Feel the Strangulation!

This essay on several recent books by or about Kafka turns up this gem from the ossified Austro-Hungarian empire:

At the fin de siècle, the state bureaucracy already held
considerable sway over people’s lives and selves, and Kafka wrote from
the center of the age’s contradictions and anxieties. When he assumed
his position at the Insurance Institute in 1908, after having spent a
dismal year in the employ of Assicurazioni Generali, an Italian insurer,
the Dual Monarchy was groaning under a superabundance of paperwork.
Legislation enacted in the 1880s had ushered in the European welfare
state, and its administration required a massive expansion and
modernization of the notoriously sclerotic royal bureaucracy. By the
turn of the century, district authorities were processing four times
more paperwork than they had been twenty years earlier; the empire was
"being suffocated by files and drowning in ink," wrote the governor of
Lower Austria. Meanwhile, the arcane official idiom had become so
divorced from vernacular German that the bureaucrats and their charges
could hardly communicate. One imagines a cadre of clerks madly dashing
off reports and edicts, which would be inevitably eclipsed by newer
documents before they arrived at the appropriate filing facility. In
Kafka’s last, unfinished novel, The Castle, this flood of
imperial documents has so overwhelmed the citadel that the living rooms
of village homes have been turned into storage annexes.

For more on the literature this great stultified empire produced and why we love it so, see The List of Austro-Hungarian Literature.

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