Kafka wrote to Milena Jesenska:
Writing letters… means to denude oneself before the ghosts, something for which they greedily wait. Written kisses don't reach their destination, rather they are drunk on the way by the ghosts.
Kafka, Letters to Milena, Schocken Books, 1990, page 223.
What do Kafka's ghosts do? According to Kafka, they twist their hands. They drink written kisses. And they wait greedily to do so. Twisting their hands, ghosts turn texts against their author (I know he says 'speaker', but I will ignore it). Taking Kafka's texts literally, and not metaphorically, the question is: what are these ghosts? (Of course I don't want to overemphasize a distinction between the literality and the metaphoricity of texts, because in addressing 'metaphorical' ghosts literally, Kafka is undermining that distinction. Here we have a traditionally metaphorical trope being summoned to a literal presence: a presence as real as that of an apple or a lover. Somewhere Kafka writes that the essence of magic is to summons, not to create as is so often thought. This would also call into question any strong distinction between the metaphorical and the literal.) A ghost is, literally: an invisible and quasi-physical being that occupies a space (a being-space). And Kafka says that these beings are twisting their hands and changing everything he writes (whether it is a written kiss or a written word). All strokes tumble before ghosts, directors of gymnastics.
Kafka says that writing letters means to denude oneself before ghosts. Writing letters is denuding oneself before ghosts. When we write letters, we lay everything bare to the ghosts peering over our shoulders. Why are we not always already denuded before the ghosts? What is special in the text that lays everything bare before ghosts? Kafka's ghosts, I imagine, are peering over his shoulder as he writes to Milena, reading everything he lays himself bare to her. These ghosts are always perched upon his shoulder. Though these ghosts are invisible, they are not omniscient. They cannot hear Kafka's thoughts, or 'see into his brain'. Kafka's ghosts are like people, only one is unable to see them. Like us, they can see and hear only what is laid bare in a letter or on a telephone call. We cannot see these ghosts, thus we do not make preparations to hide our texts and our speeches from them. They see everything as soon as it is written. The only way to keep a secret from a ghost is to not write it and to not speak it. But then it is a secret from everyone (including yourself). Anything laid bare to the page is also laid bare to the ghosts. "Written" means "given to the ghosts". As soon as the á is written, the ghosts have read it. Our writing is simultaneous with their reading. (At this moment, I am writing their eyes. Their gaze, always fixed from my shoulder.)
Ghosts drink the kisses Kafka writes to Milena. And thus, the written kisses never land on Milena's lips. They are only on the lips of the ghosts. Only a ghost between the author and their love could set their foot between the author and their love and blow back all kisses, leaving them undestined.
Every word is twisted in their hands. Some ghost will always intercept everything first and twist Kafka's word in their own hands. Ghosts will intercept Kafka's texts and rewrite them. Ghosts rewrite Kafka. Everything Kafka may send is intercepted by greedy ghosts. And it is sent back to Kafka, the original address now canceled.
The imprint on the page, the gentle press of Kafka's pen, is always already applied by the twisting hands of the ghosts. Any word Kafka affixes to his texts is an imprint without force because it is written only to be canceled by ghosts. Kafka's paper is stiff: it is only receptive to the pressure applied by the hands of ghosts. Ghosts are connate with the postal principle. Everything written and everything sent is authored by them.
But what about the address?
Kafka, too, writes the address posted on the front of the envelope. But as soon as it is written, the ghosts have already refigured it. Everything sent is already going somewhere else. These ghosts, Kafka is saying, leave him without an address to write to. To whom, then, does he write?