The same ability to speak seriously about Kafka without turning him into Modern Man or The Artist is to be found in Roy Fuller’s essay. Fuller rightly compares Kafka with that other insurance lawyer, Wallace Stevens, who, when the time came to retire, insisted on carrying on, since he felt that only by having his regular, quite unpoetical job to fill up his day could he go on being the instinctive and prolific writer he was. And he quotes Stevens’s marvellous letter of 17 February 1930, to Thomas McGreevy, which should be pinned above every fretful writer’s desk:
Gabriel Josipovici reviews ‘The World of Franz Kafka’ edited by J.P. Stern · LRB 5 March 1981
If Beethoven could look back on what he had accomplished and say that it was a collection of crumbs compared to what he had hoped to accomplish, where should I ever find a figure of speech adequate to size up the little that I have done compared to that which I had once hoped to do? Of course, I have had a happy and well-kept life. But I have not even begun to touch the spheres within spheres that might have been possible if, instead of devoting the principal amount of my time to making a living, I had devoted it to thought and poetry. Certainly it is as true as it ever was that whatever means most to one should receive all of one’s time and that has not been true in my case. But, then, if I had been more determined about it, I might now be looking back not with a mere sense of regret but at some actual devastation. To be cheerful about it, I am now in the happy position of being able to say that I don’t know what would have happened if I had had more time. This is very much better than to have had all the time in the world and have found oneself inadequate.