books, random thoughts, writing

Unpublished Kafka

From The Guardian:

Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka in 1905. Photograph: Getty Images

Franz Kafka wanted all his manuscripts to be burned after his death, but his friend Max Brod disregarded the request, seeding a complex legal battle over thousands of manuscripts that has the literary world agog. That legal tussle takes a new twist today as four safety deposit boxes in a Zurich bank containing the manuscripts are opened.

I have mixed feelings about this. If it were me (haha, I should be so lucky as to write something that would instigate such controversy), I would be pretty unhappy that someone did not carry out my last request. On the other hand, as a reader, this stuff could be invaluable.

Jane Austen had her sister Cassandra burn most of her letters after her death, and Jane-ites the world over have been gnashing their teeth over the loss ever since. Would Kafka even care at this point? He’s been dead for almost 90 years, pretty much anyone who ever knew him is dead. Is it ever ok to disregard someone’s wishes like this? Selfishly, the literary world wants to get their hands on these documents, manuscripts, and letters (or whatever they turn out to be).

I guess the moral of the story is, if you really want something burned after your death, do it yourself ahead of time. Weigh in, what do you think should be done with these papers?


15 thoughts on “Unpublished Kafka”

  1. I’m not crazy about publishing the manuscript as a book, but I wouldn’t mind if the estate made them available to scholars for their historical value: the kind of thing where you’d have to submit a proposal and explain what you were hoping to learn.

    There was similar hub-bub after James Joyce died, involving, among other things, the correspondence between JJ and his daughter, who was mentally ill and spent a lot of time in institutional care. The Joyce family burned them, as was their right, and the Joyceans raised a big hue & cry about it. You know I love me some Joyce, but I don’t think his letters to poor crazy Lucia were anybody’s business.


  2. I think the article mentioned that as one proposal put forth to Brod’s daughters (who are claiming the intellectual property rights, due to their mother’s relationship with Kafka).

    I agree, private letters are nobody’s business. If there are book manuscripts, that’s one thing, but personal letters should be something else unless the author either leaves no direction as to their disposal upon his or her death, or specifically states it’s ok to publish them.

    I plan to burn all my journals before I cash in my chips, not that I’m worried about anyone other than my family reading them, but I don’t even want my family reading them 😉


  3. I agree. I don’t think Kafka wanted the manuscripts published of even the works we have. But, since they’re out there, I don’t see any real reason at this point not to publish any others. Journals, though — that’s harder to justify.


  4. This reminds me of the rumors that Emily Bronte had Charlotte burn the second novel she was working on before she died. I often wonder, “what if Charlotte didn’t burn it and it was found one day?”

    But as much as I’d love to read it, I know what drafts look like. And since I sure as hell wouldn’t want any of my drafts out there, I feel we need to respect the Kafkas, Brontes, and everyone else.

    On the other hand, if it is a finished, edited piece… it would be a shame for it to go unread.

    Personal letters? I’d rise from my grave and haunt anyone who dared do that to me!


  5. Yes, I suppose if it’s in a finished state, it would be a completely different story (literally and figuratively). If it’s a draft, forget it.

    And good luck with that horror story! 😈


  6. My horror story for the week involves going to the grease truck (that’s what the students call the mobile food vendors that park on campus – they are sort of like big ice cream trucks, but instead of ice cream they sell beverages and nasty sandwiches) to buy a cup of coffee. It was a pretty adequate cup of coffee, but the service was slower than eternity in purgatory, AND every other word on the posted menu was misspelled – the English teacher’s nightmare!!!


  7. Do they have “Fat” sandwiches out there, or is it a NJ phenomenon? a Fat {fill in the blank} is a great big roll with every fried food you could imagine crammed onto it: hot dog, hamburger, chicken cutlet, you name it, PLUS a pile of french fries or onion rings or hot wings or any grease delivery system known to humanity. The name sometimes refers to the filling (for example, a Fat Tony or a Fat Soprano would have a chicken parm-style cutlet under all the fries, etc; “Fat Darrell” was named after the guy who was the first one to be able to finish the nasty thing; there was a minor controversy on campus over the “Fat Bitch,” which was named at the request of some junkfood-loving post-modern do-me feminist, but was subsequently re-named the Fat Mama after too many pre-post-modern feminists complained – campus politics, y’know?) Anyway, as if the smell of these things wasn’t repulsive enough (it’s a good thing there’s a hospital with a cardiac ward a few blocks away,) all the names are spelled so badly as to border on incomprehensible: the “Italian” sandwich is spelled “Fat Saprano” on the placard, and there is something called a “Fat Gagalo,” which I think is supposed to mean Gigolo, but then again, maybe it means you gag when you try to eat it.


    1. I’m guessing it’s a NJ phenom, but then I haven’t been to a “catering truck” (I’ll be nice) in years. Sounds ghastly, though, I’d be gagging.


      1. Ask the young ones if they’ve ever seen a cable show called “Man vs. Food” – in one episode he tried to finish a Fat Sandwich from one of our campus grease trucks.


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