Franz Kafka died June 3, 1924. He was buried on the 11th of June that year. Almost exactly one year prior to his burial he placed in the thirteenth, the last, quarto notebook the final inscription that would later be published as the last fragment in Kafka's Diary.
The last paragraph in that fragment:
"More and more fearful as I write. It is understandable. Every word, twisted in the hands of the spirits--this twist of the hand is their characteristic gesture--becomes a spear turned against the speaker. Most especially a remark like this. And so ad infinitum. The only consolation would be: it happens whether you like or no. And what you like is of infinitesimally little help. More than consolation is: You too have weapons."
(Franz Kafka, Diaries, Shocken Books, page 423.
"Every word… becomes a spear turned against the speaker." Kafka's words, Kafka's written kisses, return to him, return turned back upon him as spears. Every word he lays bare upon the page can only but arrive at Kafka. Writing is, in a sense, an infinite haunting for Kafka. As soon as the alpha is written, it is destined forever only to Kafka. It is written, read only by him, and written by him again, infinitely repeated, etc.. Only Kafka can see his text, and in that text he can only see himself, forever writing, scribbling, scrawling on the page; forever Kafka is writing himself. His every experience a text in his autobiography. But if this is true, if his text is always destined only for him, why then was it written at all? If the author is the infinite destination of their text, need they to write? Is not writing, at this juncture that can lay along no network, nothing short of absurd?
These sort of questions take us away from a discourse focused on subjectivity (and a metaphysics of subjectivity) and towards one focused on intersubjectivity. That is to say that this question attempts to resituate Kafka's texts within a communicative context. But perhaps they don't belong in a communicative context. An immense chapter of classical theory of writing is being called into question in these texts. For example, the philosophico-psychological hypothesis (consecrated in a certain Freudian speculation on the unconscious) that behind each text lay a 'real meaning' that a worthy analyser can tease out. Above all, perhaps, is the thesis common to anthropology, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and history that writing is a form of communication. No, says Kafka. Communication is not present in writing. Writing is the most conspicuous absence of communication. In writing, the absence of communication is even more conspicuous than it is in silence. The blank page says more than that which is scribbled all over: the blank page tries to say less. Black ink pressed upon the page is not a stroke imprinted against a bare background. The black ink itself is bare. Ink is not an impression on the page. It is a hole on the page. Writing is a hole that shows nothing but the space where communication could have been but yet is always destined to not have been.
And then Kafka says, as if to give us an example of the absurdity, "Most especially a remark like this." Like what? Like the "most especially…" remark or like the "every word…" remark? Or like both? He writes to himself. He can only but write to himself. Every word is returned to the speaker, rejected. The ghosts posted between Kafka and his Milena cancel everything and send it back to the author. But why most especially a remark like this? Because if he writes this to Milena she will not only not receive it, but she will not receive it twice. First lack of receipt: she will not receive it as it is forever destined to Kafka. Second lack of receipt: she will not receive it as it is "about" the first lack of receipt. (There is a certain pain we feel when we are convinced that we cannot describe our feelings of love to the object of that love. Not only are we convinced that the love itself is strangely undelivered, but we are also convinced that this lack of delivery is something that can only be expounded upon with infinite futility. I feel that way about you right now. I am trying to tell you everything, and only because I know that somewhere in there you will find the way I now feel for you. I am an infinite number of monkeys banging away on the keys.) Of course, from the beginning Milena will not receive it infinitely. She could have read it over and over again. But, as a matter of fact, she will not read it over and over again. Kafka, on the other hand, is infinitely gazing down at his page. He is fixed by it. He is affixed to it. He is the postage stamp affixed to his own page. He writes, but it only arrives at him. Written, but not communicated. Written, but not read. Everything he writes is only written over and over and over again. Kafka himself notes the perpetuality of this seemingly absurd mechanism: "And so on to infinity".
And everything I have said in these last two paragraphs is reinforced by this simple truth that up until now has seemed irrelevant: the second quoted text above is taken from Kafka's personal diary, ordered by Kafka to be burnt by his editor and friend Max Brod. Everything, you see, was supposed by Kafka to be already burnt. The infinite gaze of his writing, the writing eternally returning to him and him to his writing, was supposed by Kafka to be already burnt. This is yet another sense in which Kafka was only writing to himself. In writing to himself (in his diary), he was writing to himself about writing to himself. Of course it could only not arrive at Milena. Even the letters to Milena could only ever not arrive. The address, printed so neatly afront the envelope, was always written to Kafka. It is his own address. It reads, I imagine, "To Franz K.".
Kafka has no addresses. His address book is empty. It is filled with the spaces where addresses could have been written. Over and over again, his own name is spelt out there. His own address. Ghosts are the magical name by which Kafka summons the already-present law of the post: the impossibility of addressing anything.
That is how we are haunted by ghosts also: I do not have your address. Kafka isn't saying that ghosts imply the lack of an address so much as he is saying that the presence of ghosts are equal to the lack of an address and the lack of an address is equal to presence of ghosts. Kafka thinks that ghosts are permanently posted to the postal network. I, on the other hand, hope that these ghosts between you and I are ghosts only because we are destined for those black waters. But I am ahead of myself already. Back to Kafka.
It happens whether one likes it or not. What happens? The impossibility of addressing. The infinite circularity of arrival. Everything always arriving at itself. (Every text a comment upon itself.) It happens = it arrives (remember the French word arriver (in English: to arrive, to happen, to occur) used also by Cixous and Derrida). Whether we like it or not, everything arrives at itself, it happens. Whether we like it or not all texts arrive at their foredisclosed destination. The ghosts twist them, bend them, reshape them, and eventually all texts are sent shooting back to their authors: spears aimed at their hearts. Why is this a consolation for Kafka? Why is he consoled by the fact that this happens whether he wants it to or not? Perhaps for the simple reason that it is not his fault? Perhaps his consolation is founded in the ultimate subjectivity of his writing. If his writing isn't analyzed as the expression of an intersubjective desire, then his writing can only but be analyzed as the expression of his subjective desires. In other words, Kafka is writing to himself, he knows it, and yet he goes on. And why? Because he likes to read what he writes. He enjoys writing what he reads. He is forever sending himself his own mail.
The consolation is this: the absurdity inherent in this sort of scene doesn't stem from the frustration of an intersubjective desire (which presumably you could help along if you wanted to, i.e., you could stop it from happening if you liked: just pick up the phone, go to her house, etc.), but rather stems from the basic sort of existential absurdity that is parasitic upon those who embrace their own subjectivity. In a sense, then, since the world is subjective, the scene of writing to one's self isn't all that absurd is it's an existential scene rather than an epiphenomenal one. It happens. It just happens. It is always happening: sending mail to one's own address, writing letters to one's self.
Once we break away from the logic of intersubjectivity that forms the traditional boundaries of writing (especially letter writing), we are allowed to see Kafka's texts via the logic of subjectivity. It is not my claim that this latter is the true logic of Kafka's texts, but it is my claim that the former doesn't allow us to see some of the questions that Kafka's texts raise (and very seriously so) if we look at them under the aspect of the latter. So to raise the questions which we raised earlier, such as 'what is the point of his writing?', is to subject these texts to a scrutiny that isn't fair just insofar as we can look at them from another direction, so to speak. Of course there is no point to this writing if writing is just a communicative activity. But then… And reading Kafka's texts in that way concerns me. He wanted them all burnt. And also: my writing to you is perhaps a communicative gesture, but it is a deferred one, and yet a gesture that may never arrive (say I die tomorrow or the computer is burnt in a fire). These sendings may, after all, never arrive at you. There is always that permanent possibility burnt into them, branded into them. Written on these pages is that possibility, it is written all over them. Insofar as this is a possibility, there is at present little of communication in these sendings, and yet a great deal of subjective phrasings. What am I doing? Who are you? Who are we? I am writing these for you, but I do not know who you are. How does intersubjectivity handle that? I'm not saying it can't, only pleading ignorance as to the answer. My question is the same as Kafka's: How does this possibility of never arriving at you structure this text that I am trying with all my strength to write for you? (Everything I am writing is also an attempt to answer that question.)