The introduction describes the historical and intellectual contexts for the composition of the "thoughts" Kafka wrote in the winter of 1917–18. It offers an analysis of the genre of these texts and locates Kafka's models for it. At a point in history when the category "Jew" had lost a lot of its meaning for those in Kafka's milieu, Kafka turned to the Book of Genesis to construct a new Judaism out of the contradictions in the originary legends. He does this, following the example of Pascal, in the format of "thoughts," though Kafka's aim not to console but to terrify. The thoughts are intricately interconnected such that they have to be read traversely.
Unlike Martin Heidegger ten years later, Kafka wants to eradicate "being" from our conceptual vocabulary. This division demonstrates Kafka's arguments for why being is equivalent to "having" in the Western tradition, and the division then gives Kafka's analysis a genealogy, tracing the hidden presence of "having" and "possession" in conceptualizations of being from Aristotle to Kant, paying special attention to the construction of tables of categories. It demonstrates how Kafka exposes the "possessive" undergirding of language and in the concepts of things and of the self.
The set of "thoughts" treated in this division exposes the dependence of the sequential, directional time concept on the attitude of faith and proposes various experiments to lead us to drop our concept of time. Antinomies of the garden of Eden and of the messianic idea are presented in order to frustrate faith and lead to a milieu with no time.
This division presents Kafka's claim that human beings never die—there is no evidence that they are finite, although this does not mean they are immortal. Kafka imagines a third alternative, an indefinite finitude. Kafka's critique of temporality challenges us to think of ways to live when life means something like "being indefinite," rather than being certainly defined by an ultimate limit, whether the other side is heaven or nothingness. Death is treated as an image, an illusion, and the rest of the chapter describes Kafka's critical techniques for working with images such as the image of death, in order that they lose their hypnotic power over human beings.
This division presents Kafka's critique of the will, with reference to Nietzsche and also briefly to Schopenhauer. On one hand the division describes the ontological basis for a world without power. Kafka's cosmos has no room for any becoming; everything can be no more than it is, and so it cannot use power to become something it is not. On the other hand, for anything to be anything depends on a prior yielding. After a critique of Nietzsche's obsession with struggle and a critique of Heidegger's own critique of the will, the chapter describes Kafka's attempt to articulate how human beings come to yield and what a world of yielding beings looks like.