A Kafka For The 21st Century by Arthur Samuelson, publisher, Schocken Books

"Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me... in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others'), sketches, and so on, [is] to be burned unread....

Yours, Franz Kafka"

These famous words written to Kafka's friend Max Broad have puzzled Kafka's readers ever since they appeared in the postscript to the first edition of The Trial, published in 1925, a year after Kafka's death. We will never know if Kafka really meant for Brod to do what he asked; Broad believed that it was Kafka's high artistic standards and merciless self-criticism that lay behind the request, but he also believed that Kafka had deliberately asked the one person he knew would not honor his wishes (because Broad had explicitly told him so). We do know, however, that Brod disregarded his friend's request and devoted great energy to making sure that all of Kafka's works-his three unfinished novels, his unpublished stories, diaries and letters-would appear in print. Brod explained his reasoning thus:

"My decision [rests] simply and solely on the fact that Kafka's unpublished work contains the most wonderful treasures, and, measured against his own work, the best things he has written. In all honesty, I must confess that this one fact of the literary and ethical value of what I am publishing would have been enough to make me decide to do so definitely, finally, and irresistibly, even if I had no single objection to raise against the validity of Kafka's last wishes."

(From the postscript to the first edition of The Trial)

In 1925, Max Broad convinced the small avant-garde Berlin publisher Verlag Die Schmiede to publish The Trial, which Brod prepared for publication from Kafka's unfinished manuscript. Next he persuaded the Munich publisher Kurt Wolff to publish his edited manuscript of The Castle, also left unfinished by Kafka, in 1926, and in 1927 to bring out Kafka's first novel, which Kafka had meant to entitle Der Verschollene (The Man who Disappeared), but which Broad named Amerika. Wolff later noted that very few of the 1,500 copies of The Castle he printed were sold. The first English translation of The Castle, by Edwin and Willa Muir, was published in Britain in 1930 by Secker & Warburg and in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf. Though recognized by a small circle as an important book, it did not sell well.

Undeterred, Max Brod enlisted the support of Martin Buber, Hermann Hesse, Heinrich Mann, Thomas Mann, and Franz Werfel for a public statement urging the publication of Kafka's collected works as "a spiritual act of unusual dimensions, especially now, during times of chaos." Since Kafka's previous publishers had closed during Germany's economic depression, he appealed to Gustav Kiepenheuer to undertake the project. Kipenheuer agreed, but on condition that the first volume be financially successful. But the Nazi rise to power in 1933 forced Kiepenheuer to abandon his plans. Between 1933 and 1938 German Jews were barred from teaching or studying in "German" schools, from publishing or being published in "German" newspapers or publishing houses, or from speaking and performing in front of "German" audiences. Publishers that had been owned or managed by Jews, such as S. Fischer Verlag, were quickly "Aryanized" and ceased to publish books by Jews. Kafka's works were not well enough known to be banned by the government or burned by nationalist students, but they were "Jewish" enough to be off limits to "Aryan" publishers.

When the Nazis introduced their racial laws they exempted Schocken Verlag, a Jewish publisher, from the ban against publishing Jewish authors, on condition that its books would be sold only to Jews. Founded in 1931 by the department store magnate Salman Schocken, this small publishing company had already published the works of Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig as well as those of the Hebrew writer S. Y. Agnon, as part of its owner's interest in fostering a secular Jewish literary culture.

Max Brod offered Schocken the world publishing rights to all of Kafka's works. This offer was initially rejected by Lambert Schneider, Schocken Verlag's editor-in-chief, who regarded Kafka's work as outside his mandate to publish books that could reacquaint German Jewry with its distinguished heritage. He also doubted its public appeal. His employer also had his doubts about the marketability of six volumes of Kafka's novels, stories, diaries, and letters, although he recognized their universal literary quality as well as their potential to undermine the official campaign to denigrate German Jewish culture. But he was urged by one of his editors, Moritz Spitzer, to see in Kafka a quintessentially "Jewish" voice that could give meaning to the new reality had befallen German Jewry and would demonstrate the central role of Jews in German culture.

Accordingly, Before the Law, an anthology drawn from Kafka's diaries and short stories, appeared in 1934 in Schocken Verlag's Buecherei series, a collection of books aimed to appeal to a popular audience, and was followed a year later-the year of the infamous Nuremburg Laws-by Kafka's three novels. The Schocken editions were the first to give Kafka widespread distribution in Germany. Martin Buber, in a letter to Brod, praised these volumes as "a great possession" that could "show how one can live marginally with complete integrity and without loss of background" (from The Letters of Martin Buber, NY: Schocken Books, 1991).

Inevitably, many of the books Schocken sold ended up in non-Jewish hands, giving German readers-at home and in exile-their only access to one of the century's greatest writers. Klauss Mann wrote in the exile journal Sammlung that "the collected works of Kafka, offered by the Schocken Verlag in Berlin, are the most noble and most significant publications that have come out of Germany." Praising Kafka's books as "the epoch's purest and most singular works of literature," he noted with astonishment that "this spiritual event has occurred within a splendid isolation, in a ghetto far from the German cultural ministry." Soon after this article appeared, the Nazi government put Kafka's novels on its blacklist of "harmful and undesirable writings." Schocken moved his production to Prague, where he published Kafka's diaries and letters. Interestingly, despite the ban on the novels, he was able to continue printing ad distributing his earlier volume of Kafka's short stories in Germany itself until the government closed down Schocken Verlag in 1939. The German occupation of Prague that same year put an end to Schocken's operations in Europe.

In 1939 he re-established Schocken Books in Palestine, where he had lived intermittently since 1934, and editions of Kafka's works in the renewed Hebrew language were among its first publications. In 1940, he moved to New York, where five years later he opened Schocken Books with Hannah Arendt and Nahum Glatzer as his chief editors. While continuing to publish Kafka in German, Schocken reissued the existing Muir translations of the novels in 1946 and commissioned translations of the letters and diaries in the 1950s, thus placing Kafka again at the center of his publishing program. Despite a dissenting opinion from Edmund Wilson in The New Yorker (where he nonetheless compared Kafka to Nikolai Gogol and Edgar Allan Poe), a postwar Kafka craze began in the United States; translations of all of Kafka's works began to appear in many other languages; and in 1951 the German Jewish publisher S. Fischer of Frankfurt (also in exile during the Nazi period) obtained the rights to publish Kafka in Germany. As Hannah Arendt wrote to Salman Schocken, Kafka had come to share Marx's fate: "Though during his lifetime he could not make a decent living, he will now keep generations of intellectuals both gainfully employed and well-fed" (letter, Aug. 9, 1946, Schocken Books Archive, NY).

Along with the growing international recognition of Franz Kafka as one of the great writers of our century, scholars began to raise doubts about the editorial decisions made by Max Brod. The notebooks in which Kafka had written The Castle, for instance, contained large crossed-out sections with the last part in a fragmentary state, forcing Broad to make editorial decisions. Intent on securing an audience for his friend, Brod sought to improve the readability of the unfinished novel by normalizing spelling, introducing standard High German punctuation, changing the way Kafka's chapters were broken, ad deleting the final chapters (although by 1951 this material had been reinserted into the German edition, and in 1954 was translated by Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser and placed in the English edition with the final paragraphs in an appendix). Brod's main concern was to make the novel appear as a unified whole, although Kafka had not supplied an ending; indeed, he appears to have broken off the novel in mid-sentence.

Salman Schocken was among the most eager for new, critical editions of Kafka's works. "The Schocken editions are bad," he wrote in an internal memo. "Without any question, new editions that include the incomplete novels would require a completely different approach: (Sept. 29, 1940, Schocken Archives, Jerusalem). However, Max Brod's refusal to give up the Kafka archive in his Tel Aviv apartment or to allow scholars access to it made such new editions impossible, until 1956, when the threat of war in the Middle East prompted him to deposit the bulk of the archives, including the manuscript of The Castle, in a Swiss vault. When the young Oxford Germanist Malcolm Pasley learned of the archives' whereabout, he received permission from Kafka's heirs in 1961 to deposit them in Oxford's Bodleian Library, where they were subsequently made available for scholarly inspection.

Since 1970s an international team of Kafka experts has been working on German critical editions of all of Kafka's writings, which are being published by S. Fischer Verlag with financial support from the German government. The first of these editions, The Castle, appeared in 1982, edited by Malcolm Pasley in two volumes, one for the restored text of the novel drawn from Kafka's handwritten manuscript, the second for textual variants and editorial notes. Reviewing it in the Times Literary Supplement (London), Ritchie Robertson wrote: "This edition will seriously alter our understanding of Kafka and render previous ones obsolete" (TLS, Oct. 14, 1983). In the same issue, S.S. Prawer wrote: "The one and only definitive edition is the critical edition of Das Schloss published in 1982 by S. Fischer Verlag. It is quite clear that what we need is an English translation based on this new, critically edited version."

Schocken's new English translation of The Castle is based on the restored text in the first volume of the German critical edition, which correct numerous transcription errors in the earlier editions and removed all of Brod's editorial and stylistic interventions. Although many of the novelties of the German critical text (such as Kafka's unorthodox spelling and his use of a Southern German or Prague German vocabulary) cannot be conveyed in translation, the fluidity and breathlessness of the sparsely punctuated original manuscript have been retained. Thus, for the first time, English-speaking readers will be able to read Kafka's haunting novel as he left it. In coming years, Schocken will publish new translations of Kafka's work based on the restored text in the German critical editions.

KAFKA Introduction



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