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Posts Tagged ‘franz kafka’

Franz Kafka in 1906

One wants to mention in passing an event that has just passed by but which was, clearly, noteworthy – namely what I take to have been the first in the London Review of Books’ ‘winter season’ of lectures at the British Museum, given by Judith Butler and concerned with “the legal battle between the state of Israel and the German literary archive over the question of who owns Kafka’s work.” I confess, I was unaware that this battle was raging, but clearly it does make for an extraordinarily thorny set of contentions. For come-latelys like me Max Liu offers a first-rate write-up service on the event over at the excellent Bookmunch site. Moving from the specifics of the lecture to a more general but vital consideration of the Kafka legacy, Liu makes the following, very interesting observations:

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.

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Since 2008 Finds has been proud to offer readers A. L. Lloyd’s 1937 translation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, which we feel comfortable in describing as the first published translation of the work into English – at least between covers. But we’ve been glad to receive a letter from a learned reader alerting us to another aspect of the title’s publishing history, and this correspondent writes:

Eugene Jolas prepared and published a translation [of Metamorphosis] across several issues of the journal Transition between Autumn 1936 and Spring 1938. However, as Jolas’ version appeared in instalments and therefore straddles the release of Lloyd’s, it may still be accurate to suggest that Lloyd’s was the first “complete” published translation of the work…

Good to know. Meanwhile – don’t you find, reader, that to dwell on thoughts of Kafka for much more than a moment is to find oneself drifting off a little into his singular imaginative universe…? “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect…” Another stray thought: could there ever be another Kafka? That is, in our age of instantaneous publishing and 24-hour multi-channel promotion, would it be possible for an insurance man who wrote at night and asked finally that all his works be incinerated… could such a retiring type get a start in the publishing universe of 2011? Not exactly the sort one would call ‘a promotable author’… And yet he was arguably the most influential fiction writer of the twentieth century, and surely the only writer in history of whom it can be said (as George Steiner has done) that he annexed and made his very own a letter of the alphabet…
Steven Berkoff’s celebrated stage version of Metamorphosis was a wonderful thing back in the 1980s, and Tim Roth, Roman Polanski and Mikhail Baryshnikov all took a turn at contorting their bodies into the mutated shape of Gregor Samsa. This clip below from a US network news show noting the New York opening of the Baryshnikov production, and featuring a cameo from Nancy Reagan, is one that should be saved for the annals.

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