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Who Owns Kafka? (2011) (lrb.co.uk)
37 points by djoldman 73 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 17 comments



> What no one could have predicted, however, is that a trial would eventually take place after Esther’s death in which her daughters, Eva and Ruth, would claim that no one needs to inventory the materials and that the value of the manuscripts should be determined by their weight – quite literally, by what they weigh. As one of the attorneys representing Hoffe’s estate explained: ‘If we get an agreement, the material will be offered for sale as a single entity, in one package. It will be sold by weight … They’ll say: “There’s a kilogram of papers here, the highest bidder will be able to approach and see what’s there.” The National Library [of Israel] can get in line and make an offer, too.’

That's a very strange auction strategy. You would think that a proper cataloguing would increase the amount you would earn, and it could be done by a hired gun for cheap (since Kafka experts would clamor for access). From a game theory perspective, refusal to disclose contents should, by the 'unraveling' argument, drastically lower the value of the papers to rational bidders since it is a strong indication that the contents are worth a lot less than prospective bidders previously estimated before the refusal (since if the contents were as valuable or more valuable, the owners would have incentive to reveal to ensure the price or raise it; absence of evidence is evidence of absence).

One possibility is that they are counting on bidders being irrational and desperate, in which case refusing to disclose keeps valuations irrationally high and exploits the winner's curse; possibly the strategy here is to make the Israeli National Library overpay because it is committed by ethnonationalism to pay whatever price necessary, and revealing the contents risks either public criticism of the National Library overpaying or scaring away other bidders as they learn the papers are boring & losing leverage over the National Library.


>In 1988 she sold the manuscript of The Trial for $2 million, at which point it became clear that one could turn quite a profit from Kafka

To some, $2 million would be a bargain for, say, a new Kafka novel.

The conspiracy theorist side of me has often wondered whether maybe Kafka did it intentionally. Intentionally left his novels unfinished, intentionally started a legend that he requested them to be destroyed unpublished, etc. It would certainly resonate with the tones and themes that permeate his works. Perhaps he himself realized that no ending could possibly suit a novel like "The Castle" better than the unfinished lack-of-ending he gave it, which makes our hearts yearn so strongly for an ending, and which is such a great parallel with the futility of the novel itself.


You have it exactly backwards; Kafka was one of those artists who can only perceive the flaws, not the qualities, of their artwork. He was ashamed and wanted to be forgotten by history.


For the curious, this trial was eventually resolved in favour of Israel's national library, on the grounds that this was Max Brod's instructions in his will:

"But Judge Kopelman Pardo rejected Ms. Hoffe’s claim that the papers were a gift from Mr. Brod to her mother, instead viewing them as a trust she was to administer. The judge noted that Mr. Brod’s 1948 will instructed that his archive go to a “public Jewish library or archive in Palestine,” and that he later specified Hebrew University, where Israel’s national library is housed."

https://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/15/world/middleeast/woman-mu...


Not very related to the article, but I'd like to get some opinions from HN community (if I may). I've read quite a few books and short stories of Kafka (I think all(?) his novels and some short stories like The Metamorphisis, A Report to an Academy) but most of them were really struggling readings for me and some incomplete (I never got to the very end of The Trial). His short stories, I read cover to cover in one sitting, and they were very enjoyable readings. I also read Amerika (his first novel) cover to cover pretty fast and it was very enjoyable too. His other works, I find very challenging for reasons unknown to me. Kafka has a certain literary style that feels very enjoyable, reading it gives me so much joy, so it's definitely not that I didn't like them. It's also definitely not boredom, some Kafkaesque "exaggeratedly long" scenes were pretty interesting and reminds me of Tarantino (not that there is any direct artistic resemblance, it just gives me similar type of enjoyment). Deeper ideas argued in novels are also interesting, and I like reading other authors trying to express similar ideas. But overall, reading Kafka is for some reason really hard for me. It takes too long relative other books I read, I lose focus very easily and it eternally feels like I'm missing some pieces of both the plot and the artistic structure etc... I also read authors that have been major inspiration to Kafka like Dostoevsky and never had the same problem. Did anyone else have this problem? I'd like to hear some tips from literary folks here to help me read Kafka better.

EDIT: As absurd as it sounds, I had similar feelings when reading his letters to Milena. I read that book twice, it's one of those books I really like but I had similar problems mentioned above.


Well, none of the novels were complete at the time of his death, and his intention was that they be destroyed. (This is also true of a bit over half of his short stories, though.) Given this, their narrative structure is shaky. Kafka is also much less verbose than your typical novelist, so you can't really skim his works like you would a normal novel. There's also a lot of ambiguity--there are definitely levels of symbolism and religious allegory, but the allegories are unclear if not contradictory.

I think the best thing is to just take your time--all of Kafka's prose writing can fit in less than a thousand pages, so there's no reason to try to fly through it. Treat it like a nice liquor--just a taste at the bottom of the glass, not the whole bottle. And all works benefit from rereading, but his especially.


He only did three novels, so you've already finished 1/3 of them.

The Castle: The only difficulty here is some conversations take forever (probably because they were never revised). I'd suggest just plowing through them the first time, your eyes might glaze over and you'll miss stuff in them but it's ok, you can pick more stuff up on later readings. I've read The Castle many times and I still pick up new stuff from it.

The Trial: There's really only one chapter that's difficult, the penultimate chapter set in the cathedral. You could literally just skip it, if you're having trouble with it. You'll miss some self-contained goodies like "Before The Law", but you can always come back later. It has been said that except for the first and last chapters, most chapters in The Trial can be rearranged and read in whatever order you like. I seem to recall someone even created some sort of physical version of the book where you could literally swap chapters around.


The Castle, I really liked, much more than The Trial, but I couldn't finish that either. I don't exactly recall where was I stuck but I remember literally struggling to read as if studying Algorithms or Machine Learning. I read it both in English and German with similar difficulty.

The Trial was the only thing I read from Kafka that I found kinda meh and boring-ish, again made it a bit more than half way. I tried reading The Trial at least 3 times, maybe more, with same faith every time. (I eventually learned its ending in a literature class, but given other works of Kafka, it was very predictable). I'll give it a shot again and maybe skip chapters where I lose focus and come back later.


I can't help you with Kafka specifically, but when I encounter this problem with art that I suspect is worthwhile but that I am personally failing to engage with, I've found it rewarding to read up on some critical theory analysis. This expands on elements I might not be catching on to and can open new ways of engaging with the work. Often it's my own expectations being challenged, and it can take some work to understand how to engage with it and how it's doing the "work" that it does.

If you're looking for entertainment value then this advice doesn't necessarily apply.


This is a very good idea and I suspect is why I love Russian Literature so much since I took Russian Literature classes in college and read critical analysis of prominent authors. I'll definitely try this, thanks!


The main reason why it's hard for me to finish his works is how deeply they emotionally resonate with my life and the world I see.


have you tried audiobooks? i find listening to a difficult book read well really opens it up for me. makes it easier for me to understand and follow.


Also interesting but unrelated: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apache_Kafka

dgllghr 73 days ago [flagged]

At first glance I thought the answer was going to be LinkedIn...


Quoting from Apache Kafka's wiki page

> According to a Quora post from 2014, Kreps chose to name the software after the author Franz Kafka because it is "a system optimized for writing", and he liked Kafka's work Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apache_Kafka


For those who were confused as the parent was, this is about the ownership of Franz Kafka, the writer's, original writings.

"LinkedIn's" Kafka is open sourced under Apache and has been for a long time.


Yeah, I wondered if there was some new controversy I wasn't aware of...




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