Academic journal article German Quarterly

Kafkas letzter Freund

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Kafkas letzter Freund

Article excerpt

Wetscherek, Hugo, ed. Kafkas letzter Freund. Vienna: Inlibris, 2003, 312 pp. euro65.00 hardcover.

Renown came posthumously for Kafka. But the small circle of friends who venerated him during his lifetime did not have to wait long to see their taste affirmed on a massive scale. One of those friends, Max Brod, was in a direct way responsible for Kafka's success. For Brod rescued Kafka's works, the great majority of which were printed after his death in 1924, one and a half times. Brod famously disregarded Kafka's semi-serious injunction to burn his manuscripts. And he got Kafka's manuscripts out of Prague shortly before WW II began, transporting them safely to Palestine, where he guarded over them until the threat of more violence induced him, decades later, to send them back to Europe. In an odd double-gesture, then, Brod at once made Kafka's writing public and kept it private. That is, he edited Kafka's works and arranged for them to be published, while making sure Kafka's manuscripts stayed off-limits. Thus another odd circumstance developed. Despite the steadily burgeoning interest in Kafka-by 1943 Edmund Wilson had begun to speak of a Kafka craze in American letters-a scholarly critical edition of his works became available only quite recently.

But Kafka's complicated publication history hardly ends there. When Brod, who edited Kafka with notorious invasiveness, sent the original, hand-written texts of Kafka's literary works to a secure place in Switzerland, not all of the letters on which he based his editions of Kafka's correspondences made the trip. Some letters now count as lost. The Herausgeber of the critical edition therefore had to rely in many cases on Brod's versions of Kafka's letters.

This is true, for example, of most of Kafka's letters to Robert Klopstock. According to Hartmut Binder, Klopstock-who was a young medical student when Kafka befriended him-was nothing less than Kafka's most important correspondent during the last three years of his life. For if Kafka's late letters speak "'gewöhnlich nur von praktisch-organisatorischen Dingen und reduzieren sich im Persönlichen auf ein minimales, niemand Verletztendes Aufrechterhalten alter Beziehung'" (5), his candid epistolary utterances to Klopstock are a rich exception to this rule. They offer abundant insight into Kafka's emotional state in the final phase of his life. …

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