A CASTLE, A KAFKA, CARTONS & CONRAD THE COMRADE

”The recurrence of linkages of one sort or another between Hitler and Kafka throughout “Hitler studies” is rather remarkable–and controversial. In addition to the D. M. Thomas character’s conjecture about the kinship of Kafka and Hitler as artists of the unthinkable and the unbearable, many have invoked Kafka as a prophet, seen the absurd logic of the death camps foreshadowed in “In the Penal Colony” and The Trial, and wondered whether only a Kafkaesque universe can explain the nightmare world Hitler made flesh.”

Franz Kafka’s The Trial revolves around a surrealistic legal procedure governed by a nontransparent logic. At times it seems a criticism of what scholars call “legal indeterminacy,” that is, the inability of the legal system to provide clear rules for decision. “The right understanding of any matter and a misunderstanding of the same matter do not wholly exclude each other,” Kafka writes at one point.

Franz Kafka’s The Trial revolves around a surrealistic legal procedure governed by a nontransparent logic. At times it seems a criticism of what scholars call “legal indeterminacy,” that is, the inability of the legal system to provide clear rules for decision. “The right understanding of any matter and a misunderstanding of the same matter do not wholly exclude each other,” Kafka writes at one point.

Kafka, a Prague native who wrote in German, was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, known for his surreal tales of everyman protagonists crushed by mysterious authorities or twisted by unknown shames. His works have become classics, like “The Metamorphosis,” in which a salesman wakes up transformed into a giant insect, and “The Trial,” where a bank clerk is put through an excruciating trial without ever being told the charges against him.

Joseph K. (Anthony Perkins) and Leni (Romy Schneider) get down to business in The Trial (1962).

Joseph K. (Anthony Perkins) and Leni (Romy Schneider) get down to business in The Trial (1962).

”Four safes deposit boxes believed to contain manuscripts and drawings by late author Franz Kafka were opened at UBS at Bahnhofstrasse according to a report of Swiss newspaper ‘Neue Zuercher Zeitung’. This is the latest step of a long legal battle between two Israeli and the state of Israel. The Hoffe sisters claim having inherited the documents from their mother Esther Hoffe, while the government of Israel sees them as part of the country’s cultural heritage.”

The tussle, dispute, has all the makings of what could personify Israel and the Jewish people and its oscillations between fractiousness, civil war and coherent destiny and unity. Thirteen cartons of virgin Kafka ;  microcosm   involving possession, culture, money, theft, identity and new wrinkles in the slow, Darwinian evolution of our understanding of the holocaust. In other words: Complicated and irreconcilable issues. Add to this toxic mess,  is the way the Ultra-Orthodox in Israel have defined ”identity” , and particularly jewish identity; it is possible that Kafka himself would not qualify as Jewish within these extreme and absurd strictures. “What do I have in common with the Jews?” he asked in his diary. “I don’t have anything in common with myself, and would be content to stand quietly alone in a corner, satisfied that I can breathe.”

Milena Jesenska. '' In late 1919, she took notice of an interesting little story, Der Heizer (The Stoker), by a little-known Prague writer named Franz Kafka, and wrote to him, asking him for permission to translate it into Czech.  This was the beginning of their correspondence, which would continue until early 1923.  This relationship was conducted mostly through the mail, the only times they met being four days in Vienna and later a day in a town on the Czech/Austrian border, Gmünd.  This turned out unhappily, though.  Milena was still not strong enough to leave Ernst, and so Franz finally broke off the relationship.  Milena saw very clearly that Frank, as she called him, was not going to live much longer.  There was no real future for them together, Franz's morbid fears, especially of sex, his extreme sensitivity, and his worsening tuberculosis coming in between them.  However, he trusted her completely, giving her all of his diaries in 1922.  After he died Milena wrote a moving obituary for him, saying that "He was clear-sighted, too wise to live and too weak to fight," and that he was "condemned to see the world with such blinding clarity that he found it unbearable and went to his death."

Milena Jesenska. '' In late 1919, she took notice of an interesting little story, Der Heizer (The Stoker), by a little-known Prague writer named Franz Kafka, and wrote to him, asking him for permission to translate it into Czech. This was the beginning of their correspondence, which would continue until early 1923. This relationship was conducted mostly through the mail, the only times they met being four days in Vienna and later a day in a town on the Czech/Austrian border, Gmünd. This turned out unhappily, though. Milena was still not strong enough to leave Ernst, and so Franz finally broke off the relationship. Milena saw very clearly that Frank, as she called him, was not going to live much longer. There was no real future for them together, Franz's morbid fears, especially of sex, his extreme sensitivity, and his worsening tuberculosis coming in between them. However, he trusted her completely, giving her all of his diaries in 1922. After he died Milena wrote a moving obituary for him, saying that "He was clear-sighted, too wise to live and too weak to fight," and that he was "condemned to see the world with such blinding clarity that he found it unbearable and went to his death."

”Literary experts in both cities are sifting through the boxes, and the contents are expected to be of priceless literary and monetary value. What exactly is there remains unknown, but the papers include handwritten manuscripts, letters and various literary works by the famed Jewish writer, said Meir Heller, an attorney for the Israeli National Library, which also claims ownership of the trove. ”Loeb says the cache could include endings to some of Kafka’s major works, many of which remained unfinished in his lifetime.

The case boils down to the interpretation of the will of Max Brod, Kafka’s longtime friend and publisher. Kafka bequeathed his writings to Brod shortly before his own death from tuberculosis in 1924, instructing his friend to burn everything unread. Brod ignored Kafka’s wishes and published most of what was in his possession, including the novels “The Trial,” ”The Castle” and “Amerika.” The interpretation will mirror interpretation of  Kafka’s work which will be inconclusive and in this case will press lawyers into the role of literary hacks. It will also expose the profitable and clandestine trade in Kafka papers that have surreptitiously changed hands over time.

But Brod, who smuggled some of the manuscripts to pre-state Israel when he fled the Nazis in 1938, didn’t publish that much considering what is left. Upon his death in 1968, Brod left his personal secretary, Esther Hoffe, in charge of his literary estate and apparently instructed her to transfer the Kafka papers to an academic institution, but Hoffe it appears,may have sold pieces on the black market to maintain her lifestyle, or so we may find out.  Also, Max was not the only person Kafka asked to destroy his work — he also asked his young lover Dora Diamant to burn twenty of his notebooks. She did not do so and kept them with her in Berlin until 1933, when they were confiscated by the Nazis and never seen again. Where are they and what secrets do they reveal that may have broader implications….?kafka29

…”Still, some of the little details and correspondences are striking. George Steiner, who, as we’ll see, believes in some metaphysical sense that Kafka invented Hitler or at least Hitler’s concentration-camp universe, points out, on a smaller scale, thatUngeziefer, the word Kafka used to describe the insect into which Gregor Samsa metamorphosed, is a favorite word of Hitler’s, one he used to characterize the “vermin” of Europe, the Jews he wanted to exterminate like unwanted insects. But Binion was the first to apprise me of the very peculiar fact–meaningless except

a Kafkaesque way–that a man named Kafka once lived in Hitler’s house….

“I have a friend who was a GI who’d been with the American occupation forces in Munich in 1946,” Binion told me that afternoon. “And he was visiting Hitler’s apartment on Prinzregentenplatz,” where Hitler lived from 1928 till he took power in Berlin in 1933, the one in which Geli Raubal was found shot to death. “And he found it occupied by a lawyer named Kafka.”

But what happens when MC Escher turns the symbol for infinity into a gridded mobius strip, and runs ants over it? What is it now?  For me, it feels not so much like the blissful ice skater of Schoolhouse Rock, or William Blake’s ”moving image of eternity,” and more like a symbol of eternal entrapment, as Joseph K. might feel while under arrest in Franz Kafka’s novel, The Trial, or as Dosoevsky imagined, in The Brothers Karamazov, of the terror of finding, not God, but a spider at the beginning of creation.

But what happens when MC Escher turns the symbol for infinity into a gridded mobius strip, and runs ants over it? What is it now? For me, it feels not so much like the blissful ice skater of Schoolhouse Rock, or William Blake’s ”moving image of eternity,” and more like a symbol of eternal entrapment, as Joseph K. might feel while under arrest in Franz Kafka’s novel, The Trial, or as Dosoevsky imagined, in The Brothers Karamazov, of the terror of finding, not God, but a spider at the beginning of creation.

A coincidence certainly, but the Hitler-Kafka connections go deeper than happenstance. Were it not for Binion’s Hitler explanation and the attack on it by a descendant of Kafka, the world might never have known that the Jewish doctor who treated Hitler’s mother was a relative of Franz Kafka…..

Instead, for the next four decades, Hoffe kept the papers in her Tel Aviv apartment and in safety deposit boxes in Tel Aviv and Zurich banks. This is peculiar. The Israeli government, no boy scouts when it comes to espionage and citizen surveillance, was likely well aware of the existence of these papers, and may have even scanned them under the aegis of  ”national security” Hoffe, sold some of the items for hefty sums. In 1988, for instance, Hoffe auctioned off the original manuscript of “The Trial” at Sotheby’s in London. It went for $1.8 million to the German Literature Archive in Marbach, north of Stuttgart. Thats a lot of matzo-balls and those shekels must be somewhere…

When Hoffe died three years ago at age 101, she left the collection to her two daughters, Eva Hoffe and Ruth Wiesler, both Holocaust survivors like herself. But the Israeli National Library has long claimed the papers, saying Brod intended for the collection to end up in its hands. It filed an injunction against the execution of Hoffe’s will.

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“As long as Esther Hoffe was alive, she was responsible, she could still say, ‘I am handling it,'” said Heller, the library’s lawyer. “The late Mrs. Hoffe did not do what the late Mr. Brod asked her to do and deposit the documents in the national library. … The will was not honored, it was desecrated.” Oded Hacohen, a lawyer for Eva Hoffe, said Brod’s will gave the collection to her mother as a gift and gave her the right to bequeath it to the Israel National Museum or any institution of her choosing, in Israel or abroad, under whatever conditions she decides. He cited a 1974 Tel Aviv District Court ruling backing that interpretation and quoting Brod’s will.That means, he apparently said, Eva Hoffe inherited the documents legally and is free to do with them as she pleases, including selling them to the German Literature Archive, which has been negotiating with her to buy the remaining Kafka and Brod papers.

It is plausible, that the originals were actually in the possession of Conrad Black. And that the so called infamous removal of thirteen boxes of documents from Hollinger were actually the Kafka archives. There is some affinity between the two in addition to literary qualities. Specifically, since Black’s rescue effort, he has found himself entangled in legal issues that appear at times metaphysical, invisible, lending himself to being an avatar for interpretation typically reserved for a the ”K”, the Kafka figure. Perhaps K is for Konrad and his  relationship with the law:

”So when is the Law created in Kafka’s story? ( Before The Law )It is created as soon as the countryman asks the doorkeeper for admittance and accepts the denial from the doorkeeper. Here is the Law. The countryman gave authority to the doorkeeper and the doorkeeper issued a rule, a command, a law. The gate stands wide open and there is no physical barrier preventing the countryman from passing. The doorkeeper even steps aside, not blocking the countryman’s way. What blocks and prevents the countryman from passing through the gate is the newly created Law, the command from the doorkeeper to not trespass. The countryman, in obedience to the Law, follows its dictate and never passes through the gate, dying in the process…Who decides, who judges, and with what entitlement, what belongs to the Law?” Answer: the countryman who approaches the gate. “Who decides, who judges, and with what entitlement, what belongs to literature?” Answer: the reader who approaches writing.”( Project Mayhem, Kafka, Derrida Before The Law )

“Esther Hoffe dedicated her life to publishing Brod’s works. … Brod wrote in his will that her family should enjoy the profits,” Hacohen said. Heller retorts that the will only refers to royalties, not ownership, and didn’t give Esther Hoffe the right to hand the collection to her heirs. He argued in court that since she failed to pick an archive to receive the documents, the court should do so. Heller contended in court that the Israeli National Library was Brod’s first preference, saying he had evidence Brod wrote a later will bequeathing his literary estate directly to it….and so it goes.

Max Brod and Kafka

Max Brod and Kafka

Ulrich von Buelow, the director of manuscripts at the German Literary Archive,claimed also claimed that Brod and Esther Hoffe had frequent discussions with the archive over placing the material there.

Conrad Black. 18330-424 '''The people I mainly see here are often not unlike people I might know outside,' he said.

Conrad Black. 18330-424 '''The people I mainly see here are often not unlike people I might know outside,' he said.

Aside from previously unknown versions of Kafka’s work, the trove could give more insight on Kafka’s personal life, including his relationship with his lover, Dora Diamant. It may include papers that Kafka gave to Diamant but were stolen by the German Gestapo from her Berlin apartment in 1933, later obtained by Brod after World War II, but apparently not entirely. Undoubtedly, there are copies floating …

”The ownership of heirless pre-Holocaust European Jewish cultural assets – not to mention whether Kafka’s papers can first and foremost be placed in such a category – is a hugely controversial issue. In recent years, following the collapse of the Communist regimes in Europe, Israel has increasingly laid claim to be the heir of various kinds of so-called heirless communal and private property, using the precedent of the 1952 reparations agreement with the German Federal Republic, which paid billions of deutschmarks in restitution and compensation for what Nazi Germany did to European Jews during the second world war.

''One of the most serious charges Black faced was obstruction of justice. A damning video was produced from Hollinger security cameras that showed Black illegally removing thirteen boxes of documents in May of 2005. Black said they carried personal belongings he was retrieving after an order from Hollinger to vacate, but returned the boxes days later and claimed no contents had been removed.''

''One of the most serious charges Black faced was obstruction of justice. A damning video was produced from Hollinger security cameras that showed Black illegally removing thirteen boxes of documents in May of 2005. Black said they carried personal belongings he was retrieving after an order from Hollinger to vacate, but returned the boxes days later and claimed no contents had been removed.''

Many European Jewish communities, however, have strongly objected to this policy, which is grounded in the notion that since such a large proportion of European Jewry was murdered in the Holocaust and so many survivors emigrated to Palestine, the “remnants” left in communities today cannot possibly be regarded as the rightful heirs of either the movable or the built Jewish heritage.” ( Antony Lerman )

”A particularly egregious example of how some Israeli institutions, encouraged by the government, have ridden roughshod over European Jewish communities was the clandestine removal by the Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem of the Holocaust murals painted by the Jewish artist and writer Bruno Schulz in 2001, from a house in the former Polish village of Drohobycz. An international furore broke out once the actions of Yad Vashem became public. Jewish heritage experts regarded the act as a form of piracy. The pieces went on display in the museum last year.”

There is a very strong theme of imprisonment throughout Kafka’s works. There is Metamorphosis where Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning and he finds himself transformed into a giant bug, and the rest of the novella takes places in the apartment where Gregor lives and almost entirely in his room. But in many of the other stories, the novels that Kafka has written, this theme of imprisonment is very strong. For instance, he’s written a short story called ‘A Report to an Academy’ where an ape finds himself imprisoned within a cage, and he tries to find a way out of the cage. So by the notion of Kafka’s Cages we’re trying to address this theme of imprisonment throughout Kafka’s works, which is very strong, but surprisingly, not explored with the depth one would expect, especially given the  cryptic Kafka quote:”All too often men are betrayed by the word freedom”?

Kafka und die aus Wien stammende, drei Jahre jüngere Hansi Juliane Szokoll (© Archiv Klaus Wagenbach)

Kafka und die aus Wien stammende, drei Jahre jüngere Hansi Juliane Szokoll (© Archiv Klaus Wagenbach)

This may be part of the idea that freedom is an illusion. The idea of freedom is considered to have developed some time in the eighteenth century through writers like J.S. Mill and Edmund Burke;  before that people didn’t really talk about freedom. The idea of freedom arose in the eighteenth century as part of the Enlightenment tradition, and Kafka seems very suspicious of this tradition to the point of total mistrust. He likely didn’t really believe that in our lives we can truly be free. We’re partly imprisoned by the desire to be free, and  he critiques this idea in his writings.

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2 Responses to A CASTLE, A KAFKA, CARTONS & CONRAD THE COMRADE

  1. Marìa says:

    I did not know about these 2 movies, The Trial and Kafka; I have never been able to read a whole Kafka book, excepting The Metamorphosis, because oppresion invades me step by step, until I have to quit reading. So, I have read more about his books, even I have many of them translated to spanish, of course. Now and then I try reading them, again. I absolutely agree with Milena`s obituary: too lucid; was 41 when died.

  2. sarhan says:

    The question of the remaining unpublished texts written by Kafka is a serious one indeed ! thank you for these interesting informations.
    But please don’t use the word “surrealism” about kafka. it’s a complete misanderstanding of surrealism, and hence of Kafka. kafka is not more surrealist than romantic. Even less.

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