Suitcase Notes: Kafka’s Diaries, 1910


Night of comets, 17-18 May. 

Together with Blei, his wife and child, from time to time listened to myself outside of myself, it sounded like the whimpering of a young cat.

How many days have again gone silently by; today is 28 May. Have I not even the resolution to take this penholder, this piece of wood, in my hand every day? I really think I do not. I row, ride, swim, lie in the sun. Therefore my calves are good, my thighs not bad, my belly will pass muster, but my chest is very shabby and if my head set low between my shoulders –

Sunday, 19 July, slept, awoke, slept, awoke, miserable life.

When I think about it, I must say that my education has done me great harm in some respects. I was not, as a matter of fact, educated in any out-of-the-way place, in a ruin, say, in the mountains – something against which in fact I could not have brought myself to say a word of reproach.

…Forgotten energy may hold these persons fast in memory, but they would hardly have any ground left under them and even their legs would have already turned to smoke….But indeed one cannot even do as much as make them remember those times, no person can compel them to do so; obviously one cannot mention compulsion at all, they can remember nothing, and if you press them, they push you dumbly aside, for most probably they do not even hear the words. Like tired dogs they stand there, because they use up all their strength in remaining upright in one’s memory.

…On the other hand, I can prove at any time that my education tried to make another person out of me than the one I became.

It is reported, and we are inclined to believe it, that when men are in danger they have no consideration even for beautiful strange women; they shove them against walls, shove them with head and hands, knees and elbows, if these women happen only to be in the way of their flight from the burning theatre. At this point our chattering women fall silent, their endless talking reaches a verb and a period, their eyebrows rise out of their resting places, the rhythmic movement of their thighs and hips is interrupted; into their mouths, only loosely closed by fear, more air than usual enters and their cheeks seem a little puffed out.


Suitcase Notes (Sontag, ‘Regarding the Pain of Others’)




pg. 21 – The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) was the first war to be witnessed (“covered”) in the modern sense: by a corps of professional photographers at the lines of military engagement and in the towns under bombardment, whose work was immediately seen in newspapers and magazines in Spain and abroad.

-Something becomes real – to those who are elsewhere, following it as ‘news’ – by being photographed. But a catastrophe that is experienced will often seem eerily like its representation. The attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001 was described as ‘unreal,’ ‘surreal,’ ‘like a movie,’ in many of the first accounts of those who escaped…After four decades of disaster films, ‘It felt like a movie’ seems to have displaced the way survivors of a catastrophe used to express the short-term unassimilability of what they had gone through: ‘it felt like a dream.’

pg. 22 – Nonstop imagery is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite. Memory freeze-frames; its basic unit is the single image.

pg. 23 – ‘Beauty will be convulsive, or it will not be,’ proclaimed Andre Breton.

pg. 26 – For the photography of atrocity, people want the weight of witnessing without the taint of artistry, which is equated with insincerity or mere contrivance. 

pg. 30 – memory has altered the image according to memory’s needs

pg. 38 – Larry Burrows [Vietnam photographer] was the first important photographer to do a whole war in color – another gain in verisimilitude, that is, shock.

pg. 40 – The sufferings most often deemed worthy of representation are those understood to be the product of wrath, divine or human.

pg. 43 – [Jacques] Callot begins with a plate showing the recruitment of soldiers; brings into view ferocious combat, massacre, pillage, and rape, the engines of torture and execution (strappado, gallows tree, firing squad, stake, wheel)

pg. 45 – With Goya, a new standard for responsiveness to suffering enters art……A voice, presumably the artist’s, badgers the viewer: can you bear to look at this? One caption declares: One can’t look (No se puede mirar). Another says: This is bad (Esto es malo). Another retorts: This is worse (Esto es peor). Another shouts: This is the worst! (Esto es lo peor!). Another declaims: Barbarians! (Barbaros!). What madness! (Que locura!), cries another. And another: This is too much! (Fuerta cosa es!). And another: Why? (Por que?).

pg. 49 – …along with that invaluable substitute for war, international sports.

pg. 53 – approaching Sebastopol in his horse-drawn darkroom, Fenton made two exposures…

pg. 55 – we want the photographer to be a spy in the house of love and of death, and those being photographed to be unaware of the camera…

pg. 57 – Only starting with Vietnam is it virtually certain that none of the best-known photographs were setups.

pg. 60 – …six thousand photographs taken between 1975 and 1979 at a secret prison in a former high school in Tuol Sleng, a suburb of Phnom Penh, the killing house of more than fourteen thousand Cambodians charged with being either ‘intellectuals’ or ‘counter-revolutionaries’ – the documentation of this atrocity courtesy of the Khmer Rouge record keepers, who had each sit for a photograph just before being executed….*[this form of documentation] also standard practice in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 40s

pg. 63 – the real thing may not be fearsome enough, and therefore needs to be enhanced; or reenacted more convincingly.

pg. 66 – there is no war without photography…thereby refining the irrepressible identification of the camera and the gun…the same intelligence, whose weapons of annihilation can locate the enemy to the exact second and meter [wrote Junger], that labors to preserve the great historical event in fine detail.

pg. 70 – the more remote or exotic the place, the more likely we are to have full frontal views of the dead and the dying.

pg. 75 – pity can entail a moral judgment if, as Aristotle maintains, pity is considered to be the emotion that we owe only to those enduring undeserved misfortune.

pg. 79 – to be sure, nobody who really thinks about history can take politics altogether seriously

pg. 83 – They weep, in part, because they have seen it many times. People want to weep. Pathos, in the form of a narrative, does not wear out. 

pg. 85 – [society] calls these ideas memories, and that is, over the long run, a fiction. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as collective memory – part of the same family of spurious notions as collective guilt. But there is collective instruction. All memory is individual, unreproducible – it dies with each person.


pg. 89 – the problem is not that people remember through photographs, but that they remember only the photographs. This remembering through photographs eclipses other forms of understanding and remembering.

To remember is, more and more, not to recall a story but to be able to call up a picture.

Narratives can make us understand. Photographs do something else: they haunt us. 


How to Memorize Europe

From the first cold fraudulent water

Draw the first pair of ticking hands

Then the fish scales and gills on the skin of the clock.

To remember is to villainize, romanticize or amplify events into a plot.

If Italy’s a gun, then Austria’s the grip                                                                                                               Slovakia the dirty magazine fed by the clip                                                                                              Czechia, the charcoal in the sulfur of the heart which burns the Nazis and the Poles in the bulletproof dark

Fold cranes from names and locations unfrought with future disaster.

Abstract maps indicate safer havens.

Geography marks where-before-and-


To forget is to lessen devastation.

Malta melts and drips from the tip of Italy,                                                                                             Denmark spits tobacco seeds at Swedes across the sea.       


Border-towns and war-torn countries endure more endurable changes

Than these smoldering blown out craters now projected on the cathedral of your heart

And we owe each other no more

Than refugees owe each other

To redraw the world without horror                                                                                                  

While keeping similar symbols for home , similar symbols for mother. 




Hello Team,


Aaron was scheduled to be Employee of the Month for November but no one can remember who Aaron is.

Are you Aaron?

Am I me?

Is this real?


Death is coming, Team! She is coming to close the sky above you, to fold you in the earth – She is coming to cradle those twin eternities of nothingness around what brief and curious sliver of light was your life – yes, even you, Becky! Death is coming to shut your eyes with dirt, to fill your mouth and eyes with oblivion, to lock you inside the last abyss, Becky!


Be well,



P.S. Do not forget to set your auto-replies if you’re not coming in to the office on Monday, or again for all of the time.

Writing Schedules



“When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m.

I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.

But to hold to such repetition for so long — six months to a year — requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.”




“When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there.

You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that.

When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.”




“I awake at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon. In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach of prepare. When I get home from school at about 5:30, I numb my twanging intellect with several belts of Scotch and water ($5.00/fifth at the State Liquor store, the only liquor store in town. There are loads of bars, though.), cook supper, read and listen to jazz (lots of good music on the radio here), slip off to sleep at ten. I do pushups and sit ups all the time, and feel as though I am getting lean and sinewy, but maybe not.”