There’s a debate in literary circles as to what kind of a guy was Franz Kafka. A recent biographical description sees him as an unexceptional student, a strong swimmer, an aerobics enthusiast, engaged three times, liked by his employer, promoted at work and other similar sorts of normal characteristics. Oh yes and he was author of seven books. This view flies in the face of his legend: mystery, alienation and an auger of the then emerging totalitarianism the world was to experience.
For Kafka, the dog represents an ethical category — if not a metaphysical one. The dog is actually all those who submit slavishly to the authorities whoever they may be.
In this image, he is pictured with a dog. And most times a dog is, well, just a dog. Yet this is Kafka, and maybe a dog is something else altogether — as implied by his rather famous quote in my graphic above. Even this quote, which touches on some sort of philosophical and spiritual reverence for dogs, is misleading once you put it in literary context -it’s a dog speaking about his own dog nature.
At the end of his life, Kafka wrote a short-story, oddly enough called ‘Investigations of a Dog’, where he takes us through a dog’s search for meaning, which in dog terms, eventually equals food.
“I know that it is not one of the virtues of dogdom to share with others food that one has once gained possession of.”
The dog investigator asks, but dogs, he finds, admit nothing because the world of dogs, he discovers, is “pledged to silence”.
“Every dog has like me the impulse to question, and I have like every dog the impulse not to answer.”
So what can we ask the dog about the man in the photograph ? Was he a good friend to you? Did he feed you well, take you out for exercise? Did he talk to you, reveal any of his hopes or demons? Were you listening?
Yes we could ask the dog these questions and more, and try to get clarity on the debate over what kind of man Kafka really was. But the legend, I’m afraid, has beat us to the punch. Dogs, it seems, keep their confidences, and their food, to themselves.