Crossposted from Haaretz
Ruth Wiesler, one of two sisters claiming to be the heirs of Franz Kafka’s manuscripts, and who had been battling the State of Israel over their possession, has died at age 80. Wiesler and her sister, Eva Hoffe, claimed they inherited the manuscripts from their mother, Esther Hoffe, who had been the secretary of Max Brod, Kafka’s close friend and heir to his literary estate. Esther Hoffe died in 2007 at the age of 101.
The state, however, argues that Brod’s will clearly stated that “manuscripts, letters and other documents will be given over for safekeeping to the library of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, or the municipal library of Tel Aviv, or another public archive in Israel or outside Israel,” and as such, they had never been Hoffe’s property to begin with.
Of the two sisters, Wiesler, who died two weeks ago, was seen as more willing to come to a compromise. It remains to be seen whether her two daughters, who will presumably inherit her part of the Hoffe estate, will take the same moderate line. Wiesler’s attorney, Harel Ashwall, said: “The legal hearings in the case made a decisive contribution to the deterioration of her health.”
Crossposted from Haaretz
The National Library in Jerusalem has prepared a program for handling Franz Kafka’s manuscripts and promises to make them and other rare collections available on the Internet. However, the court has yet to rule on the fate of the Czech writer’s manuscripts.
The manuscripts, part of the literary estate of Kafka’s close friend Max Brod, have been the focus of a prolonged legal battle. The Tel Aviv Family Court is to rule whether they will remain in private hands, be given to the National Library or be sold to the German Literary Archive. Max Brod, also a Czech writer, died in 1968. His secretary Esther Hoffe took over his estate and her two daughters claim they inherited the manuscripts from her when she died in 2007.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein argued in court last week that the manuscripts — Kafka’s and Brod’s — belong to the public and should be held in public trust by the National Library in Jerusalem.
Earlier this week, James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel wrote about a man as puzzling as his stories, Kafka and the parable, and Tamar Yellin’s “Kafka in Bronteland.” Today, Kessel examines the Kafkaesque structure. Their blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
One of the influences of Kafka over later writers is not so much in the content of his work as in its form. The conventional Aristotelian plot proceeds by means of a protagonist, an antagonist, and a series of events comprising a rising action, climax and denouement. It involves identification of the reader with the protagonist and vicarious engagement with his or her predicament (even when, as in say, “Macbeth,” the protagonist is the villain). One event causes the next event, and so on, like a row of falling dominoes. This structure has stood storytellers in good stead for a few thousand years.
But Kafka’s stories do not fall easily into this pattern — “The Trial” at least seems to begin in this way, though it never fulfills it. Perhaps that is one reason why Kafka had so much difficulty finishing his novels — a novel demands some structure of this type, and Kafka was not able to produce such a structure. In Kafka’s universe, cause and effect are not so sure as other forces.
Earlier this week, James Patrick Kelly wrote about a man as puzzling as his stories and John Kessel examined Kafka and the parable. Today, Kelly discusses Sami Rohr Prize Winner Tamar Yellin and her story “Kafka in Bronteland.”Their blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
In her introduction to her story “Kafka in Bronteland” which concludes our anthology “Kafkaesque,”Tamar Yellin writes:
For years I could not read Kafka. I would get to the bottom of the first page of “The Castle” and my brain would seize. Then something clicked inside me and I became obsessed with him. I believe reading Kafka to be a deeply personal experience. You can accept what others tell you Kafka means or you can interpret him for yourself. His enigmatic work lends itself to almost infinite interpretation.
John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly are the editors of “Kafkaesque: Stories Inspired by Franz Kafka.” On Monday, James Patrick Kelly wrote about a man as puzzling as his stories and today, John Kessel looks at Kafka and the parable. Their blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
Since my first encounter with Kafka’s writing, I’ve been interested in a quality that, while he was alive, stood in the way of his achieving a large reputation: his allegory. Kafka’s inevitable tropism for the allegorical puts him in marked opposition to the realism that dominated the literary world of the first half of the 20th century.
Though a realist writer might acknowledge that his story set in the mundane world might have allegorical readings, the trend in the first half of the 20th century was to flee allegory for either the documentation of the external world, or of individual psychology. Even experimentalists like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, despite streams of consciousness or wild flights of imagery, assume that fiction is about what is, the surface of events and things and people. Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, de Maupassant and Flaubert, Hardy and Dickens before him, Anton Chekhov and Joseph Conrad while he was alive and writing, Thomas Mann, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner after him, no matter how elaborate their rhetoric or symbolisms, insist upon the reality of their worlds.
John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly are the editors of “Kafkaesque: Stories Inspired by Franz Kafka.” Today, James Patrick Kelly writes about a man as puzzling as his stories. Their blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
Franz Kafka was a man who struggled with his many contradictions. Although his writing has come to be intensively studied, as a man he is hard to know, even given all the scrutiny of recent years. He was born in 1883 into an assimilated middle-class Jewish family in Prague, the third largest city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He had five siblings, two younger brothers who died in infancy and three sisters who survived him, only to perish in Hitler’s camps during the Second World War. He was a member of the dominant German-speaking minority, just three percent of the population of Prague at the time, but he was also fluent in Czech. As a young man, he was athletic, taller than average, fond of swimming, rowing, and bicycling. Yet for much of his life he was also a hypochondriac: It was not until 1917 that he was diagnosed with the tuberculosis that would kill him seven years later at the age of 40.
Of all the contradictions in Kafka’s life, two stand out for the modern readers. Kafka was a student of Yiddish literature, and in his youth championed Yiddish theater, much to the puzzlement of some of his literary friends. He was sympathetic to Zionism and yet there are no overt allusions to Jews or Jewishness in his fiction. “What have I in common with the Jews?” he wrote. “I have hardly anything in common with myself, and should stand very quietly in a corner, content that I can breathe.”
How a complete set of the Bomberg Talmud found its way into King Henry VIII’s library.
On the everlasting allure of the Jewish gangster.
Mark Harman offers a new translation of Kafka’s short, short story, “A Message from the Emperor.”
Bob Cohen reflects on this year’s Festival of Jewish Culture in Krakow, Poland.
Enthused readers of the German Jewish intellectual Walter Benjamin are impatiently awaiting the announced May 9 publication date of a landmark translation of Benjamin’s “Early Writings” from Harvard University Press. Until then, readers afflicted with Benjamania can delight in a catalog published by the Kunstmuseum Solingen in Germany, “Stellar Immortality” (Die Unsterblichkeit der Sterne, to accompany an exhibit on display at the end of 2010.
To commemorate the 70th anniversary of Benjamin’s suicide in 1940 at the Spanish-French border, while fleeing the Nazis, “Stellar Immortality” comprises a remarkable project in which the Stuttgart antiquarian book dealer Herbert Blank reassembled a library for Benjamin, based on book titles mentioned in his writings. Blank took over 30 years to gather the more than 2500 books, many of them depicted and described in “Stellar Immortality.”
Michael David Lukas’s first book, “The Oracle of Stamboul,” is now available. His blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series, please visit:
I’ve been thinking a lot these past few months about the year I spent in Tunisia. It was 2003, I had just graduated college and was living on the outskirts of Tunis. Officially, I was there as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar and was supposed to be studying Arabic while bridging the gap of understanding between the United States and the Arab World. It was, by all accounts, a good year. I did my best to bridge the gap between the United States and the Arab World, I read a trunk full of classic literature, and towards the end of the year I started writing what would later become my first novel, “The Oracle of Stamboul.” Those first few months, however, were full of loneliness and alienation. I missed my family and my friends, I missed my girlfriend, I missed being in college, and I missed those small American comforts (peanut butter, dryers, wood floors) which seemed not to exist in Tunisia. I had a few Tunisian friends at the Internet cafe around the corner, and my Eastern European roommates — Ozzie and Petr — were good guys, though I had difficulty connecting with them at first. One reason for this was that I got up early for Arabic class and they stayed up late partying, drinking cheap Tunisian beer, and playing hair metal at the highest volume Petr’s tinny laptop speakers could bear.
For over half a century, Alexander Goehr has been one of England’s most important composers, an avant-garde musician whose varied (and often challenging) body of work has been championed by luminaries including Pierre Boulez, Simon Rattle, Daniel Barenboim and Jacqueline de Pré.
Goehr’s manuscripts have recently been acquired by the music archive of Berlin’s Akademie der Künste. On January 26, Ultraschall, Berlin’s festival for new music (which ran this year from January 21 to 30) feted him with a composer portrait.
Goehr was born in 1932 into a remarkably musical Jewish Berlin family. His father, the conductor Walter Goehr, championed the music of Monteverdi and Messiaen and also wrote the score to David Lean’s “Great Expectations” and conducted for several of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s films. Both Walter and his brother, Rudolph, a composer of popular music in Paris, took master classes in Berlin with Arnold Schoenberg at the Prussian Academy of Arts. Alexander’s mother, Laelia, was a classically trained pianist. (The family’s accomplishments continue with Goehr’s daughter Lydia, a philosophy professor at Columbia University, who writes extensively about philosophy and music.)
Contemporary American composers have few able defenders, and once out of sight, composers are often forgotten, so it is good to have a biographical tribute, out in November, from University of Rochester Press to Leon Kirchner, who died in 2009 at age 90.
“Leon Kirchner: Composer, Performer, & Teacher” by Robert Riggs recounts the life and work of the Brooklyn-born composer, whose father, Samuel Kirzner, was an embroiderer from Odessa. As Kirchner wrote in a lapidary 1970 essay, the elder Kirzner was:
[a] prodigy. By the age of fourteen [Kirzner] had embroidered an elaborate gown for the Czarina… There were pogroms. He came to America in a cattle boat.
Kirchner’s own works, from those for solo piano (see video below) to his scandalously overlooked and still-unrecorded 1977 opera “Lily,” based on Saul Bellow’s “Henderson the Rain King,” continue in the family tradition of stern attention to detail. Uncompromising thorniness is a hallmark of many Kirchner compositions, and indeed a source of their integrity and strength, as one would expect after his studies with Arnold Schoenberg and Ernest Bloch, two great Jewish composers who would never be confused with the Sunshine Boys.
“Casino Jack,” the Jack Abramoff biopic starring Kevin Spacey, opens today. Read our review from the Toronto International Film Festival here.
Joshua Furst bugs out at an Icelandic adaptation of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” featuring music by Nick Cave.
Jo-Ann Mort reads through two of the Arab world’s pre-eminent poets.
Gordon Haber investigates one of New York’s biggest wheeler-dealers.
Philologos tests the waters.
Earlier this week, Avi Steinberg wrote about Kafka in Tel Aviv and shared a horribly embarrassing memo. His first book, “Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian,” was just released. His blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series, please visit:
Winter Fridays in Jewish day school were the moments that made you proud to be of Israelite stock. I speak, of course, of early dismissal. Shabbes starts early, really early, and so the school day ends up being just a class or two in the morning — and one of those classes is Hebrew, which totally doesn’t count. For the uninitiated, Hebrew class in Jewish schools, at least where I went, is taught by some churlish Israeli mom who reeks of cigarette smoke and has neither the qualification nor the slightest inclination to teach the language. Typically, she would use Friday’s early dismissal as an excuse to whip out the accordion and have a sing-a-long.
I mention this by way of introduction. While I cannot offer you an accordion sing-a-long, I will, in honor of the great Jewish tradition of early Friday dismissal, be relatively brief.
Avi Steinberg’s first book, “Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian,” is now available. His blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series, please visit:
I was on a roll with my manuscript, a prison library memoir, of all things, and then Kafka rolled into my life. Or rather, I rolled into his. At about the time I was finishing up my final edits for “Running the Books” — my fledgling first book — my life fell into the abyss described by the good Dr. Kafka:
“What are you building?” asks the man.
“I want to dig a subterranean passage,” the second man shouts back. And continues, “Some progress must be made. My station up there is way too high. We are digging the Pit of Babel.”
Directly under every proud edifice, under every act of creative ambition, is a pit that will — that must! — take the mission in precisely the opposite direction. My pit was, appropriately, located in Tel Aviv.
The L.A. Times explores Jordan’s premiere destination for banned books.
The Wire creator David Simon talks about his father Bernard Simon, a “professional Jew” and the public relations director of B’nai B’rith for more than 20 years.
New York’s Kehila Kedosha Janina is the last Greek synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.
Philip Glass is writing a new opera based on Franz Kafka’s “The Trial.”
Michael Goldfarb celebrates the Man Booker Prize win by English Jewish novelist Howard Jacobson.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences plans on giving an honorary Oscar to Jean-Luc Godard. But will they be honoring an anti-Semite? Benjamin Ivry investigates.
Fifty years after his initial rise to fame, novelty songwriter Allan Sherman is as popular as ever. Mark Cohen explains why.
Ilan Stavans goes to see “Nora’s Will,” a Mexican film that won seven Ariel awards.
Gordon Haber critiques a documentary about March of the Living.
From the looks of the Brooklyn Book Festival, you’d guess we were a far better read country than we are. But then, this borough is skewed: The one letter that prevents its name from being Booklyn is either adventitious or bashert. Brooklyn’s bookish populace loves dropping that “r,” and even as rain spat on their fun on Sunday, the literature festival seemed larger and livelier than ever before.
With 200 authors, 175 vendors and 20 venues where panels, readings and general literary deliciousness could be consumed, there were many noteworthy events — too many to even attend. There were zines to browse, thick spectacles to covet, and even Venus Williams was there hawking a book. Borough Hall’s steps grew wet, but the die-hards opened a wall of umbrellas to shield themselves for Sarah Silverman and David Rakoff.
A scrum of Israeli lawyers and Swiss bank clerks crowded a Zurich bank vault recently, after a Tel Aviv family court ordered the opening of four safe deposit boxes belonging to the heirs of Max Brod’s secretary containing manuscripts by Franz Kafka.
A similar crowd had already visited safe deposit boxes in a Tel Aviv bank vault with the same mission. Among the inspectors was a Swiss-born Israeli literary scholar, Itta Shedletzky, who has been reductively described in the world media as a “Kafka specialist.” Shedletzky, who moved to Israel as a teenager in 1962, is that and much more.
After earning a Ph.D. in German Jewish literature and history at Hebrew University, Shedletzky worked as research assistant for the eminent scholars Jacob Katz, author of the classic “Tradition and Crisis: Jewish Society at the End of the Middle Ages,” available from NYU Press, and Uriel Tal, author of “Religion, Politics and Ideology in the Third Reich: Selected Essays” from Routledge Books.