Investigations of a Dog & Other Creatures by Franz Kafka
Translated from the German by Michael Hofmann.
I have an unusual animal, half pussy-cat, half lamb. It’s an heirloom that belonged to my father, though it has grown up mostly in my own lifetime: once it used to be much more lamb than cat, now it’s an equal blend of both. It has a cat’s head and claws, and the size and form of a lamb; the flickering, gentle eyes partake of both; the fur, which is soft and close-lying, the movements that combine skipping and creeping; it likes to curl up on the windowsill in the sun, and purr; it gambols about the meadow like mad, and can barely be caught; it runs away from cats and tries to attack lambs; on moonlit nights the eaves are its preferred route; it can’t miaow and is frightened of rats; it is capable of lurking by the chicken coop for hours on end, though it has never yet killed anything; I feed it fresh milk, that’s what best agrees with it, it laps it up in long draughts through its tigerish teeth. Of course the children love it. Sunday mornings they are allowed to visit. I have the animal on my lap and the local children stand around and watch. They ask the most extraordinary questions, which no one can answer. Nor do I make any attempt to; I am content simply to show the animal off. Sometimes the children bring cats of their own, once they even turned up with a pair of lambs; but contrary to their expectations, there were no great scenes of recognition, the animals looked at each other calmly through their animal eyes, and evidently took the other’s existence as a divinely ordained fact.
On my lap the animal knows neither fear nor persecution. It feels happiest when pressed against me; it is loyal to the family that has nurtured it. This is probably not unusual, just the correct instinct of an animal that has plenty of in-laws all over the planet, but maybe not one close blood relation, and to whom the protection it has found among us is something sacred. Sometimes I laugh when it sniffs at me, or twists between my legs and is inseparable from me. Not content with being lamb and cat, it almost wants to be a dog as well. I am quite serious about this. It has in itself both forms of nervousness, that of the cat and the lamb, quite different though they are. That’s why it is almost bursting out of its skin. Perhaps the butcher’s knife would come as a relief for the animal, but heirloom that it is, I am unable to oblige it.
Franz Kafka (1883–1924) was one of the most important writers of the twentieth century. His major novels include The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika.
For his translations, acclaimed poet Michael Hofmann has won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the Dublin International IMPAC Award, the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Prize, the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize, the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize, and The Schlegel-Tieck Prize (four times). He is the highly acclaimed translator of, among others, Kafka, Brecht, and Joseph Roth.
This excerpt from Investigations of a Dog & Other Creatures is published by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. Translation Copyright © 2017 Michael Hofmann.
Photo: Franz Kafka, Private
Photo: Michael Hofmann, Private
Published on May 2, 2017.