July 01, 2009

The unexpected Kafka

Or, looking forward to reading TS Eliot’s currency trading records from his time at Lloyd’s Bank.
How did I only hear about it now? The library doesn’t have it but hey, put in a request: Princeton University Press has published Franz Kafka: The Office Writings, a 400 pg. collection of the reports Franz Kafka wrote for his day job (his night job being writing The Castle, America, Metamorphosis etc.) as a lawyer at the Workmen’s Accident Insurance Institute in Prague.

I looked it up on the publishers’ website and it made for a most Kafka-esque read – particularly as regards the hilarity, which many people forget about (I think it was Max Brod who reported Kafka laughing so hard he couldn’t go on when reading the first chapter of The Trial aloud). I actually had some serious doubts about whether it was all just a joke:

1. Their blurb:

“Franz Kafka is commonly recognized as the greatest German prose writer of the twentieth century. It is less well known that he had an established legal career. Kafka's briefs reveal him to be a canny bureaucrat, sharp litigator, and innovative thinker on the social, political, and legal issues of his time. His official preoccupations inspired many of the themes and strategies of the novels and stories he wrote at night.”

2. Are they talking about these? Believe it or not, yes!

  • Fixed-Rate Insurance Premiums for Small Farms Using Machinery
  • Inclusion of Private Automobile "Firms" in the Compulsory Insurance Program
  • Appeal against Risk Classification of Christian Geipel & Sohn, Mechanical Weaving Mill in Asch
  • Measures for Preventing Accidents from Wood-Planing Machines
  • On the Examination of Firms by Trade Inspectors
  • Workmen's Insurance and Employers: Two Articles in the Tetschen Bodenbacher Zeitung
  • Petition of the Toy Producers' Association in Katharinaberg, Erzgebirge
  • Risk Classification Appeal by Norbert Hochsieder, Boarding House Owner in Marienbad
  • Letters to the Workmen's Accident Insurance Institute in Prague
  • Criminal Charge against Josef Renelt for the Illegal Withholding of Insurance Fees

  • 3. Also on the website, a sample of peer reviews:

    "Kafka himself complained constantly that his day job at the Prague Workmen's Accident Insurance Institute oppressed his artistic calling; this volume's editors beg to differ. In the hands of Kafka scholars Stanley Corngold and Benno Wagner and the legal scholar Jack Greenberg, the 18 briefs collected here comprise more than a record of the author's years in the insurance business. By reading between his legal writings and his fiction, the editors argue that Kafka's dual identities are inextricable: the writer is informed by the lawyer, the lawyer by the writer. Franz Kafka is the Franz Kafka we know not in spite of his day job, but rather because of it."--Rachel Sugar, The National (Abu Dhabi)

    Hard to top this guileless “the editors beg to differ with Kafka” but I think the next one does:

    "[T]he texts have impressive sociological merit: They provide a compelling picture of what life was like for an early twentieth-century bureaucrat who took his work seriously, believed in it, and did it well. . . . But ultimately, the value of The Office Writings lies less in the potential connections to Kafka's fiction than in the fundamental disconnect."--Ben Kafka, Bookforum
    "Fundamental disconnect"! Ben Kafka! This professor who studies "the powers and failures of paperwork” has to have been invented by Woody Allen. Have a look at him and see if you don’t agree: Prof. Ben Kafka, conveniently "on leave until 2010 and unable to respond to queries".

    If Princeton University had just thought to call the book On the Examination of Firms by Trade Inspectors and other writings I feel sure that it could have been a strong contender for the famed Diagram Prize for oddest book title, which in March of this year was won by The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais. I find that On the Examination of Firms has that unintentional hint of fun which Horace Bent, the man behind the award, has always appreciated, while disdaining both self-conscious titles and those in which the double-entendre is too rude.

    By the way, the person who spots the title gets a prize too. I've been keeping my eyes open but haven't had any luck spotting something among our new acquisitions. However, I did enjoy encountering a book called Cavemen old and new the other day when I was down in the basement stacks. Not sure why, but it reminds me a bit of a past Diagram contender All dogs have ADHD.

    Oh, and if you did want an interesting book on Franz Kafka there’s a new book called The tremendous world I have inside my head : Franz Kafka - a biographical essay, by Louis Begley (the author of About Schmidt and, like Kafka, a lawyer as well as an author) which the library does have.

    Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 03:30


    Post a Comment

    Powered by Blogger.