The above examples also illustrate Kafka’s humour, something for which he receives too little credit. Sometimes, as here, his humour consists in the exposure of self-serving illogic. Sometimes it circles around a paradox, as in the description of the indescribable Bucephalus. Kafka’s love of paradox often issues in wit; most devastatingly, on his deathbed he asked for euthanasia, saying: ‘If you don’t kill me, you’re a murderer.’ Sometimes Kafka exploits the figure of regress, as when the Village Mayor asserts that not only are the authorities monitored, the authorities do nothing but monitor one another; or in the diary entry in which Kafka, feeling he has to build up his life from the beginning, compares himself to a theatre director:
However, Humor (humour) in German denotes neither comedy nor wit, but a resigned acceptance of life’s imperfections. Such a gentle, playful humour pervades Kafka’s letters, especially those to Brod and other male friends, and is frequent also in his tales. Thus in ‘A Problem for the Father of the Family’, the narrator is mildly worried about the mysterious creature named Odradek who haunts his house, laughing with ‘the sort of laughter that can be produced without lungs [ . . . ] like the rustling of fallen leaves’. Here, as so often, humour comes at the expense of the humourless.
In all these cases, humour comes from the reluctance of the main character to admit something alien into his life.
A related type of humour comes from a change of perspective.
This strange mixture of gentle humour, relentless questioning, and sadness forms an emotional tone much more characteristic of Kafka than the horror and bafflement usually associated with the term ‘Kafkaesque’. Through his humour, Kafka has introduced a new tone into literature, like a new mixture of colours or a new