Letters to Milena by Franz Kafka

Since most of Franz Kafka’s literature is unfinished, we will never truly be able experience the full mastery of his craft. Plagued by doubt his entire life about his artistry, life and love, in Letters of Milena, Kafka’s soul is completely naked; he bares all to Milena Jesenská.

Milena Jesenská was a twenty-three year old woman stuck in an unhappy marriage. She moved to Vienna with her husband to work as Czech tutor and journalist. In Vienna, she first read Kafka’s short-stories and wrote a letter requesting for permission to translate his work. Eventually, this correspondence ignited a fiery and torturous romance.

As Kafka’s Czech translator, she was the only one able to recognize his genius and electrifying, complex intellect. He divulged every aspect of his love, anxiety, and trauma of his tuberculosis to Milena. Although their love affair mainly took place on paper, Kafka, 36 years old at the time, with a fiancé, Felice, revealed his most intimate self to Milena.

Reading Letters to Milena  is a true voyeuristic experience. Kafka is deeply intimate and profound, you feel urgency and a fleeting passion between them. He wrote:

“Sometimes I have the feeling that we’re in one room with two opposite doors and each of us holds the handle of one door, one of us flicks an eyelash and the other is already behind his door, and now the first one has but to utter a word and immediately the second one has closed his door behind him and can no longer be seen. He’s sure to open the door again for it’s a room which perhaps one cannot leave. If only the first one were not precisely like the second, if he were calm, if he would only pretend not to look at the other, if he slowly set the room in order as though it were a room like any other; but instead he does exactly the same as the other at his door, sometimes even both are behind the doors and the beautiful room is empty.”

On May 1920:

”German is my mother tongue and as such more natural to me, but I consider Czech much more affectionate, which is why your letter removes several uncertainties; I see you more clearly, the movements of your body, your hands, so quick, so resolute, it’s almost like a meeting; even so, when I then want to raise my eyes to your face, in the middle of the letter – what a story! – fire breaks out and I see nothing but fire.”

Milena was Kafka’s reason for existence during the years of their affair. She did not allow him to hide from her. She understood him more than any other person and ignited his every desire. Milena shut down his rebuttals and hesitations for a meeting, even though his illness was progressing and deprived him of time. Although Milena knew she could never leave her husband for Kafka, she had the honor of receiving some of the most beautiful love letters depicting a long distance romance in literature. You witness the sensitive, torturous and extremely loving soul that was Kafka. He devoted himself to Milena in the limited measure of writing.

There’s a terrible loss and sense of compassion one feels after reading the letters. Kafka was a man who needed much time. His dreams of living with Milena were shattered by his illness. He was responsible for cutting off the affair and entrusted Milena with his intimate letters. None of Milena’s letters survived. If you have a romantic interest or love, this is the perfect book to learn from. Kafka’s writing is painful and beautiful, and most importantly sincere. Milena and Kafka can teach you to love.

Read excerpts from the book here!


Royai Week 16, Day 7 - Choices: Eric’s Song, Vienna Teng.

So we just hold on fast
Acknowledge the past
As lessons exquisitely crafted
Painstakingly drafted
To carve us as instruments that play the music of life

The medieval origins of mass surveillance

Many have remarked upon the parallels between Santa’s naughty listand mass surveillance, but the idea that a supernatural being is watching your every move and judging you for it is a lot more pervasive than just the Santa story: it’s the bedrock of Christianity.

After all, “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”

On my first visit to Vienna, my London-trained peripheral vision kept spotting CCTVs out of the corners of my eyes, which always turned out to be gargoyles. I have ever since thought of gargoyles as medieval CCTVs: a reminder that someone could be watching and judging you right now, a reminder to stay in line.

Oxford Medieval history professor Amanda Power has written a long, fascinating history of the use of the threat of total surveillance and continuous judgment as a means of social control through the medieval era, a time in which the vast majority of people had it very bad, and a small elite enjoyed unimaginable privilege. It’s a fascinating read, and the parallels can’t be denied.