Odd figures recur in the tales of Kafka and Walser, childlike yet with the potential for duplicity. That the assistants in The Castle have their prototype in Walser’s Jakob Von Gunten did not escape Coetzee’s attention.
In Illuminations Walter Benjamin likens these resolute figures to the gandharvas of Indian mythology: “celestial creatures, beings in an unfinished state.”
Benjamin retells Brod’s account of a conversation with Kafka:
‘I remember,’ Brod writes, ‘ a conversation with Kafka which began with present-day Europe and the decline of the human race. “We are nihilistic thoughts, suicidal thoughts that come into God’s head,” Kafka said. This reminded me at first of the Gnostic view of life: God as the evil demiurge, the world as his Fall. “Oh no,” said Kafka, “our world is only a bad mood of God, a bad day of his.” “Then there is hope outside this manifestation of the world that we know.” He smiled. “Oh, plenty of hope, an infinite amount of hope – but not for us.”
Benjamin adds, ‘These words provide a bridge to those extremely strange figures in Kafka, the only ones who have escaped from the family circle, and for whom there may be hope.’