We had a bit of a ding-dong here on ReadySteadyBook, back at the end of last month, about James Hawes' thesis of the Kafka myth. Knowing my scepticism, James has been good enough to flesh out his thoughts here on RSB:

So why has the vast academic Kafka-industry failed to undercut this myth? Kafka’s business memoranda get their own Critical Edition, entire exhibitions are mounted about the factories he inspected, whole books published about the cafés he sat in or the distant relatives he occasionally met. Yet the standard German reference guide, the Kafka Chronik (1999) used by every scholar, still maintains on its back cover the hoary myth that Kafka was “almost unknown in his lifetime”, and in 2004 the UK’s top Kafka-scholar (Oxford Chair of German Ritchie Robertson) felt moved to praise Germany’s top Kafka-scholar (Berlin Chair of German Peter-André Alt) for countering “the notion, still widespread today, that Kafka was hardly noticed by fellow-authors and reviewers in his lifetime” (more...)

Readers Comments

  1. Bingham Bryant Friday 17 October 2008

    I really would like to agree with you Hawes, but it's difficult when you deliberately misinterpret the sources you quote.
    "Kafka’s name has become a journalistic cliché, calculated to evoke nightmares, injustice, the perversions of bureaucracy, surrealism, mental breakdown and the uncanny."
    The Ft review is referring to the phenomenon of the "Kafkaesque", a term that is thrown about haphazardly by any high school student who has read the metamorphosis, and a few who haven't. It's talking about the way he's been pigeonholed as a writer, not as a man, about the fact that he's seen as all cockroaches and threadbare jackets, never as a writer who had a wonderful sense of humor. "Kafkaesque" is now a word that applies only to starving men sitting in labyrinthine offices, and as the words definition has narrowed, so has the general consensus on his writing.
    It does not refer to Kafka himself, unless you're going to break your own rules and equate man and work. I doubt any Kafka scholar would describe Kafka's life as nightmarish, unjust, bureaucratic, surreal, mad and uncanny. Which leads me to believe that you may have picked the wrong target. Instead of going after the Kafka scholars, who, believe it or not, probably aren't read by all the dimwits who have "Kakfaesque" as part of their everyday vernacular, you should go after public opinion of the man itself. The best way to do that? Write a biography. And we're back to square one,because as Murray has pointed out, all the recent biographies have already unveiled all the dirty secrets you want to bring to light . Almost Kafkaesque, isn't it?

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