The Atlantic

Who Gets to Claim Kafka?

A court battle between German and Israeli archives over his manuscripts raised literary, not just legal, questions.
Source: Misha Vyrtsev

An admirer of Franz Kafka’s once presented him with a specially bound volume of three of his stories. Kafka’s reaction was vehement: “My scribbling … is nothing more than my own materialization of horror,” he replied. “It shouldn’t be printed at all. It should be burnt.” At the same time, Kafka believed that he had no purpose in life other than writing: “I am made of literature,” he said, “and cannot be anything else.” Clearly, Kafka’s ambivalence about his work was an expression of deep uncertainty about himself. Did he have the right to inflict his dreadful imaginative visions on the world? “If one can give no help one should remain silent,” he mused. “No one should let his own hopelessness cause the patient’s condition to deteriorate.”

Ironically, the hopelessness of Kafka’s work was precisely what ensured its place at . Gregor Samsa, who wakes up one morning to discover that he has been transformed into an insect, and Joseph K., who is put on trial by an unofficial court for a crime no one will explain to him, have become archetypal

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