Furnishing a Life

Last fall I purchased a used copy Max Brod’s memoir of Franz Kafka (Da Capo Press reprint of the 1937 original). I recently found time to pick it up, and one passage stood out to me, not because it was dramatic… quite the opposite. Describing Kafka’s room, Brod says it was “not uninhabitable, but not perhaps comfortable for people who want the conventional ornaments and luxury.” The memoir adds that

Our reading parties generally took place in Kafka’s little room in his parents’ home…. Over Kafka’s desk there hung a copy of the picture by Hans Thoma, “The Ploughman.” On the wall, at the side there was a yellowing plaster cast of a little antique relief…. This modest furniture accompanied Franz to all his lodgings in Prague: a bed, a wardrobe, the little, old, dark brown, almost black, desk, with a few few books and a lot of unarranged notebooks.

I always enjoy these biographical descriptions of domesticity. My own tastes likewise tend more to simplicity than luxury. That said, one finds “comfort” in arranging one’s surroundings and retaining some treasured objects (as Kafka did), however mundane, since they impart a sense of permanency and continuity, which is important if one is not to become a complete nomad for whom a house is no more than a transient hotel or storage facility. I would say that the kind of place we inhabit physically is often a projection of our mental “furnishings.”

Related post: Solitude and the Private Life

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