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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

"The Burrow" (German: "Der Bau") is an unfinished short story by Franz Kafka in which a mole-like being burrows through an elaborate system of tunnels it has built over the course of its life. The story was published posthumously in Beim Bau der Chinesischen Mauer (Berlin, 1931). The first English translation, by Willa and Edwin Muir, was published by Martin Secker in London in 1933. It appeared in The Great Wall of China. Stories and Reflections (New York City: Schocken Books, 1946).

Allegedly, Kafka had written an ending to the story detailing a struggle with the encroaching beast, but this completed version was among other works destroyed by lover Dora Diamant following Kafka's death.


Kafka's hyper-rational creature functions as a phenomenological parody of human reason. The only direct reference to the creature being physiologically a mole is the line "my forehead -- that unique instrument," in reference to its capacity to burrow tunnels.


"Lying in my heap of Earth I can naturally dream of all sorts of things, even of an understanding with the beast, though I know well enough that no such thing can happen, and at the moment when we see each other, more, at that instant we merely guess at each other's presence, we shall both blindly bare our claws and teeth, neither of us a second before or after the other, both of us filled with a new and different hunger, even if we should already be gorged to bursting."

"But all remained unchanged."—Muir Translation

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