The text of the preface.
The Emperor, so it runs, has sent a message to you, the humble subject, the insignificant shadow cowering in the remotest distance before the imperial sun; the Emperor from his deathbed has sent a message to you alone. He has commanded the messenger to kneel down by the bed, and has whispered the message to him; so much store did he lay on it that he ordered the messenger to whisper it back into his ear again….The messenger immediately sets out on his journey; a powerful, an indefatigable man; now pushing with his right arm, now with his left, he cleaves a way for himself through the throng; if he encounters resistance he points to his breast, where the symbol of the sun glitters; the way, too, is made easier for him than it would be for any other man. But the multitudes are so vast; their numbers have no end. If he could reach the open fields how fast he would fly, and soon doubtless you would hear the welcome hammering of his fists on your door. But instead how vainly does he wear out his strength; still he is only making his way through the chambers of the innermost palace; never will he get to the end of them; and if he succeeded in that nothing would be gained; he must fight his way next down the stair; and if he succeeded in that nothing would be gained; the courts would still have to be crossed; and after the courts the second outer palace; and once more stairs and courts; and once more another palace; and so on for thousands of years…
Franz Kafka, An Imperial Message
Kafka often saw himself as this messenger, a recipient of a communication begun in past ages, who carries the message further. The message was the modernist project of invariant values to be thought and rethought in the changes of cultural milieus with their distinctive problems. Kafka’s generation of writers and thinkers all sought reconceptualizations of their inherited disciplines. Kafka, more than many, knew that the rethinking must carry forward the message begun seemingly anew again and again by countless runners through the manifold generations of humanistic understandings. Each individual who hears the renewed message finds the locus of truth within its parameters, yet the knowing listener also realizes that he or she merely in the response to that message contributes to the multi-generational structure of which the message is but a moment.
The Great Wall of China, the story within which the Imperial message is articulated, testifies to such a multi-generational structure. The Great Wall of China was a massive project which whole populations constructed over time to provide “a secure foundation” for humankind, but, as Kafka adds, it could fail in its design, even as its predecessor The Tower of Babel (Kafka, 1970, 87-88). Yet, the spirit of this effort is all that a human culture can undertake─to secure the foundations of everyday life upon the best known design, and these systemic designs even in their failings have enabled a civilizing progress. And, who having some cognizance of this possible ground for himself and others does not wish to be involved in such a project; indeed, having faith in and understanding of its intents and materials, who can avoid taking on this charge if in a position to accept it?
Kafka from the evidence of his earliest self-identity as a writer until his closing years understood himself and his generation of fellow-writers as having a cultural mission. In 1903 in a letter to Oskar Pollak, Kafka speaks of feeling a power in him that could be useful for “the country.” In 1922, he writes a letter to Franz Werfel accusing him of “betraying his generation,” even after Werfel himself had recently stated the significance of a generational cultural mission (Letters to Friends, Family, and Editors, 1977, 366). Austrians, as a rule, saw culture from this long, developmental perspective, where a generation’s mutual work in the domain of knowledge became a foundation for the next generation. Franz Brentano, a thinker significant to Kafka as Kafka took up issues of phenomenological philosophy in the first decade of the twentieth century, formulates the indebtedness of present thinkers and present problem-solving to the history of thinkers who made their own discourse possible:
The investigations of conic sections begun in ancient times by Archimedes and Apollonius were at first of purely theoretical, mathematical interest. Centuries later Kepler made their work applicable to astronomy, but again only because of a theoretical interest. Yet as a result of the investigations became of practical use, inasmuch as the progress made in astronomy did a great deal to forward navigation. The seaman who avoids a shipwreck by observing with precision the geographical latitude and longitude owes the fact that he is alive to theories which originated solely from a yearning for knowledge twenty centuries earlier.
Kafka, who wrote in his diary that he was either “an end or a beginning” expressed in this problematic his own belief in the foundations that he inherited, even as his mission was to augment the heritage with a new narrative design which could offer more insight into the issues of being human. First and last, whether a modernist or of a mind that lay the ground for some postmodern thinkers, Kafka wished to communicate his vision, his message to others. Kafka was concerned with the social discourse a writer could offer his milieu to stimulate personal reflection and social improvement.
Kafka understood human culture as Plato understood it—essential values and categories of thought which now one generation, now another generation, drew upon to make their own differing ‘right orders’ of life among others. Indeed, the Platonic wall of the Cave where forms are projected to offer the everyday realities we consume can be considered the model for Kafka’s story The Great Wall of China, from which the above epigraph of the Imperial Message was taken. The models of reality formulated and reformulated by the culture-makers to be projected upon the cave wall were themselves but imitations of what a maker heard or saw in as proximate a knowing as possible within human language. Each model sought to improve its proximity to truth, yet, these imitations were themselves informed in their matter and design by the makers who came before. The delineaments of the models conformed in their structural fundaments to what was possible in conveying the truths that they sought to express. The truths of being human were invariant insofar as how and why we relate to one another―Plato believed that as did Kafka. The best “maker” of these models was conversant with the structural fundaments in the strengths and weaknesses of all past efforts. Platonic “Goodness” that was the essence of all existence must be approximated in the frailty of language, but only our inherited insights in language are adequate to guide an individual in all his or her frailty. “Goodness” was what furthered the flourishing lives of all members of a community. Kafka read Plato in the original Greek and, as I will argue, integrated Plato's notion of the state as founded within a range of invariant human relationships into his conception of the community in Das Schloss. Kafka read Plato’s Republic as noted in his diary, and Max Brod’s reference to Kafka’s knowledge of human certainty and uncertainty as analogical to Plato’s Phaedrus perhaps indicates their own conversations. Contemporaries of Kafka wrote analyses of Plato that will be a significant theme in Kafka’s own writings, especially as he addresses the issues of the human community, such as the need for the recognition and respect of each differing individual integrity within it.  The Great Wall of China is but one instance of a story by Kafka that takes up the theme of community in its need for cooperation and its misunderstandings.
Kafka is perceived by many contemporary literary critics, however, as a complex voice whose narrative strategies problematized understanding, rather than offering clearly cogent meanings. For this critical school Kafka’s social discourse intends an outcome of paradox rather than perception. Alan Udoff, in this vein, reminds Kafka’s readers of a long understanding in Kafka criticism voiced by Walter Benjamin in 1934:
Benjamin observed that since “(Kafka) took all conceivable precautions against the interpretation of his writings…one has to find one’s way in them circumspectly, cautiously, and warily.”
I believe that Benjamin misstated Kafka’s stylistic intentions. Kafka’s complex verbal perspectives, which fuse visual acuity with grammatical precision in tracking the thought path of everyman and everywoman were not created to throw the reader off an interpretative track. Rather, his literary style, as it commenced and developed, was intended to draw in several kinds of readers. The several kinds of reading he encouraged are partially treated by Hermann Hesse in a 1920 essay On Reading Books. Hesse speaks of three groups of readers, each of us belonging at times to one group and at times to another.
The first group are those who follow the author’s literal, “objective” intent, where the narrative is entered and lessons learned. Among the more astute readers of the first group are those who comprehend the literary aesthetics at work which become for these more cultivated readers criteria for the value and success of the text: “they take the writer himself and the aesthetics of the book wholly objectively, they enjoy the writer’s exaltations, they feel their way accurately into his attitudes towards the world, and they accept without reservation the writer’s interpretations of his creations. What the material, setting, and action are to simple souls, the art, language, education, and intellectuality of the writer are to these cultivated readers.” The second group are those readers who track the ideation of the author, focusing upon how and why certain strategies of narrative are employed, situating the author in his or her time and place in its boundaries of thought and stages of maturity of understanding: “This reader treasures neither the substance nor the form of a book as it single most important value. He knows…that every object can have ten or a hundred meanings for the mind. He can, for example, watch a poet or philosopher struggling to persuade himself and his reader of his interpretations and evaluation of things, and he can smile because he sees in the apparent choice and freedom of the poet simply compulsion and passivity. This reader is already so far advanced that he knows…there is no such thing as a free choice of material and form (Hesse, 1974, 102-103).” This group of readers is comprehended within the German historicist tradition of interpretation. To recognize the limits of free choice of material and form in judging the narrative is to respect the generational boundaries of thought Hegel and Ranke asserted, a historicist vision reasserted by the art historian Heinrich Wölfflin in 1905. One can only think the thought of one’s age, a thought expressed within the materials and form that are of that age. Kafka’s idealism was of his age, an age that sought in its phenomenological rigor of material and form the evidence and argument that sought to guide human temperament to a higher level of self-understanding. The third group of readers are those who use the understandings gained in the earlier kinds of reading to launch themselves, with the focus of the author and his material, into a personal amplification of reality. The text is but a threshold for one’s own imaginative self and one’s contextual world (Hesse, 1974, 103-104). Kafka, Hesse, and their literary contemporaries, in the same spirit as the depth psychologists Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung, and Alfred Adler, sought through their narrative styles to engender and guide a reader into a personal self-liberation from the pathological norms of culture which before a reading might have been accepted as normal behavior.
Hesse might have included in his deliberation of the second group a theme he himself knew well enough to write Magister Ludi, Das Glasperlenspiel [The Bead Game]. The “Bead Game” is a play of inter-textuality in pursuit of one’s own growth of critical understanding. The “Bead Game” play of narrative comparisons over ages allowed one to appreciate how reality was thought in differing ages, and how the boundaries of what could be known had been traversed, or how certain materials and forms of thought might recur as culture took up again issues that had been deliberated and dropped. Heinrich Wölfflin called this latter comprehension of recurrence the “spiral movement” of form and meaning recognizable in the arts (1950, 234). Insofar as a lesson in reading, allusion to other texts by other authors enables patterns of meaning to be perceived that enrich the text one reads. The second group can follow the intentions, missteps, and new, successful steps of an author as his or her ideation develops in the text as well as the author’s history of texts by recognizing the inter-textual similarities and differences with other masterworks from other times and places. Kafka encoded this level of inter-textuality in his narratives, encouraging a reading of not only his own work, but works from differing centuries and differing areas of the globe. Kafka’s genius was to write a sentence that could stand the test of the most rigorous critic of the first group, using differing rhythms and styles of grammar to generate the narrative’s meaning through rhythm, tone, and overtone. The same sentence in its encoded cues carried a reading program beyond the sentence without losing the strength of the sentence for its literal message. Moreover, that same sentence was sufficiently fecund to stimulate the reader’s situating of self in his or her own life-space by dint of its gestural immediacy. Every page of Kafka is a complex conversation with himself, fellow-writers, writers who have lived and died before him, and a reading public whom he knows cannot grasp all his thoughts, but must be informed with the essential ones. Kafka conducts this conversation in virtually every sentence wherein pluriserial levels of meaning overlap through explicit words and images and encoded references.
Only one Kafka critic has seen the encoded levels of Kafka, even though encoding was a staple of European literature, and especially Germanic literature since Ulrich von Hutten and the literature of the Reformation. Pastoral literature of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in England stimulated the encoded pastorals of the Schäferdichter, among them Sigmund von Birken and others of the Nuremberg School. Indeed, emerging from that group was the first German novelist, Anton Ulrich, who used an encoded level of reference as a significant perspective for the reading of his Aramena (1669-1673). Subsequently, encoded references to other authors and texts figured in all German novella writers and novelists from Nicolai and Tieck through Fontane and Thomas Mann. Malcolm Pasley has written two articles on Kafka’s encoding─Semi-Private Games and Franz Kafka: Ein Besuch im Bergwerk. In Semi-Private Games, Pasley discusses how Kafka’s use of oddly juxtaposed words or images generate multiple lines of interpretation for the reader. In this article, Pasley does not name the extra-textual sources Kafka encodes. He does, however, argue that Kafka alludes to his own stories in the collection A Country Doctor with the tale Eleven Sons, seeing the description of each son as referencing one of the other tales.  Pasley does see encoded references to the work of other authors in Kafka’s short tale Ein Besuch im Bergwerk (1917). Pasley's discoveries there chiefly involve Kafka's interest in the literature of his contemporaries, the coded references linking the writers’ styles to the operations of workers in an in-common mining operation. Why the encoded level of reading has not been more appreciated by Kafka critics over the years is perhaps explained by the power of his literal narrative which absorbs immediate attention in the lucidity of its phrasing, its genial irony, as well as the confrontation of the reader with the threatening absurdities of modern life.
Most recently, Kafka criticism has taken up Hesse’s third group of readers. Laurence Rickels,  Peter Beicken, and Clayton Koelb have in their analyses shown how Kafka’s narrative encourages readers to impel themselves analytically into their own life-spaces. Engagement of the reader as a fellow-traveler through the lessons of the narrative fulfilled for Kafka a cultural mission whereby he and other writers were charged with the Bildung of their contemporaries within the new perspectives Thomas Mann called “The Third Humanism.” Augmenting the past humanism of the classic age and the European Renaissance, the “Third Humanism” opened for the reader his or her own subconscious, intentional world with its language defenses that hindered empathy for others or the ability to open oneself adequately to self-development.
What I understand as Kafka’s “social discourse” is the conversation he has with his readers at the several levels of reading I touch upon above. Kafka may have felt loneliness, but he was never alone. He dwelled in his own School of Athens among every great mind in the history of human culture, and even in his own environment, he was an observer of the conversations around him, many in which he actively participated. Kafka had a self-perception of being a cultural guardian, schooled in that perspective by Plato. He attended his literary aesthetic as a torch of knowledge for others that required reflective improvement subsequent to every text he completed. As others of his time, he sought “The New Man” and a new humanity, “Neue Menschen” as the primary task of his generation. A sense of the ideal possibility surrounded him in the thought of leading minds of his generation. Ortega y Gasset, for example, wrote of the task of this generation to strive for one’s ideal potentiality, offering models of what could be, against a background of what is:
Every life is, more or less, a ruin among whose debris we have to discover what the person ought to have been. This obliges us to construct for ourselves—as the physicist constructs his “models”—an imaginary life of the individual, the graph of his successful life, upon which we can then distribute the jags (they are sometimes enormous) which external destiny inflicted. We all feel our real life to be a deformation—sometimes greater, sometimes less—of our possible life…
The matter of the greatest interest is not the man’s struggle with the world, with his external destiny, but his struggle with his vocation. How does he behave when faced with his inexorable vocation? Does he subscribe to it basically; or, on the contrary, is he a deserter from it, does he fill his existence with substitutes for what would have been his authentic life?
Kafka believed he could reach “the pure, the true, and the immutable” in his social discourse with self and others in this spirit which saw the actual with a clear, warm irony, but also how one could realize the ideality in moments of human encounter.
Kafka saw his work as a gradual development of the seminal ideas he brought to his earliest manuscripts—ideas rooted in the new democracy of his culture, the emergent feminism which generated a humankind equal in all respects. Kafka’s refinements and augmentations of his literary aesthetic were designed to make his democratic vision more effective, and make the engagement of the reader in his or her own life-space informed by his texts more efficient. Kafka’s social discourse, with himself as a keen listener to his own imaginative excursions, can be understood in the spirit of an essay by one of his favorite writers, Heinrich von Kleist. Kleist discusses the centrality of social discourse as the medium in which one’s own thought best matures: “When you want to know something and can not find it through meditation, I recommend that you strike up a conversation with the nearest acquaintance that you encounter. That person need not even be an astute mind, as if you had to ask him for an answer. No, you must only narrate (erzählen) to him your concerns…. The French say, l’appetit vient en mangeant, the parody of which might be l’idee vient en parlant.”  Even half-worked through ideas are best matured in the midst of a dialogue with others. I see Kafka constantly engaged in these dialogues with those living and dead, allowing his pen to spill personal blood in the manner of Odysseus before the trench of Hades in order to evoke the voices of tradition which he then encounters in a spiritual risk that was constant for him. An agon then took place whose outcome was new understanding, but one borne in the pain of the encounter. The last entry of his diary is witness to this conversation generated in the act of writing: “More and more fearful as I write. It is understandable. Every word, twisted in the hands of the spirit—this twist of the hand is their characteristic gesture—become a spear turned against the speaker. Most especially a remark like this. And so ad infinitum. The only consolation would be: it happens whether you like or no. And what you like is of infinitesimally little help. More than consolation is: You too have weapons (Diaries 1914-1923, 1965, 232-233). Although by then Kafka was exhausted with his responsibility, putting down his pen finally, his legacy is the encounter and its outcome.
Kafka’s loneliness came not from a lack of human spiritual presence, but from his efforts to raise himself above the norms of his context so as to help hew a new path for self-critical human development. He knew that he stood upon traditional foundations, but somewhat removed from them in the act of his critical knowing of his life-world. He respected what I will term the invariant values of classical humanism, even as he knew that such values must be found in new articulations given the changing social realities. Hans-Georg Gadamer reveals the dangerous exposure Kafka endured as he questioned tradition, even as he sought to reformulate its legacies:
Long before we understand ourselves through the process of self-examination, we understand ourselves in a self-evident way in the family, society, and state in which we live. The focus of subjectivity is a distorting mirror. The self-awareness of the individual is only a flickering in the closed circuits of historical life. That is why the prejudices of the individual, far more than his judgments, constitute the historical reality of his being.
A person who believes he is free of prejudices, relying on the objectivity of his procedures and denying that he is himself conditioned by historical circumstances, experiences the power of the prejudices that unconsciously dominate him as a vis a tergo. A person who does not admit that he is dominated by prejudices will fail to see what manifests itself by their light. It is like the relation between I and Thou. A person who reflects himself out of the mutuality of such a relation changes this relationship and destroys its moral bond. A person who reflects himself out of a living relationship to tradition destroys the true meaning of this tradition in exactly the same way.
Kafka saw himself “of” tradition, even as he stood upon its outer envelope as he depicted its stifling limitations. To know Kafka’s writing is to know his thoughtful agon with tradition, and his realization that only through enlightened social discourse can tradition change.
I have attempted to follow this social discourse by Kafka with his past and his own present voices by reading the books Kafka explicitly referenced in his narratives, diaries, and letters, as well as those I see encoded in his narratives. Kafka’s own library has been examined, even as contemporary critics justly point out that the works that influenced him were not only those to be found in his estate. I have taken a path that has been fruitful in analyzing the profound thought of writers, that taken by John Livingston Lowes in his study of Samuel Coleridge. My insights into Kafka’s encoded social discourse will create controversy, to be sure. But let me end this foreword with Lowes self-justification for such critical audacity:
“I have read almost everything,” said Coleridge, not without warrant, a year before he wrote “The Ancient Mariner,” and he who sets out to track him through his reading leaves unread at his peril anything readable whatsoever that was extant in Coleridge’s day. Nothing short of the omne scibile will do. That, in a world of exacting duties, is a bliss to die with, rather than a goal attained. And I am sadly certain that there is much which I have overlooked—a regret which has its compensation in the fact that there is left for others a chance at the joy of the chase which I have had. It is far too much to hope, moreover, that in weighing particulars like the sand for multitude, every appraisal of details has been correct. There will be without question specific inferences which may challenge doubt or dissent. But making all allowances for tracts still unexplored and human fallibility, the mass of cumulative evidence, I think, is overwhelming, and it is as a whole—a whole of which the parts are mutually corroborative—that I could wish this essay at interpretation to be judged. No more that no mortal can in reason ask.
 Franz Kafka, The Great Wall of China in The Great Wall of China, Stories and Reflections, trans. Willa and Edwin Muir (New York: Schocken Books, 1970), 93-94. Further reference to this text and edition is in parentheses.
 Franz Kafka, Letters to Friends, Family, and Editors, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (New York: Schocken Books, 1977), 10. Further reference to this text and edition is in parentheses.
 Franz Brentano, The Foundation and Construction of Ethics, trans. Elizabeth Hughes Schneewind (New York: Humanities Press, 1973), 2. See my article on the norms of Austrian-German thought in the history of the nation, Mark E. Blum, “The ‘Soft Law’ of Austrian Historical Logic,” Writing the Austrian Traditions, Relations Between Philosophy and Literature, eds. Wolfgang Huemer and Marc-Oliver Schuster (Edmonton, Alberta: Wirth-Institute for Austrian and Central European Studies, 2003), 131-142.
.For Kafka's background in Greek and Latin, see Kafka-Handbuch, ed. Hartmut Binder, 2 vols. (Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner, 1979) 1: 203-207.
 Kafka writes in his diary, July 15, 1912 of his reading of Plato’s “Der Staat;” Franz Kafka, Tagebücher, Three Volumes (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1990), 1:1047. Further reference to these volumes and edition is in parentheses.
 See Max Brod, Franz Kafka, A Biography, trans. G. Humphrey Robert (New York: Schocken Books, 1970), 173.
. See Plato, The Timaeus (35a-37c). See a discussion of this process in Plato's Timaeus by a scholar contemporary with Kafka, Ernst Hoffmann, "Platons Lehre von der Weltseele," Sokrates 1915: 188-190.
 Alan Udoff, “Kafka’s Question,” in Kafka and the Contemporary Critical Performance, ed. Alan Udoff (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 1.
 Hermann Hesse, “On Reading Books,” in My Belief, Essays on Life and Art, trans. Denver Lindley (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974), 102. Further reference to this text and edition is in parentheses.
 Heinrich Wölfflin, Principles of Art History, The Problem of the Development of Style in Later Art, trans. M.D. Hottinger (Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 1950), 229-235. Further reference to this text and edition is in parentheses.
 Malcolm Pasley, “Semi-Private Games,” in The Kafka Debate, New Perspectives for our Time, ed. Angel Flores (New York: Gordian Press, 1977), 197. Further reference to this text and edition is in parentheses.
 Laurence Arthur Rickels, The Iconic Imagination: Pictorial Signs in Lessing, Keller, and Kafka. Diss. Princeton University 1980 (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1981, 8104851), 170. Further reference to this text and edition is in parentheses.
 Kafka Handbuch in Zwei-Bänden, ed. Hartmut Binder,. unter Mitarbeit zahlreicher Fachwissenschaftler (Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner, 1979), 2: 43-44. Further reference to this text and edition is in parentheses.
 Clayton Koelb, Kafka's Rhetoric, The Passion of Reading (Ithaca and London: Cornell University, 1989), see especially the chapter "Two Readings of Reading" pp. 66-108. Further reference to this text and edition is in parentheses.
 Thomas Mann, “Thomas Mann,” in I Believe, the Personal Philosophies of Ceretain Eminent Men and Women of Our Time, ed. Clifton Fadiman (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1939), 189-193.
 The term was current before and after World War I, within the spirit of Nietzsche and others, who themselves responded to the new democratic rules of Western governance. A fellow Austrian, Max Adler, published a book in 1924 entitled Neue Menschen, Gedanken über sozialistischen Erziehung (Berlin: E. Laub, 1924).
 Jose Ortega y Gasset, “In Search of Goethe From Within,” in The Dehumanization of Art and Other Writings on Art and Culture, trans. Willard R. Trask (Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday Anchor Books, N.D.), 132-133.
 Franz Kafka, The Diaries of Franz Kafka: 1914-1923, trans.Martin Greenbert, with th Co-operation of Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1965), 187. Further reference to this text and edition is in parentheses.
 Heinrich von Kleist, Über die Allmähliche Verfertigung der Gedanken beim Reden in Heinrich von Kleist, Sämmtliche Werke und Briefe, Vol. 2 (Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1961), 319.
 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, Second, Revised Edition, trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (New York: Continuum, 1994), 276-277, 360-361.
 .John Livingston Lowes, The Road to Xanadu, A Study in the Ways of the Imaginatio ( Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1927), p xi.