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Sword in my Back

Dreamed 1915/1/19 by Franz Kafka

I had agreed to go picknicking on Sunday with two friends, but quite unexpectedly slept past the hour when we were to meet. My friends, who knew how punctual I ordinarily am, were surprised, came to the house where I lived, waited outside awhile, then came upstairs and knocked on my door.

I was very startled, jumped out of bed, and thought only of getting ready as soon as I could. When I emerged fully dressed from my room, my friends fell back in manifest alarm. 'What's that behind your head?' they cried. Since my awakening I had felt something preventing me from bending back my head, and I now groped for it with my hand. My friends, who had grown somewhat calmer, had just shouted 'Be careful, don't hurt yourself' when my hand closed behind my head on the hilt of a sword.

My friends came closer, examined me, led me back to the mirror in my room, and stripped me to the waist. A large, ancient knight's sword with a cross-shaped handle was buried to the hilt in my back, but the blade had been driven with such incredible precision between my skin and flesh that it had caused no injury. Nor was there a wound at the spot on my neck where the sword had penetrated; my friends assured me that there was an opening large enough to admit the blade, but dry and showing no trace of blood.

And when my friends now stood on chairs and slowly, inch by inch, drew out the sword, I did not bleed, and the opening on my neck closed until no mark was left save a scarcely discernible slit. 'Here is your sword,' laughed my friends, and gave it to me. I hefted it in my two hands; it was a splendid weapon, Crusaders might have used it.

Who tolerates this gadding about of ancient knights in dreams, irresponsibly brandishing their swords, stabbing innocent sleepers who are saved from serious injury only because the weapons in all likelihood glance off living bodies, and also because there are faithful friends knocking at the door, prepared to come to their assistance?

--Franz Kafka, Diaries--

The same god who tolerates people turning into roaches, I guess. Note how The Metamorphosis echoes the dream--in each, the narrator has a wound on his back that he can't deal with himself. But Kafka's dream isn't Kafkaesque! Jungian perhaps: his friends remove the sword, his wound promptly heals (an easy birth!) and he gains an ancient, valuable weapon. (If they were into puns, his friends could fairly say "We knew you had it in you").

What is this sword that was making Franz stiff-necked? Christian values (that cross-shaped hilt!)? Sharp wit turned against himself? His crusading pen? Personally I'd say all of them: and the dream's point is that he can and must rely on his friends to keep his sharp mind turned outward, not savaging himself.

But Kafka has friends to help him. Poor Gregor, his creation, has none. Quite the opposite: his family won't approach him. Just roach him.

--Chris Wayan



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