Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Brod/Kafka archive to be made public at last

If I hadn't been aware of Franz Kafka and Max Brod before starting A-level German, the inspired critical linking of the impersonal and arbitrary legal system of Josef K's world in The Trial with the operation of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe would have brought the lifetime friends to my attention. (In reality, the sufferings of Josef K and of K in The Castle almost certainly relate more to religious guilt and redemption than politics, but the parallels are compelling.) As it was, encouraged to read German literature beyond our set book of a Stefan Zweig novella, I not only picked up the Kafka novels but also a collection of German poetry. In this, there was a mysterious poem, entitled "Paradiesfische auf dem Tisch" if I recall correctly, by Max Brod.

Max Brod it was who preserved the most significant of Kafka's works when he escaped from Prague to Israel before the shoah. Kafka had asked those who possessed any of his writings to burn them after his death. Fortunately for posterity, nobody seems to have obeyed this request. For a long time, the Brod archive, apart from the Kafka novels, has remained under lock and key. Its tortuous history and the momentous legal decision which enables it eventually to be made available on the Web are outlined here. To be fair to Brod's heiress, Esther Hoffe, her motives in holding on to the Kafka papers seem to have been to draw attention to Brod who she felt was undervalued. What motivated her daughters' intransigence, I can only surmise.

Certainly, Brod is a significant figure in his own right. In addition to his own books and poetry, he was Leoš Janáček's biographer and librettist. It speaks a lot for Brod's character that the ultra Slav nationalist Janáček worked with him.

I will be interested (if my German is still up to it!) in reading the correspondence between the two friends and other cultural figures of the 'twenties and 'thirties, including the aforementioned Stefan Zweig.

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