is aware that he is drawn to the court, reasons “dass das Untersuchungszimmer an der Treppe liegen musste, die K. zufällig wählte” (28), that the investigation hall must be wherever he incidentally choses to go. As Sokel puts it, in the court system a purely psychic, not a physical reality becomes concrete (151).
The windows in Der Prozess are often rendered useless, since Josef K. does not know how or when to utilize them according to their vital functions. When he opens the window on a foggy, cold day, he only allows snowflakes and smog to penetrate into his office (107). When he proudly remembers the “riesige Fensterscheibe” (48), the gigantic windowpane in his office, the window becomes valuable not because of the view it provides, but rather as a status symbol. In his final moments, when Josef K. begins to see the significance of the fenestral functions, this realization comes to late, since he—his eyes breaking, his senses becoming ineffectual—can no longer perceive clearly or connect to the figure that reaches out from the window.
While Karl argues that “Kafka used windows extensively, usually as an obstacle to whatever his protagonist desires, or as a reflection of his uncertainties” (441), the windows in Der Prozess only gradually refuse their service to the ignorant. This change can be traced throughout the novel. At the very beginning of his trial, Josef K. is still offered the opportunity to connect, provided by open windows. Kafka indicates that K. misses this opportunity by dropping the adjective “offen” when mentioning windows in the following chapters. First, K.’s office window shows resistance, as it “lets itself only be opened with difficulty,” as K. has to use both hands to turn the handle: “liess sich nur schwer öffnen, er musste mit beiden Händen die Klinke drehen” (107). Later, in Titorelli’s studio, the window cannot be opened at all (124), whereas the window in the servant’s room in advocate Huld’s house, where the slavish Block studies his case, “gibt fast kein Licht,” almost gives no light (156). It is only seemingly a window, since it simply leads into an airshaft.
From the beginning of his trial, K. does not only fail to observe the world—his look at the “all diesen Äusserlichkeiten,” all these externals of the tenements in Juliusstrasse being “[g]egen seine sonstige Gewohnheit,” against his habits—but also fails to put the objects and people viewed into a broader context. He is drawn into the oppressing situation, into its imprisoning narrowness, instead of taking advantage of the open window as his connection to the outside world. In “Der Dichter und diese Zeit,” Hofmannsthal writes that if we want to find ourselves, we must not descend innerward. Outside, outside are we to be found: “Wollen wir uns finden, so dürfen wir nicht in unser Inneres hinabsteigen: draussen sind wir zu finden, draussen” (83). If our eyes, as a Czech proverb says, are indeed the windows to our souls, then one can only reach into one’s soul by being looked from at by others, not through introspection.
Whereas “[d]oors in Kafka’s writings appear to be an architectural invention for the purpose of preventing people from entering” (Heller 76), windows are, at first, presented as open invitations to connect with the outer world. Instead, K., until the last moments of his life, is reluctant to connect and perceives onlookers as intruders. In comparison, Karl Rossmann, the hero of Kafka’s Amerika, experiences being surrounded by a thousand windows as reassuring. As social connectors, windows give him a context and confirm his sense of knowing “where one is”: “Hinter alledem aber stand New York und sah Karl mit hunderttausend Fenstern seiner Wolkenkratzer an. Ja, in diesem Zimmer wusste man, wo man war” (20).
To Kafka, even a recluse cannot live without a window. Unlike doors, windows enable contact with the world outside without forcing one to give up the comfort and security provided by the privacy of one’s four walls. Even if one does not actively participate, one can still become part of the human experience, can ultimately be drawn toward human concord, as Kafka puts it in his early short story “Das Gassenfenster”:
Wer verlassen lebt und sich doch hie und da irgendwo anschliessen möchte, wer mit Rücksicht auf die Veränderungen der Tageszeiten, der Witterung, der Berufsverhältnisse und dergleichen ohne weiteres irgendeinen beliebigen Arm sehen will, an dem er sich halten könnte,—der wird es ohne ein Gassenfenster nicht lange treiben. Und steht es mit ihm so, dass er gar nichts sucht und nur als müder Mann, die Augen auf und ab zwischen Publikum und Himmel, an seine Fensterbrüstung tritt, und er will nicht und hat ein wenig den Kopf zurückgeneigt, so reissen ihn doch unten die Pferde mit in ihr Gefolge von Wagen und Lärm und damit endlich der menschlichen Eintracht zu. (Erzählungen und Kleine Prosa 43)
K.’s inability to connect makes it impossible for him to transcend the immediacy of objects and situation. Instead of questioning the court, K., in a pseudo-rebellious state, spends the rest of his short life trying to prove his innocence, thus accepting the accusation as valid and allowing himself to be judged, and judging himself according to the binary opposites of “guilty” versus “innocent” established by the court. Or, as Grossvogel puts it, “[e]ven when his predicament cries out for K. to ask ‘why?’ he insists on asking, as any ordinary detective might, ‘where?’ or ‘who?’ (98). Any detective who merely collects clues at random, without looking at them in the context of a case, must fail in his investigations. “For Inner and Outer belong to each other. Divided, they become two bewildering aspects of a mystery which we endure but can never solve,” as Kafka is quoted in his Conversations with Janouch (Janouch 33).
The architectural connectors between inside and outside, the doors and windows, give the rooms in the “Kafkasche Gebäude” a “Raumhaftigkeit,” a spatiality. This remarkable three-dimensional quality is particularly well developed in the scene in Fräulein Bürstner’s room, appears to be, as Grossvogel remarks, “staged” and “artificial,” yet it hardly is, as he claims, “nonsymbolic” (99). Whereas the individual object has no symbolic quality, it can become symbolic in its relation to other objects or people, since it does no longer stand for itself when it no longer stands by itself. It is the poet’s task to transcend the limitations of mere representations of the physical world through symbolism, to lend representative things spirit and the non-corporeal world its distinct outlines. This is, in Hofmannsthal’s mind, one of the challenges of living in the twentieth century: “Es fehlt in unserer Zeit den repräsentativen Dingen an Geist, und den geistigen Dingen an Relief” (9). Kafka meets this challenge, as Thorlby observes, in his
consistent way in which [his] language creates an appearance of concrete action and character out of his basically spiritual, abstractly philosophical preoccupation with the ‘world’ of consciousness [. . . ]. (59)
The poet responds to “die unendliche Symbolhaftigkeit der Materie,” the infinitely symbolic nature of matter (32), by trying to bring “alles was da ist, in ein Verhältnis” (33), to bring everything into a relation; and since he can place objects in a new order, creating new relationships not subjected to the laws of physics— just as Magritte manages to present realistic objects in surreal contexts in his paintings—the poet can gain artistic control over them. This is achieved by looking at things at once “ausser allem Bezug ansieht und in ihrem tiefsten Bezug,” outside of all their relations and in their most profound relation, as Hofmannsthal puts it in “Unterhaltungen über ein neues Buch” (67). Not surprisingly, the “three-dimensional” scene in Fräulein Bürstner’s room resembles an early Magritte painting, L’Assassin menace (1926). Even though Max Brod would have very much rejected this comparison, Magritte, not unlike Kafka, “accepts and uses a certain language” that
assumes that the truth is to be found in appearances which are therefore worth preserving by being represented. It assumes continuity in time as also in space [. . . ]. It is capable of expressing spiritual experience but always within a concrete setting. . . . [T]here is no obscurity in his art. Everything is plainly readable. (Berger 162)
In L’Assassin menace, an inattentive man (the assassin), distracted by a gramophone while observed by outsiders through a window, is bound to go into the trap of his persecutors. All figures remain curiously disconnected. Only we, the readers or observers, notice the foreshadowed fate of those trapped, simply because we connect the figures and objects in the scene and interpret their relations. However, instead of connecting, K. is annoyed by onlookers and sudden intruders. To Kafka, this characteristic of K. is a clear “weakness”:
To be disturbed by an unexpected visit is a weakness, an avoidance of the unexpected [. . . ]. One flies from the miraculous into one’s own limited self. Being is most of all a being-with-things, a dialogue. (Janouch 41)
The poet has to reckon with the realities which wait for him “Tatsachen aus allen Ordnungen der Dinge sind für [den Dichter] immer da, stehen irgendwo im Dunkel und warten auf ihn und er muss mit ihnen rechnen” (Hofmannsthal 34).
K.’s failure is his inability to organize the world according to his own sense of order. In moments of highest accomplishment, a poet simply has to put together—“braucht [. . .] nur zusammenzustellen” (Hofmannsthal 35)—and thus creates the world of relations.
Wie der innerste Sinn aller Menschen Zeit und Raum und die Welt der Dinge um sie her schafft, so schafft er aus Vergangenheit und Gegenwart, aus Tier und Mensch und Traum und Ding, aus Gross und Klein, aus Erhabenem und Nichtigem die Welt der Bezüge. (29-30)
Kafka “was always striving for an ordered conception of the universe as a whole” (Tauber X), and, as Hofmannsthal writes, every thing has to fit itself into the poet’s order of things. For him, all has to—and will—converge: “[I]n seine Ordnung der Dinge muss jedes Ding hineinpassen. Ihm muss und wird alles zusammenkommen” (28). Whereas Spilka asserts that Kafka, as well as Dickens, “saw life from an infantile perspective,” and “because the outlook is childlike, the mechanical takes on monstrous or macabre qualities, whether of shape or situation” (242-43), Wagenbach, describing Kafka’s development as a writer since “The Child and the City” in 1903, points out that Kafka began to question the unconnectedness of objects as a characteristic of the child’s world (139). Kafka constructs a new order in his fictional worlds; K., on the other hand, only tries to fit in, to surrender to the arcane order of the law. In his ignorance and narrow-mindedness, the antihero Josef K. does not meet the challenges and opportunities of life. By allowing his life to be predestined by outside forces—being drawn to the court, not searching for it— without penetrating and questioning relationships, the slavish K. unable to create his own world, K. gets trapped in the obscure, labyrinthine burrow of the law court.
K.’s reluctance to become a creator, his anti-poetic approach to life, reveals itself in the second chapter of Der Prozess. During the first interrogation, the Examining Magistrate appears to mistake K. for a painter and asks K.: “Sie sind Zimmermaler?” Rather than using the term “Anstreicher” (someone who coats walls with paint), Kafka opts for the ambiguous word “Zimmermaler,” denoting someone who covers the walls of a room with paint or who creates rooms with paint. In its ambiguity, this word sums up K.’s misery as he fails to reflect on the question whether he is “Anstreicher”—someone who executes a paint job as it is dictated by others—or “Maler,” a creative artist who creates rooms as he finds all elements of existence “wie den Materialhaufen zu einem Hausbau,” like a heap of materials for the building of a house (Hofmannsthal 35).
As Heidegger reminds us in is essay “Bauen Wohnen Denken,” the word “bauen” stems from “buan, bhu, beo,” and, originally, “bin,” the first person singular of “sein” (to be) (147); and only if we know how to “wohnen” (live or reside) can we “bauen” (build, and, in its origin, be) (161). This living, however, always has to be learned first: “Die eigentliche Not des Wohnens beruht darin, dass die Sterblichen das Wesen des Wohnens immer erst wieder suchen, dass sie das Wohnen erst lernen müssen” (162). As we have discovered in our analysis, helpful windows are too often ignored, views become obstructed by objects such as curtains (164) or window-grates, and are rendered useless in darkness and smog; they are not put to use meaningfully according to their functions, since these functions have not been fully recognized and understood. The description of the life of the urban poor in their tenements, however, shows that the appreciation of windows is an appreciation for life. If, as Kafka reportedly said, “Wahrheit ist vielleicht das Leben selbst”— if truth is perhaps life itself (Janouch 167)—then it is not, as Bridgwater asserts, visualize[d] in Schopenhauerian terms as a narrow doorway (27) but rather as the often obscured, ignored, or misunderstood windows within the “Kafkasche Gebäude.”
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