Jorge Luis Borges continues his remarks on "Kafka and His Precursors".
The fourth prefiguration I found is the poem “Fears and Scruples,” by Browning, which was published in 1876. A man has, or thinks he has, a famous friend. He has never seen this friend, and the latter has not yet been able to help him. but he is reputed to have very noble qualities, and letters he has written are circulated. Some question his good qualities, and handwriting experts assert that the letters are apoeryphal. In the last verse the man asks: “What if this friend happen to be—God?”
The failure to recognize the sacred animal and its opprobrious or casual death at the hands of the populace are traditional themes in Chinese literature. See the last chapter of Jung’s Psychologie und Alchemie (Zurich, 1944), which includes two curious illustrations.
My notes also include two short stories. One is from the Histoires désobligeantes, by Léon Bloy, and tells of people who have a collection of atlases, globes, train schedules, and trunks, and then die without ever having left the town where they were born. The other is entitled “Carcaseonne” and is by Lord Dunsany. An invincible army of warriors departs from an enormous eastle, subjugates kingdoms, sees monsters, conquers deserts and mountains, but never arrives at Carcassonne, although the men catch sight of the city once from afar. (This story is the exact opposite of the other one; in the first story, a city is never departed from; in the second, a city is never reached.) If I am not mistaken, the heterogeneous selections I have mentioned resemble Kafka's work: if I am not mistaken, not all of them resemble each other, and this fact is the significant one. Kafka’s idiosyncrasy, in greater or lesser degree, is present in each of these writings, but if Kafka had not written we would not perceive it; that is to say, it would not esist. The poem "Fears and Scruples" by Robert Browning is like a propheey of Kafka’s stories, but our reading? of Kafka refines and changes our reading of the poem perceptibly. Browning did not read it as we read it now. The word “precursor” is indispensible in the vocabulary of criticism, but one should try to purify it fron every connotation of polemic or rivalry. The fact is that each writer creates his precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.2 in this correlation the identity or plurality of men matters not at all. The first Kafka of Betrachtung is less a precursor of the Kafka of the shadowy myths and atrocious institutions than is Browning or Lord Dunsany.
Buenos Aires, 1951