The Shorter Fiction, 1914–1917
World War I broke out when Austria declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914. Two days earlier, Kafka returned to Prague. Kafka's fantasy of joining the army draws attention to his fascination with great leaders, particularly Napoleon Bonaparte. Even when Napoleon is not explicitly invoked, Kafka likes describing his own life in terms of military imagery. The responsibility for defending society against primitive forces is the theme of Ein altes Blatt, which Kafka wrote in March 1917. Kafka's fiction is pervaded by a pessimistic interpretation of history as a process of decline. Martin Buber had been a staunch proponent of Zionism since 1898 and had nourished the current interest in mysticism by publishing an anthology of mystical testimonies, Ekstatische Konfessionen. He addressed the Bar Kochba three times in 1909 and 1910; in his early twenties, he temporarily dropped his Zionist activities and spent four years in an intensive study of Hasidism. In Ein Landarzt, Kafka drew on Western and Hasidic sources to express the responsibility which had fallen to ill-equipped individuals in an age of religious decline.
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