Transcending the Exotic: Nostalgia, Exoticism, and Kafka’s Early Travel Novel, Richard and Samuel



The narrative of Kafka’s travels opens in the writer’s earliest childhood, with the famous photograph described by Walter Benjamin (see figure 10). This photograph, taken in a tropically upholstered studio, plush with draperies, easels, tapestries, and palm trees, features the young Kafka at approximately age six. The claustrophobic studio is congested, as Benjamin writes, with the typical accoutrements of exotic travel:

There is a childhood photograph of Kafka,a rarely touching portrayal of the “poor, brief childhood.” It was probably made in one of those nineteenth-century studios whose draperies and palm trees, tapestries and easels placed them somewhere between a torture chamber and a throne room. At the age of approximately six the boy is presented in a sort of greenhouse setting, wearing a tight, heavily lace-trimmed, almost embarrassing child’s suit. Palm branches loom in the background. And as if to make these upholstered tropics still more sultry and sticky, the model holds in his left hand an oversized, wide-brimmed hat of the type worn by Spaniards. Immensely sad eyes dominate the landscape prearranged for them, and the auricle of a big ear seems to be listening for its sounds.1


Palm Tree Childhood Photograph Central European Region Grateful Sense Train Journey 
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  1. 11.
    Hesse’s desire to locate a “primitively authentic” Sri Lankan whorehouse (as opposed to an inauthentic “European” one, which he carefully avoids) resembles Bonsels’ above-cited attempt to penetrate India’s back spaces (Hermann Hesse, Aus Indien: Aufzeichnungen, Tagebücher, Gedichte, Betrachtungen und Erzählungen [Frankfurt a. M., 1982], 178). For more on brothel tourism and its connection to the modernist desire for authenticity, see John Zilcosky, “Franz Kafka, Perverse Traveler: Flaubert, Kafka, and the Travel Writing Tradition,” Journal of the Kafka Society of America 23 (1997): 80–87.Google Scholar
  2. 17.
    Max Brod and Franz Kafka, “Erstes Kapitel des Buches, ‘Richard und Samuel,’” Herder-Blätter 1 (May 1912): 15–25.Google Scholar
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    Fritz Hübner, “Reise-Impressionismus,” Der Bücherwurm. Eine Monatsschrift für Bücherfreunde 3 (Reiseheft) (July 1913): 263.Google Scholar
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    Alfred Winterstein, “Zur Psychologie des Reisens,” Imago. Zeitschrift fuer Anwendung der Psychoanalyse auf die Geisteswissenschaften, 1. Jahrgang, Heft 1 (March 1912), 502.Google Scholar
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    Alfred Kerr, “Jagow, Flaubert, Pan,” Pan 1 (February 1911): 222.Google Scholar

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© John Zilcosky 2003

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