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Liebster Max, meine letzte Bitte
July 19, 2010 6:51 AM   Subscribe

Dearest Max, my last request: everything that can be found in my posthumous papers (thus in boxes, cupboards, desks, at home and in the office, or wherever else they may be that you come upon them) of diaries, manuscripts, letters, my own and those written to me, sketches and so on, should be burned unread and without remnant, even all the written or drawn things that you or others have, that you might have asked for in my name. If there are letters that people will not turn over to you, at least they should promise to burn them themselves.”
posted by griphus (37 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
[MOVIE VOICE]In dark world gripped by paranoia and madness, one man finds himself transformed into a giant insect...[/MOVIE VOICE]
posted by unSane at 6:57 AM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Naïve of me perhaps, but at first glance Israel doesn't have much of a case here. Is there something I'm missing that gives it a decent claim?
posted by Leon at 7:00 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


When someone dies, I do not think they should be able to influence the realm of the living; I don't give one half of one goddamn about the last wishes of a corpse. So, let the world read this delicious secret all-porn Kafka collection.

obviously it's all porn.
posted by fuq at 7:04 AM on July 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


At some point during the past 50 years, the documents were stored in bank vaults in Tel Aviv and Zurich.

But when the two daughters - now both in their 70s - tried to sell some of the manuscripts, the legal battle began.

Israel is claiming the documents as part of its cultural heritage arguing that because Kafka was Jewish, his works belong there.


WTF Israel?
posted by Malor at 7:07 AM on July 19, 2010 [11 favorites]


Can I has Kafka?
posted by Joe Chip at 7:09 AM on July 19, 2010


Wow, so the Israel's argument is that every cultural artifact produced by a Jew should be theirs by default? That's Chutzpah.

PS, Don't tell the Vatican.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:11 AM on July 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


For those inclined to argue about whether or not Brod should have burned Kafka's work...the answer is no, and not just because one might decide that works of art are more important - even near-eternal - than are one man's wishes, but that if Kafka truly wanted his works destroyed he would have appointed someone other than Brod, whom he probably knew would not follow through with this request.

I hope to read this new stuff...I've read almost everything of his. (I passed on the recently published business writings!)
posted by kozad at 7:48 AM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know who else wanted all of their documents burned after their death?

THAT'S RIGHT.

Emily Dickinson.

Why, what were you thinking?
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:50 AM on July 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


(I passed on the recently published business writings!)

Admittedly, they contain nothing but but requisitions for paper, ink and absinthe.
posted by griphus at 7:54 AM on July 19, 2010


Why can't it ever be someone like Uwe Boll or Stephenie Meyer or the folks behind the Left Behind series that want their work destroyed? Why can't we remove all record of Larry the Cable Guy?
posted by cottoncandybeard at 7:59 AM on July 19, 2010 [9 favorites]


Point of note: Kafka died in 1924. Even with the current Berne convention standard for copyright of life plus 70 years, his work is long since out of copyright hence in the public domain.

This is therefore about the physical memorabilia, not the intellectual property. According to Der Spiegel Ester Hoff was appointed Brod's sole executor; the current owners of the items are her daughters (not, contrary to some reports, by Brod). Depending on how Israeli inheritance and intestacy law works -- I don't know anything about the specifics of this topic -- it may be that some or all of the Brod estate should have gone to the state in taxes. Or not. Do we have an expert on Israeli inheritance law on MeFi?
posted by cstross at 8:06 AM on July 19, 2010


Hey hey hey now. Say what you will about the Left Behind guys, Meyer, and Larry the Cable Guy, but Uwe Boll is a national treasure. That man has reached a level of trolldom not seen since Harlan Ellison and has made a career through his virtuosic ability to piss off fanboys.
posted by griphus at 8:10 AM on July 19, 2010


When someone dies, I do not think they should be able to influence the realm of the living

Statements like this only make me all the more determined to set up elaborate machinery within my corpse to squirt blood on passers-by.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:16 AM on July 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


So, Kafka was a German who lived in Prague and died long before Israel became a state. Kafka was also rather ambivalent on the subject of zionism (he was an anarchist, after all), so basically there is no connection between his works and Israel. I'll chalk this one up to the general douchery of the Israeli government.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:23 AM on July 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


It seems to me that the government has to get quite a bit more involved and the process significantly more frustrating and convoluted before we can safely refer to this as kafkaesque.
posted by Cogito at 8:35 AM on July 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


My own personal theory on why Kafka wanted all his work destroyed was because it was all supposed to be hilariously comic, and he'd write story after story and novel after novel, set them aside for a bit, and then re-read them and just go "Holy jesus fuck, that's grim. I can't publish this shit. It was side-splitting when I was writing it..." Basically, I think he was aiming at this all along.
posted by rusty at 8:37 AM on July 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


I love Kafka and am richer for having read him. Which is completely independent of the fact that a man's final request was utterly ignored. This is all simply ghoulish.
posted by Skot at 9:03 AM on July 19, 2010


...it was all supposed to be hilariously comic...

I was fortunate enough to has a lit professor who subscribed to that idea. We went through a close reading of Metamorphosis -- he literally read it to us with a running commentary/discussion -- and he would point out the parts which were supposed to be funny, but would be lost on us due to the language of the translation. Really changed the story for me, which had previously been taught to me as a morbid and humorless affair.
posted by griphus at 9:03 AM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, we still have Poland. And Bruno Schulz.
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:17 AM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


There's a really thin line between hilarity and despair for those who have nothing left to lose. It's like when you know you're screwed no matter what you do, and you just can't stop laughing...

As for Israel's claim in this matter, I think the argument is that Max Brod emigrated to Israel, which makes him a Jewish writer. And Kafka's papers are sort of mixed up with his, so they get them too.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:19 AM on July 19, 2010


Excuse me. Brod emigrated to Israel, which makes him an Israeli writer. Wrong word chosen there.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:21 AM on July 19, 2010


So, Kafka was a German who lived in Prague and died long before Israel became a state. [...] I'll chalk this one up to the general douchery of the Israeli government.

On the other hand, Kafka's desire was that an item be destroyed, and instead the work gets taken by Max Brod, given to Esther Hoffe, and inherited by Eva and Ruth Hoffe - then, though they only have the valuable items because Kafka's desires were ignored, it's positively wrong to ignore Esther Hoffe's desires?

If we're going along with the "ignore dead people's wishes when it means saving art for the masses" then it seems reasonable for the works to end up in a public library.

I agree that it's debatable whether it should be an Israeli public library.
posted by Mike1024 at 9:33 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


David Foster Wallace also had some thoughts about Kafka's humor (apologies for the pdf).
posted by Copronymus at 9:58 AM on July 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


I say we respect the dead man's wishes: burn it all.

Right after we scan it and post it online.
posted by tspae at 10:42 AM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Thanks, Copronymus.
posted by ekroh at 10:53 AM on July 19, 2010


Copronymus: Yeah, I should have given credit to DFW above, without whom I would have gone on thinking that my reading Kafka as sort of hilarious was evidence of my own mental illness, not Kafka's possible intention.

I mean The Penal Colony and A Hunger Artist are both as funny as stories can be while also being nearly unreadably bleak and hopeless. The utter condemnation of the essence of humanity makes it sort of hard to see the humor, but it is there.
posted by rusty at 11:04 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


If only kakfa had known of the burnleft destructive commons license (v3).
posted by benzenedream at 11:16 AM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yes, i always thought it was just me who thought Kafka was hilarious! It helped when I heard that when Kafka sat around with his friends reading his stuff they would laugh out loud. That DFW essay was great, and I'll use it when I teach The Trial this upcoming year (to high school students). I tried to teach it fifteen years ago without preparing much and failed miserably. I'm researching and thinking and preparing this summer, ready to try again this fall. Wish me luck.
posted by kozad at 11:49 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Who is Kafka? TELL ME!
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:26 PM on July 19, 2010


Israel seems like a reasonable place for the collection, if no suitable German institution were to want to house it. It hardly seems as though they have a strong first claim on it, though. Finders keepers isn't exactly a new attitude when it comes to museums etc. however (viz. the Elgin marbles, among many other examples.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:29 PM on July 19, 2010


I also thought I was the only one who thought Kafka was largely a comic writer. We should start a support group.
posted by clockzero at 1:02 PM on July 19, 2010


Same here, people always looked askance at me for insisting that Kafka was a comic genius. The Penal Colony always cracks me up, even more so the solemn insistence that it's some sort of morbid morality tale. I was glad to read the DFW essay earlier this year and find that I wasn't alone.

kafkaishilarious meetup?
posted by benzenedream at 1:40 PM on July 19, 2010


Kafka was also rather ambivalent on the subject of zionism (he was an anarchist, after all), so basically there is no connection between his works and Israel. I'll chalk this one up to the general douchery of the Israeli government.

The papers were in the possession of Max Brod, who died an Israeli citizen. Esther Hoffe was the executor of his will; she passed along the papers to her daughters. Israel does have something of a case, but I have no idea how strong it is.
posted by jokeefe at 7:16 PM on July 19, 2010


And of course, no Kafka thread is complete without this!
posted by jokeefe at 7:17 PM on July 19, 2010


Leon wrote: at first glance Israel doesn't have much of a case here. Is there something I'm missing that gives it a decent claim?

Here's what I understand from reading the articles linked in the FPP:

The executor of Kafka's will was Max Brod. This made him the trustee of the estate. Even though Kafka's will apparently commanded that the manuscripts be destroyed, my understanding is that generally a trustee is not obliged - is actually forbidden to comply with such a clause (although I have no idea about Israeli law works). In the absence of another heir to Kafka, I suppose they would have belonged to Max Brod.

Max Brod married Esther Hoffe. She claims that he gave the manuscripts to her. The National Library of Israel says that Max Brod's will left them to its archive. This article has a statement from the library's lawyer which, if correct, seems to give them a pretty strong claim:
"The National Library of Israel, which is a library of the Jewish people too, understands that in the will of Dr Max Brod he asks that these documents should be placed in a public archive and he names the National Library as the first option for that," said Meir Heller, the library's lawyer.
The contrary argument - that they belong to Esther Hoffe - would seem to either rest on a claim that Max Brod gave them to her in her personal capacity (i.e., not as a trustee) or that any clause in the will saying that they be given to the Library was merely a wish, not an instruction, or was invalid for another reason. Without the text of the will and some more knowledge of the relevant law it's impossible to tell.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:44 PM on July 19, 2010


Joe: but you're leaving out that the existing settlement for who owns what was ratified by an Israeli court in the 1970s, so the attempted grab of these documents appears to have essentially zero legitimacy.
posted by Malor at 3:04 AM on July 20, 2010


Malor wrote: you're leaving out that the existing settlement for who owns what was ratified by an Israeli court in the 1970s, so the attempted grab of these documents appears to have essentially zero legitimacy.

The people who sold the manuscript and the people who bought the manuscript allegedly rely on something like that, yes. The Israeli National Library doesn't seem to agree, and it is the other party. Do you know anything about this settlement? Or the terms of the will? Or is your knowledge, like mine, limited to what is in the newspapers? Because without recourse to the original documents neither of us really has an informed opinion.

My feeling, based on what has been reported, is that Esther Hoffe
didn't behave with the frankness and openness one would expect from someone who really believed that she owned the papers. But there can be lots of reasons why someone would do that - she may have actually believed that Max Brod ought to have burned them, and felt guilty about receiving them.

In any event, a court thought the original sale was dubious and froze the proceeds; and another session (of the same court?) has seen fit to intervene in the matter of the other papers. So there must be at least a prima facie case supporting the Library's claim. Even if it does come down to an interpretation of the 1970s settlement the case is certainly a lot more substantial than the way the BBC chose to report it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:44 AM on July 20, 2010


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