Kafka manuscript tales: comedy, conspiracy and contracts

One of the features of Franz Kafka’s writing that some critics have had the biggest difficulty coming to terms with is his ability to take the reader from dark, despairing moments to scenes of almost slapstick comedy and then back again, sometimes in an instant, revealing parallels that both mock our sense of tragedy and cast a shadow over our laughter.

The current legal battle taking place in Tel Aviv over the Kafka manuscripts left by Max Brod to his secretary/lover Esther Hoffe seems to be following this same pattern more and more as the trial drags on. In a recent issue of the Israeli daily Haaretz, which has been beating the drum for the manuscripts to remain in Israel, the claims reportedly made by the German Literary Archive in Marbach are as entertaining as they are disturbing.

One of the arguments made by the German archive is that Hoffe “intended to recover from her illness and finish transferring the estate to us,” Haaretz reports their brief saying. I assume more or less everyone intends to recover from their illnesses, though at 102 when she finally didn’t, Hoffe might have suspected there were less optimistic outcomes. As the article points out, this means she had 40 years to transfer the estate following Brod’s death. We all leave things to the last minute, but c’mon.

The German archive goes beyond stating that Haaretz is advocating for the opposing point of view (that the manuscripts stay in Israel and don’t go to Germany) but accuse them of being part of a conspiracy, supposedly due to potentially “certain items in Max Brod’s diary that are linked to the Schocken family” (The Schocken family are majority owners of the Haaretz Group).

Though all the attention is focused on the Kafka manuscripts and there are still some articles being written here and there about expectations for undiscovered stories the truth is that the content of Kafka’s work in Brod’s possession is supposedly known and accounted for. As I wrote previously the material that hasn’t been seen before is precisely Max Brod’s diary.

In other recent Kafka news, one of the writer’s letters complaining of writer’s block was auctioned for just under $75,000 at Sotheby’s on December 13. It was far from being a major item of the day’s auction though, the final sales prices making a sad statement about priorities in the modern world. Letters by George Washington, Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet among other notables went for fractions of the almost $1.6 million paid for the contract that established Apple and then another that removed one of the partners 11 days later.

Photo – The manuscript of Kafka’s Letter to his Father

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Categories: Literary Controversy

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One Comment on “Kafka manuscript tales: comedy, conspiracy and contracts”

  1. 29/12/2011 at 4:51 pm #

    Thank you so much for sharing. Kafka is my favorite writer and I just recently bought a collection of his Diaries edited by Max Brod. It’s astounding that a legal battle is still continuing for a writer that has been long gone for almost 100 years. Just goes to show how important he still is. When I was in Prague, I loved seeing his letters to his father.

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