Today, July 3th is the birth anniversary of one of the most influential authors of the 20th century, Franz Kafka.
His works such as “The Metamorphosis”, “The Trial” and “The Castle” are very famous and are filled with the themes and archetypes of alienation, physical and psychological brutality, parent–child conflict, characters on a terrifying quest, and mystical transformations.
Kafka has many readers around the world.
Kafka was born into a middle-class, German-speaking Jewish family in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Only a few of Kafka’s works were published during his lifetime.
Kafka’s unfinished works, including his novels Der Process, “Das Schloss” and Amerika (also known as Der Verschollene, The Man Who Disappeared), were published posthumously, mostly by his friend Max Brod, who ignored Kafka’s wish to have the manuscripts destroyed.
Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre are among the writers influenced by Kafka’s work; the term Kafkaesque has entered the English language to describe surreal situations like those in his writing.
Der Process (The Trial), the story of a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor to the reader. Kafka did not complete the novel, although he finished the final chapter.
Kafka’s story “Die Verwandlung” (“The Metamorphosis”) was first printed in the October 1915 issue of Die Weißen Blätter, a monthly edition of expressionist literature, edited by René Schickele.
Trivia: Kafka left his work, both published and unpublished, to his friend and literary executor Max Brod with explicit instructions that it should be destroyed on Kafka’s death; Kafka wrote:
“Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me … in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others’), sketches, and so on, (is) to be burned unread”.
Fortunately for many literature lovers, Brod decided to ignore this request and published the novels and collected works between 1925 and 1935.
As Brod published the bulk of the writing in his possession, Kafka’s work began to attract wider attention and critical acclaim. Brod found it difficult to compile Kafka’s notebooks into chronological order.
One problem was that Kafka often began writing in different parts of the book; sometimes in the middle, sometimes working backwards from the end.
Brod finished many of Kafka’s incomplete works to allow their publication.
For example, Kafka left “Der Process” with unnumbered and incomplete chapters and “Das Schloss” with incomplete sentences and ambiguous content; Brod rearranged chapters, copyedited the text, and changed the punctuation. Finally, “Der Process” appeared in 1925 in Verlag Die Schmiede.
Many critics have praised Kafka’s writing.
The poet W. H. Auden called Kafka “the Dante of the twentieth century”; the novelist Vladimir Nabokov placed him among the greatest writers of the 20th century. Gabriel García Márquez noted the reading of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” showed him “that it was possible to write in a different way”.
Kafka’s style has been compared to that of Kleist as early as 1916, in a review of “Die Verwandlung” and “Der Heizer” by Oscar Walzel in Berliner Beiträge.
Some of Kafka’s books are influenced by the expressionist movement, though the majority of his literary output was associated with the experimental modernist genre.
Thomas Mann said that Kafka’s work was allegorical: a quest, metaphysical in nature, for God.
Writer Milan Kundera suggests that Kafka’s surrealist humour may have been an inversion of Dostoyevsky who presented characters who were punished for a crime.
In Kafka’s work a character will be punished although a crime has not been committed.
Kundera believes that Kafka’s inspirations for his characteristic situations came both from growing up in a patriarchal family and living in a totalitarian state.
Kafka’s writing has inspired the term “Kafkaesque”, used to describe concepts and situations reminiscent of his work, particularly Der Process and “Die Verwandlung”.
Examples include instances in which people are overpowered by bureaucracies, often in a surreal, nightmarish milieu which evokes feelings of senselessness, disorientation, and helplessness.
Characters in a Kafkaesque setting often lack a clear course of action to escape the situation.
Kafkaesque elements often appear in existential works, but the term has transcended the literary realm to apply to real-life occurrences and situations that are incomprehensibly complex, bizarre, or illogical.
Unlike many famous writers, Kafka is rarely quoted by others.
Instead, he is noted more for his visions and perspective.
Professor and writer Shimon Sandbank identifies Kafka as having influenced Jorge Luis Borges, Albert Camus, Eugène Ionesco, J. M. Coetzee and Jean-Paul Sartre.
A Financial Times literary critic credits Kafka with influencing José Saramago, and editor Al Silverman states that J.D. Salinger loved to read Kafka’s works.
Neil Pages, a professor who specialises in Kafka’s works, says Kafka’s influence transcends literature and literary scholarship; it impacts visual arts, music, and popular culture.
Harry Steinhauer, a professor of German and Jewish literature, says that Kafka “has made a more powerful impact on literate society than any other writer of the twentieth century”.
Brod said that the 20th century will one day be known as the “century of Kafka”.
Much of the post-Kafka fiction, especially science fiction, follow the themes and precepts of Kafka’s universe. This can be seen in the works of authors such as George Orwell and Ray Bradbury.
More Trivia: “A Friend of Kafka”, by Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer, is about a Yiddish actor called Jacques Kohn who said he knew Franz Kafka; in this story, according to Jacques Kohn, Kafka believed in the Golem, a legendary creature from Jewish folklore.
The Film Watermelon Man was partly inspired by “The Metamorphosis”, where a white bigot wakes up as a black man.
For musical influences, “Kafka-Fragmente, Op. 24” by Hungarian composer György Kurtág was composed for soprano and violin and it used fragments of Kafka’s diary and letters.
Happy birthday anniversary Franz Kafka!
Bibliography: Bloom, Harold (1994).The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. New York: Riverhead Books, Penguin Group. ISBN 978-1-57322-514-4.
Bloom, Harold (2003). “Franz Kafka”. Bloom’s Major Short Story Writers (New York: Chelsea House Publishers). ISBN 978-0-7910-6822-9.
Bloom, Harold (2002). Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds. New York: Warner Books. ISBN 978-0-446-52717-0.
Brod, Max (1960). Franz Kafka: A Biography. New York: Schocken Books. ISBN 978-0-8052-0047-8.
NOTES: From Wikipedia (Thank you again, wikipedia!)