Who owns Kafka?
February 23, 2011 11:40 AM   Subscribe

An ongoing trial in Tel Aviv is set to determine who will have stewardship of several boxes of Kafka’s original writings, including primary drafts of his published works, currently stored in Zurich and Tel Aviv.
posted by Joe Beese (41 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ugh. This sounds like an administrative and bureaucratic nightmare without clear reason or outcome.

In other words: bravo.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:42 AM on February 23, 2011 [31 favorites]


Like a dog!
posted by GuyZero at 11:42 AM on February 23, 2011


Also, if there was an award for ironic co-incidences, we have a winner.
posted by GuyZero at 11:43 AM on February 23, 2011


The NYT Magazine ran an interesting article about the trial last year.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:46 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


(Brief thread on the Elif Batuman piece last year.)
posted by with hidden noise at 11:50 AM on February 23, 2011


Kafka: Vor dem Gesetz.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:54 AM on February 23, 2011


Performance art?
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:57 AM on February 23, 2011


That sounds like quite a Process.
posted by goethean at 11:58 AM on February 23, 2011


If he'd had stewardship to begin with, these writings wouldn't exist.
posted by DU at 11:58 AM on February 23, 2011


The NYT Magazine ran an interesting article about the trial last year.

From the second page:

In 1988, Hoffe made headlines by auctioning the manuscript of “The Trial” for nearly $2 million; it ended up at the German Literature Archive. Philip Roth characterized this outcome as “yet another lurid Kafkaesque irony” that was being “perpetrated on 20th-century Western culture,” observing not only that Kafka was not German but also that his three sisters perished in Nazi death camps.

Oh, right... the Holocaust.

When Jews had their property seized by the State for its own enrichment.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:02 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Almost every other entry in Kafka's diaries is some variation on "Incapable of writing a line" or (paraphrase) "How hopeless, useless it is even to try to write anything." How ironic then that people are scratching and clawing at each other over a collection of writings that he thought were miserable and that he dearly wished burned -- and which Max Brod defiantly refused to burn, against Kafka's fervently expressed wishes.
posted by blucevalo at 12:05 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Es ist sinnlos zu versuchen, etwas zu schreiben.
posted by everichon at 12:10 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


If only there was a word to describe this situation...
posted by tommasz at 12:11 PM on February 23, 2011


Walt Berkman: Yeah, it's very Kafkaesque.
Sophie: [She looks at him oddly. She laughs] Cause it's written by Franz Kafka.
Walt Berkman: Right. I mean, clearly.
posted by fryman at 12:15 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


So basically, Israel is essentially claiming for itself all pre-Holocaust works created by Jews?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 12:50 PM on February 23, 2011


So basically, Israel is essentially claiming for itself all pre-Holocaust works created by Jews?

My link quotes Anthony Lerman in The Guardian as saying exactly that.

[If] the National Library claims the legacy of Kafka for the Jewish state, it, and institutions like it in Israel, can lay claim to practically any pre-Holocaust synagogue, artwork, manuscript or valuable ritual object extant in Europe.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:01 PM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


As is well known, Kafka left his published and unpublished work to Max Brod, along with the explicit instruction that the work should be destroyed on Kafka’s death.

What are the chances of this court deciding that it should be burned? That would be justice for all.
posted by three blind mice at 1:09 PM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Related: Prague's Kafka International Named Most Alienating Airport
posted by wcfields at 1:21 PM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have no idea of the legal ramifications of the case or what would be a fair outcome. But a quick read of the article by Judith Butler indicated in fact that she is a lefty who thinks Hamas and Hezbollah are social groups with perhaps a need to be a bit more civil in their responses to israel. For sure this Jewish academic is hardly a supporter of Israel...and that dislike is obvious in the article. See, then,
http://radicalarchives.org/2010/03/28/jbutler-on-hamas-hezbollah-israel-lobby/
posted by Postroad at 1:48 PM on February 23, 2011


I really don't understand Israel's position here. It seems like their case is that because it would mean a lot to them and they'd really like to have the manuscripts, that it should belong to them. This claim doesn't seem to have much merit. If Kafka left the manuscripts in Brod's custody, are they not his possessions? The instruction to burn them isn't legally binding, right?
posted by Hoopo at 2:30 PM on February 23, 2011


But a quick read of the article by Judith Butler indicated in fact that she is a lefty
posted by Threeway Handshake at 2:33 PM on February 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


I mean, isn't this like Canada trying to tell Dolores Claman that because "the Hockey Theme" has some cultural value that the CBC should own it?
posted by Hoopo at 2:38 PM on February 23, 2011


For sure this Jewish academic is hardly a supporter of Israel...and that dislike is obvious in the article.

Postroad, opinion articles in literary magazines don't have a burden of objectivity placed upon them. Do you feel that Butler misrepresented the facts of the legal case?
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:57 PM on February 23, 2011


Yeech. Who knows where those boxes have been sitting for all these years? I'll bet they're filled with giant cockroaches.
posted by schmod at 3:17 PM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Very interesting. On one hand, I love his works and I am glad they weren't destroyed. On the other hand, I feel irritated his wishes were not carried out.
posted by handbanana at 3:35 PM on February 23, 2011


Butler is clever, bright etc and I am not in any position to judge the case itself. I just noted that there seemed an awful lot of anti-Israel stuff in the piece, and so I believe her to be perhaps less objective than I am, since I have no opinion one way or the other on the case or what it's utcome should or might be.
posted by Postroad at 3:40 PM on February 23, 2011


so I believe her to be perhaps less objective than I am

I am confused as to why you see this as a bug rather than a feature in an opinion article. (Seriously. I'm not being snarky here; I encounter this kind of statement often enough that obviously there are a lot of people who think that there is a standard of objectivity that applies to opinion articles, and I would love to hear more about this idea.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:46 PM on February 23, 2011


To put an end to this--I begin to feel I am on trial--I do not accuse Butler of being anti-semitic, nor of being what is called a "self hating Jew." Further she has every right to say what she will as to Israel or the case itself. I am merely point out that she has in her writing no great fondness for Israel, as in this other piece whe also wrote for the same journal.

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v25/n16/judith-butler/no-its-not-anti-semitic
posted by Postroad at 3:58 PM on February 23, 2011


To put an end to this--I begin to feel I am on trial--I do not accuse Butler of being anti-semitic, nor of being what is called a "self hating Jew."

I think you may want to re-read this very short thread, or maybe wait for yourself to come down from whatever is causing you to hallucinate you imagining people accusing you of accusing her of anti-semitism. Who said anything about that?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 4:21 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really don't understand Israel's position here. It seems like their case is that because it would mean a lot to them and they'd really like to have ______ that it should belong to them. This claim doesn't seem to have much merit.

I will not say it, I will not say it, I will not say it...
posted by Amanojaku at 4:48 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I begin to feel I am on trial

That was not my intention, Postroad; I was just interested to know what you were getting at, because I was honestly confused. (Still am, but you don't have to edify me.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:12 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really don't understand Israel's position here.

The position of the National Library of Israel, you mean. Butler manages at various points in her piece to conflate just about every Israeli institution she mentions, so your confusion is understandable. The legal claims of the interested parties are as follows:

* Eva Hoffe claims that she inherited the manuscripts from Esther Hoffe, who inherited them from Max Brod, who inherited them from Kafka as his literary executor. The thing about her wishing that the court value them by weight is probably intended to stop them being examined or their contents publicised, but appears in Butler's article more for colour than because it's a vital claim.

* The Israeli National Library claims that it inherited the manuscripts from Max Brod, that Esther Hoffe inherited at most only the royalties on the works they contain, and that a second will exists or existed directly bequeathing Brod's literary estate to it. A key supporting witness is Margot Cohen:
Brod's intention was first and foremost to deposit the archive in the library in Jerusalem, where the archives of his close friends are located," writes Cohen in the deposition. In 1968, shortly before Brod's death, Cohen met him in the manuscripts and archives wing of the National Library.

"From my conversation with Brod it was entirely clear to me that he had already decided earlier to deposit his archive in the library. ... His visit to the department was meant to take care of the technical details involved in the proper handling of the archive," she said.
* The German Literature Archive wishes Eva Hoffe to prevail, as it is in negotiations with her to purchase the manuscripts. It makes no claim to own any manuscripts besides the manuscript of The Trial, which it purchased from Esther Hoffe at auction in 1988. The National Library is not attempting to obtain this manuscript.

Butler's argument is complex but in part advances the idea that Israel wishes as a state to appropriate Kafka as a Jewish cultural asset. In seeking to support this proposition, she refers to a moral, not legal, claim advanced by the National Library that the Kafka papers are cultural assets. But the way in which she does so elides the fact that the Library regards the papers as Jewish cultural assets because it believes that Max Brod intended them to become such - an elision which serves to protect her overarching thesis that this is a battle of nation states and capital to a monetise Kafka's work, and by extension Kafka himself.
posted by topynate at 5:36 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Please do, Amanojaku... I'd dearly like to know I'm not the only one thinking it...
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 6:13 PM on February 23, 2011


Can we please stop taking lawyers' arguments as if they were anything other than one-sided statements of claim? We've already had a Kafka-trial outrage thread and here's what I pointed out last time: Max Brod allegedly specified that his papers should go to the National Library of Israel.
From the New York Times:
In 2008, when the sisters tried to probate their mother’s will, they were opposed by the National Library. The library contends that Brod left the Kafka papers to Esther Hoffe as an executor rather than as a beneficiary, meaning that, after Hoffe’s death, the papers reverted to the Brod estate. Brod’s will, dated 1961, specifies that his literary estate be placed “with the library of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Municipal Library in Tel Aviv or another public archive in Israel or abroad.” The Municipal Library in Tel Aviv has renounced any claim to the estate, making the Hebrew University Library — today, the National Library of Israel — the only claimant specifically named by Brod.

The National Library’s argument is complicated by Brod’s so-called gift letter of 1952. The most crucial and enigmatic document in the case, it appears to give all of the Kafka papers outright, during Brod’s lifetime, to Esther Hoffe. The sisters presented the court with a two-page photocopy of this letter. The National Library, however, produced a photocopy of a four-page version of the letter, of which the two missing middle pages appear to clarify the limitations of Brod’s gift. When the court ordered a forensic examination, the sisters were unable to produce the original letter.
Hoffe's lawyers argue that "placed" can mean "sold", that "the Hebrew University of Jerusalem [...] or another public archive" can mean "whoever will pay you the most". But morally and perhaps legally I think the arguments are in the National Library's favor.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:31 PM on February 23, 2011


WELL IF YOU THINK SO JOE I GUESS IT'S SETTLED

PS I don't think Judith Butler's a lawyer.
posted by Hoopo at 6:35 PM on February 23, 2011


Judith Butler is worse than a lawyer-- she's an influential, and usually unreadably dense, post-structuralist. In her world this trial doesn't have to involve any legal arguments such as the ones posed by Joe in Australia, but is an entirely superlegal clash of civilizations in which the true injustice would be the (Frankfurt School Marxist) reification of Kafka's message into a nationalist construct, and the right course of action should be chosen not by the rule of law but by the acceptance or rejection of some ethno-national narrative.

If that was too complicated to understand, then I'll shorten it: this is a stupid argument. Anything can be reification or Kafkaesque. It's all in the eye of the beholder. Maybe the entire idea of trials or law is Kafkaesque. Maybe deciding that anyone owns Kafka's estate will reify it into "intellectual property" of the legitimate owner and it will lose all of its meaning forever. Or maybe making these sorts of arguments will impede your understanding of both Kafka and law, and your main hope should be that the side with the superior legal claim is awarded their certainly valuable prize.
posted by shii at 7:45 PM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Judith Butler is worse than a lawyer-- she's an influential, and usually unreadably dense, post-structuralist.

You've really put her in her place, haven't you?
posted by blucevalo at 9:33 PM on February 23, 2011


Man, people sure really hate this Judith Butler.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:04 PM on February 23, 2011


Judith Butler was "this Judith Butler" to me too, before yesterday. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the second half of her article, where her expertise on Kafka's work is evident, but thought the first half absolutely dire. That is not because I have a deep seated hatred of post-structuralists, or queer theorists, or any other of the handful of things she is known as. I disagree with the substance of her argument, her use of continental style to smuggle in some of the most incredible rhetorical devices, and her neglect of important facts and situations that would trouble her argument if she introduced them.
posted by topynate at 5:33 AM on February 24, 2011


After reading the Elif Batuman piece in the NYTimes linked above - surely there's one thing everyone can agree on, and that's that the papers need to be removed from the possession of a mentally deranged cat hoarder.

The dingy off-pink stucco facade of No. 23 was partly obscured by a tree with enormous glossy leaves that were apparently being eaten away by something. Parked under the tree were a broken shopping cart and an old bicycle. Behind a large protruding window, enclosed by two layers of metal grillwork, lay an indistinct heap of cats. Some commotion involving a blackbird took place in one of the trees, causing six or so cats to look up in unison, elongating their necks. The breeze turned. A terrible smell wafted toward us.

The smell was stronger inside the building. We knocked on Hoffe’s door several times. Someone or something was moving inside, but nobody answered. Steinberg, who has a mild cat allergy, began sneezing. The sneezes echoed terrifyingly in the empty stairwell.

posted by dnash at 9:39 AM on February 24, 2011


Double.

Triple.

I look forward to seeing the quadruple, pentuple, sextuple, etc. posts on even the most trivial advancements in the case (of which there have been none so far, and none in this article).
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:37 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


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