Sunday, October 14, 2012

Newsworthy to me: Kafka scripts belong to Israel library

I just came across this headline on Yahoo - much to my surprise Yahoo actually covers Kafka.
The letters and correspondence that Max Brod inherited from Franz Kafka or kept after Kafka's death will now be moved to the library in Jerusalem, which plans to put them online. I hope that everyone will have access to the correspondence without having to pay fees or memberships costs.

Franz Kafka is one of my favorite authors. He lived in Prague and then also in Austria towards the end of his life. He is considered one of the most influential German authors of the 20th century and his writing style is very unique. The subjects covered in several of his books are centered on the helplessness of the individual. Whether it is the inability of a person to fight against the system or the failure of an individual to stand up for themselves, Kafka points out how alone a person can be. The books by Kafka tend to quite dark and would never be described as cheerful. In addition, he tends to go into very much detail as if he thought being concise would mean that no reader would truly understand him. So no book by Kafka is short. He actually turned on single letter to his father into a story aptly titled "Letter to His Father" that ended up being 45 typed pages. 

Photo of a young Kafka - taken from here

His most uplifting and funny book is "Amerika" describing the adventures of a young man that gets shipped to America after he got a servant girl pregnant. In true Kafka fashion, do not expect a book that will leave you laughing or even smiling. While the protagonist never reaches the depth of desperation as the (anti)hero in "The Trial", even the story in America is not funny, just the least depressing of all Kafka stories. 

So why the fascination with Kafka? I am not really sure when it started. But I was in my late teens when I started to read Kafka and became fascinated by a person that was so willing to put his fears in such detail on paper. Kafka had the ability to be critical of society without being political. He had a strong believe in the individual, which is why some critiques see him as being a member of the existentialist philosophy. I simply was fascinated by his books because they show what an individual can endure and still be a human being. 

Therefore the prospect of having the correspondence of Kafka with Max Brod, who was his closest friend for much of his life, be made available online, is to me as if someone discovered a few more books by my favorite author. Kafka unfortunately died way to young. He died from tuberculosis at age 40 and felt so badly about the quality of his writings and his letters that he asked Max Brod to burn his manuscripts and correspondence. Fortunately, Max Brod did not follow that wish, saved the manuscripts and so we have access today to Kafka's writings such as The Trial and the The Castle. 

I have to admit that I have only read Kafka in his native German. Despite being born in Prague, Kafka wrote almost exclusively in German and I am not certain how well he would translate into another language. Because of his deeply philosophical approach to writing, English translations may not grasp the depth of his writings. But even if an author like Kafka is not your style, in case you have never heard of him, I recommend reading a biography about him, such as the one by Max Brod available here.

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