The Kafka papers

3:4 Portrait crop of Franz Kafka

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“One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.”

— Franz Kafka, “The Metamorphosis”

Imagine, for a moment, a canon of Western literature without “The Metamorphosis.” Without Gregor Samsa’s bizarre plight as an insect, without the novels “The Castle”, “The Trial”, “Amerika”…without even the term “Kafkaesque.” That would have been the piteous state of affairs if Max Brod, Franz Kafka’s close friend, had not saved the author’s most famous works and other papers from destruction. On his death in 1924, Kafka left instructions for all journals, papers, manuscripts and letters to be burned. Brod made the prescient, though perhaps morally dubious, decision to defy his friend’s last wishes and brought Kafka’s works to publication.

The remainder of Kafka’s personal papers, though, have had a long and convoluted history, which has led them to an embittered trial over ownership rights that is…well, like something out of Kafka. There’s a preview of a New York Times magazine article coming out this weekend on the trial and the fate of the author’s papers — well worth a good read.

Signature of Franz Kafka
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Olivia Just