The Human as Resident Animal: Kafka’s Der Bau in the Context of His Later Notebooks and Letters

Kafka first read Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Anxiety in 1922. One can read Kierkegaard’s text as a central element in the poetology of “Der Bau,” which reenacts the relationship between construction, habitation, and thinking against a background of anxiety. “Der Bau” in fact reveals the practice of habitation as a reflection of a state of anxiety. This is the paradox of Kafka’s story: habitation is something that cannot be thought; the more one attempts to ponder the subject, the less one can actually reside. Kafka, as author, is shown to be no more master of his writing than the animal builder is master of his burrow. Creation in this sense is not ruled by the classic opposition of subject and object: the author does not govern his writing but is transformed into what he writes. And this is precisely what Der Bau demonstrates in extenso. Telling about the burrow means postponing the finality of the burrow as well as that of its safety-anxiety-complex. What Kafka cultivated in his late writings is the dystopia of an eternal writing as an equivalent of living and as an alternative to the artistic finality, the rational concept, and the apparent wholeness of works and buildings.