The City of K: Franz Kafka and Prague

April 11, 2002 - January 5, 2003

This exhibition uses space, sound, light, and image to explore the complex universe of Franz Kafka, what his native city of Prague did with him, and the city’s subsequent metamorphosis in his remarkable and profound literary achievements.

The City of K.: Franz Kafka and Prague uses space, sound, light, and image to explore the complex universe of Franz Kafka, what his native city of Prague did with him, and the city’s subsequent metamorphosis in his remarkable and profound literary achievements. The word “Kafkaesque” calls to mind confused and complicated environments and situations, such as those evoked in Kafka’s narratives. This exhibition explores Kafka’s Prague—a city, for him, endowed with a past greater than its present, shielded by its charm, yet constantly raising a great and threatening fist. With Kafka we descend into the depths of Prague and thus into the environs of the writer’s imagination and psyche.

Kafka in Prague: Existential Space

This section of the exhibition explores Prague and the events of Kafka’s life as they are revealed in his diaries, and his voluminous correspondence with family, friends, lovers and editors. Born in Prague on July 3, 1883, Kafka lived in Bohemia’s capital most of his life. For him, Prague was an imposing backdrop imbued with myth and obscure magic. The city acts on Kafka with all of its powers of metamorphosis, and, in turn, the writer immerses us in a place where we surrender to his senses and thoughts, and are ultimately confined with him in his existential space. As Kafka wrote to a friend in 1902, “Prague doesn’t let go. . . . This old crone has claws. One has to yield, or else.” Prague is a magnificent backdrop, but it abhors clarity. And this is precisely what Kafka detects.

Prague in Kafka: Imaginary Topography

One of the most enigmatic operations of modern literature is the oblique way in which Kafka described his city. Although readers love to point out supposed Prague locations in Kafka’s fiction—the Old Town, the Charles Bridge, or the Moldava River—the writer almost never named the places he evoked. Efforts have been made to prove that the locations of Prague have a constant, but unnamed, presence in his novels and short stories. Yet this is not what really matters. Kafka used Prague in his fiction as an imaginary place that transcended the constraints of realism. What is important is what these locations—house, school, office, church, prison, or castle—reveal when they become topographical metaphors or allegorical places. From Kafka’s literature a transformed Prague emerges. What surprises does this transformed Prague hold in store? Just how far can the metamorphosis of a city take us?

The City of K.: Franz Kafka and Prague was created and organized by the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona.

The City of K: Franz Kafka and Prague is made possible through the major support of Linda and Ilan Kaufthal, The Morris S. and Florence H. Bender Foundation, The Russell Berrie Foundation, the William Petschek Philanthropic Fund, and other generous donors.