Kafka For The 21st Century
by Arthur Samuelson, publisher, Schocken Books
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....
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novels, his unpublished stories, diaries and letters-would appear in print.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:
decision [rests] simply and solely on the fact that Kafka's unpublished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
(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
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
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
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,
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
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
about the marketability of six volumes of Kafka's novels, stories, diaries,
and letters, although he recognized their universal literary quality
well as their potential to undermine the official campaign to denigrate
German Jewish culture. But he was urged by one of his editors, Moritz
to see in Kafka a quintessentially "Jewish" voice that could give meaning
to the new reality had befallen German Jewry and would demonstrate the
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
been reinserted into the German edition, and in 1954 was translated by
Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser and placed in the English edition with
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,
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
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."
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,
fluidity and breathlessness of the sparsely punctuated original manuscript
have been retained. Thus, for the first time, English-speaking readers
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.