Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Brod's suitcase

What secrets about Kafka will emerge from Max Brod's suitcase? Probably very few. But Kafka's work is already a secret. If his novels and stories amount to "a symbol of 20th century totalitarianism" or mean he is "the patron saint of paranoia" then the lock on Kafka is still to be broken, and whatever "letters, journals, sketches and drawings" are disinterred, they will only increase universal misunderstanding. 

(We should remember that Brod was not the only person who would refuse his request, as Kafka surely knew. His girlfriend Dora Diamant, with whom Kafka lived in Berlin, away at last from the claws of Prague, retained twenty of his notebooks and held them for nine years after his death. His instructions were followed only when, in 1933, they were confiscated by the Gestapo; a fact that should put into perspective the moral ambivalence commonly attached to Brod's actions.)

The sad story of Esther Hoffe's legacy may at least help us to appreciate what it means for a work to be lost. Imagine the non-existence of The Judgment and The Trial. If you find it impossible, try imagining their existence.

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