Franz Kafka is one of my absolute favorite authors, for many reasons.
There’s a saying among video producers:
Give me one hour and I can create a 60-second video. Give me two hours and I’ll create a 30-second video.
The idea is that creating a short video takes much more time than creating a longer video. You have to make every shot, every second, every frame, count.
The same can be said for writing. “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter,” wrote Blaise Pascale some 350 years ago.
Much of Kafka’s work exemplifies this philosophy. His short parables are the only works I find myself reading over and over and enjoying them every time.
I do believe less is more. Those who do more with less often go unappreciated. I love storytellers who craft their story making every word count. It shows skill, in a world no longer limited by how many words can fit on a page.
In the age of the boundless capacity of the internet, I find concise simplicity more and more beautiful.
With that in mind, here’s my favorite Kafka piece, which I love for it’s “beautiful but sorrowful strangeness.”
A Message from the Emperor
The emperor—it is said—sent to you, the one apart, the wretched subject, the tiny shadow that fled far, far from the imperial sun, precisely to you he sent a message from his deathbed. He bade the messenger kneel by his bed, and whispered the message in his ear. So greatly did he cherish it that he had him repeat it into his ear. With a nod of his head he confirmed the accuracy of the messenger’s words. And before the entire spectatorship of his death—all obstructing walls have been torn down and the great figures of the empire stand in a ring upon the broad, soaring exterior stairways—before all these he dispatched the messenger. The messenger set out at once; a strong, an indefatigable man; thrusting forward now this arm, now the other, he cleared a path though the crowd; every time he meets resistance he points to his breast, which bears the sign of the sun; and he moves forward easily, like no other. But the crowds are so vast; their dwellings know no bounds. If open country stretched before him, how he would fly, and indeed you might soon hear the magnificent knocking of his fists on your door. But instead, how uselessly he toils; he is still forcing his way through the chambers of the innermost palace; never will he overcome them; and were he to succeed at this, nothing would be gained: he would have to fight his way down the steps; and were he to succeed at this, nothing would be gained: he would have to cross the courtyard and, after the courtyard, the second enclosing outer palace, and again stairways and courtyards, and again a palace, and so on through thousands of years; and if he were to burst out at last through the outermost gate—but it can never, never happen—before him still lies the royal capital, the middle of the world, piled high in its sediment. Nobody reaches through here, least of all with a message from one who is dead. You, however, sit at your window and dream of the message when evening comes.
-The Annotated Kafka, edited and translated by Mark Harman