By holding public lectures of this calibre at the British Museum, the LRB invites you to engage with criticism in whatever spirit you wish. Populist distinctions between academic discourses and the interests of general readers and writers are straw men, but it’s worth spelling out: the ideas at stake tonight resonate in fundamental ways with the universal human, not least at the end, when Butler asks if Kafka really wanted Brod to burn his manuscripts. Did he find the idea of his work outliving him too painful? Or did he hope that the impossibility of communication would mean that his instruction was never received?
I was musing a bit on the latter question in my previous Kafka post, and I daresay it’s one of the great enduring literary posers. When I ask ‘Could there ever be another Kafka?’ I suppose part of what I’m wondering is – in our age of neglected book-mountains, blogosphere and electronic publishing can we imagine that the greatest writer of our times might be a solitary fellow with an overbearing family who works a humdrum job in an office, writes feverishly and with genius at night, but decides, finally, that nothing of what he’s written should be set before readers…? Did Kafka ever write a short story on such a theme? I daresay he could have executed it very well.