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  • Kourtni Tucker

An Ode To Kafka's Works

If I could use just one word to describe Franz Kafka, it would be “enigma”. If I were permitted use of another word to describe him, it would be “human”.Hailing from Prague, Kafka lived between the years 1883 and 1924. He had five siblings, all of whom met rather unfortunate ends. Two of his siblings passed as infants, and his other three siblings were victims of the Holocaust. In what has to be one of fate’s most twisted and morbid senses of irony, Kafka’s works would eventually become a prolific part of German and Austrian literature post-WW2, as it was his native language. By the 1960s, his name would become known around the world.

However, Kafka himself never wished for this. In fact, he wanted his works to die alongside him. He did not wish for any of his unfinished or unpublished works to go public, and he did not wish for any reprints of his works. Had lifelong friend Max Brod not decided to go directly against Kafka’s wishes after he succumbed to tuberculosis, it is highly likely that none of us reading this today would know of him.

This often sparks a huge moral debate. Did his works deserve to be preserved for the sake of the craft, or should Brod have honored Kafka’s wishes and allowed his works to fade with the memory of him?

Part of the reason it is such a debate is because of the fact that Kafka’s contributions to literature as a whole are undeniable. I remember being shaken to my core the first time I read any of his works. I happened to read The Metamorphosis for a literary analysis course in my college years, and it astounded me how wholly and unapologetically he was able to capture the essence of mental illness. How it transforms a person. Beyond that, it captured the raw essence of Kafka’s role in society as a working-class man of his time. There was plenty of social commentary to be found.

The thing is, Kafka was a stranger to neither mental illness or the workings of society. A lot of what we know of him suggests he suffered severely from insomnia, depression, and social anxiety. This ultimately shaped the themes of his works, as they all seem reflective of a man struggling. A man constantly searching for a peace that was always just out of reach.

As a mentally ill writer myself, though, I have to say I can’t in good conscience agree with Brod’s decision. I understand Kafka’s wishes. I have lived through many of them. Writing was a sanctuary for him, and the inner workings of his mind a very private matter. Even if Brod had good intentions, he did not have a right to expose such delicate pieces of work without consent.

What do you think? Let me know at our next show. Until next time!


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