Max Brod was a big-hearted guy, a good friend to have. After all, in spite of being a successful, respected author of more than 80 books, he spent most of his time talking up his late lamented friend Franz Kafka.
Kafka was born in 1883 in Prague (then part of Austro-Hungary), lived to be 41, was fluent in Czech and German, wrote in German, and worked for one year for an insurance company (which may have been the source of his attitude towards bureaucracy). He was reserved, punctilious and altogether unlike his extroverted father, to whom he wrote a famous letter that began:
You asked me recently why I maintain that I am afraid of you. As usual, I was unable to think of any answer to your question, partly for the very reason that I am afraid of you, and partly because an explanation of the grounds for this fear would mean going into far more details than I could even approximately keep in mind while talking…”
Without Brod, there would be no Kafka. Before Kafka died, he told Brod to burn all of his papers, diaries, unfinished work, notes – everything. Brod swore he’d never do such a thing and Kafka named him executor anyway. Or maybe that’s exactly why.
If today is really the day in 1913 that Kafka stopped working on his first novel – Amerika – and never went back to it, then there must be similar anniversaries for The Trial, The Castle and the novel version of Metamorphosis, all of which were unfinished. When Kafka died of tuberculosis in 1924, he had published only a few short stories and he had no reputation to speak of. It was Brod who got the three novels published, as well as some of the diaries.
The Kafka industry is really flourishing these days – translations have improved and the hunt for missing documents is enthusiastic, notably at San Diego State, where a group of scholars is in hot pursuit of papers confiscated by the Gestapo. As recently as last year, a new short story was discovered.
Critical revisionism is ongoing, with new studies of Kafka’s insights into the law, a look at his sense of humor – apparently he intended at least some of what he wrote to be funny – and renewed efforts to classify his philosophy. Is he an existentialist? Nihilist? Freudian?Surrealist?
Well, to be Kafkaesque is to be all of the above. For a sample, you can read The Trial at Project Gutenberg.
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This is also the day in 1972 that Sgt. Shoichi Yokoi was discovered on the island of Guam, where he had lived in a cave for 28 years – since the end of World War II. Yokoi had heard that the war had ended, but apparently he was ashamed to surrender. His only comment upon returning to his homeland was, “It is with much embarrassment that I have returned alive.”
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It’s John Belushi’s birthday today and also Ernest Borgnine’s. Borgnine was born in 1919 and gained fame for his role in ‘Marty,’ the movie based on Paddy Chayefsky’s play. Chayefsky was famous for his gritty dramas in the ’50s – here’s Mr. Borgnine in the title role on You Tube – sorry, it’s not embeddable.