By Jean Montalbetti
Literary magazine n° 198
1983. Whole Europe celebrates the centenary of Kafka. In Paris, a conference is devoted to him to the Sorbonne. But Prague, city whose Kafka is indissociable, continuous to regard it as a declining author, of which proscire is needed work and the memory.
“It seemed to to me that the nature of works of Kafka is such that it is likely to make of him the completely frightening civil servant of the Castle which he describes (…) It is the humour which prevents Kafka from becoming this monument petrified and risen by the mass of interpretations that one brings.”
Our younger centenary, Franz Kafka, is dpuis some thirty-five years become universal. Author of German language, pertaining to a Jewish family established in Bohemia, young Czech at the end of monarchy austro-Hungarian woman of François-Joseph and Charles, citizen of the Czechoslovakian Republic of Masaryk since 1918 until his death on June 3, 1924, Kafka is before a whole indissociable writer of Prague. Its life was narrowly registered in a topography which goes from the Place of the Old City, dominated by the two turns of Tyn, with the castle of Hradcany – still today seat and symbol of the temporal power – which dominates Prague over other bank of Vltava, while passing by the dark lanes of Mala Strana at the end of the Bridge Charles. Its education, it received it with the German gymnasium installed in the very beautiful building baroque of the Kinsky Palate where his/her father, Hermann Kafka, transferred in 1906 his trade from innovations. Balcony of this same Kinsky Palate, on the Place of the Old City where was set up the statue of the Czech reformer Jan Hus sharp flaring on oredre of the Council of Constancy, Klément Gottwalt proclaimed the Blow of Prague on February 21, 1948 in full cold war.
America had just appeared in Prague in Czech translation, first volume of what was to be an edition of complete works in ten volumes. Gottwald gave the order to put America at the rammer. Franz Kafka was proscribed of Prague for ten years and some of its defenders knew the Stalinist prisons. Fifteen years after Germany hitlérienne, the verdict was the same one from Berlin 33 in Prague 48: this declining author was to be flaring.
Some French intellectuals baited themselves to change the course of the literary history: Andre Breton who placed Kafka in his Anthology of the black humour, Albert Camus which published in 1943 a text on the Hope and the absurdity in the work of Franz Kafka included in the Myth of Sisyphus, Jean-Paul Sartre who drew also Kafka on the side of the existentialism, Maurice Blanchot more kafkaïen of our writers and Marthe Robert. But the first translator and introducer of Kafka in France were Alexandre Vialatte who published the Lawsuit in Paris in 1933 at the time when Berlin proscribed “the declining Jew”.
Will the year of centenary make it possible Kafka to know the amnesty? 1983 are marked by many demonstrations, conferences, exposures, whose blow of sending was from the 16 to May 19 the international Symposium Kafka in Vienna. Italy did to it his in Bari. Will follow Mainz for FRG, Montreal, Such Aviv, Paris this month.
And In Prague? July 3 a small group of admirors went to the cemetery of Strachnitz in the suburbs of Prague. In the medium of a nature in waste land, among the abandoned tombs of
Jewish families exterminated during the war, this bunch of anonymities came to place a crown of flowers against the drawn up stone of the burial where Franz Kafka was buried on June 11, 1924 and where his/her parents were buried a few years later. There the Jews have habit to deposit on the edge of the tombs a small stone of the memory. One can see several hundreds of them in front of the memorial of Dr. Franz Kafka. The University Charles of Prague – one of oldest of Europe -, the Union of the Czechoslovakian Writers, continue, them, to be unaware of Kafka whose Czech poet Urzidil wrote: “Kafka, it was Prague and Prague, it was Kafka”.
How Prague can it ignore at this point its history? This traditional hearth several cultures and, in this first half of the century, not of meeting of the avant-gardes in literature as in painting. One forgot one of the cries of revolt of Kafka in his Newspaper: “All that isn’t literature annoys me and causes my hatred”? Claude David, in his foreword with the complete Works published in the Pleiad, underlines it with accuracy: “the world of Kafka is unaware of the conflicts of opinion, nations, races, it is unaware of the war, in the time even where it takes place. It is often oppressive but it shows violence little. Loneliness is heavier there than the collective constraint. The fabulous worlds that the daydream of Kafka causes are not drawn with the resemblance of ours.” See in Kafka a painter of the communist company or capitalism at the last stage of its contradictions is to make a realistic writer of it. Milan Kundera, itself novelist pragois, prefers to draw it on the side of Jaroslav Hacek, towards the spirit of not-serious and from humour pragois. It is probably as was interpreted the first chapter of the Lawsuit, and one believes max Brod of them. As for Kafka, he writes in his been engaged Felice Bauer, after a reading at max Brod of the Metamorphosis of Gregoire Samsa which awakes one morning in vermin: “We spent a good moment and we laughed much.”
The existential anguish of Kafka recorded by the Newspaper and transmitted by the correspondence, its conflict with the father in filigree of the bright Verdict then in the Letter with the father, his professional subjection, the development of a serious illness with a pulmonary tuberculosis diagnosed in 1917, should not make us forget the extraordinary vitality of Kafka, its corrosive humour, the play impassioned of imaginary engaged in a perpetual production of strange images intended to put in very logical rout and to subvert the rational one. Albert Camus and Maurice Blanchot see there one and the other a religious inspiration which according to Camus gives him a universal dimension and according to Blanchot marks the revenge of God-death: “Dead, it is only more terrible, more invulnerable, in a combat where there is no more possibility of overcoming.”
The psychologist and novelist of Austrian origin Manès Sperber, which read the first texts of German Kafka in Vienna in the Twenties, entrusted to me that Kafka would be surprised today place that one lends to him. Goldstücker known as of Kafka which it was “Verdun of the years of Cold war”. It is perhaps time to leave side the political, sociological, psychoanalytical grids of the work of Kafka, to make on the level reading a work as new as that undertaken by Malcolm Pasley on the manuscripts of the Bodléienne Library of Oxford for the scientific establishment of the texts such as they were written by Franz Kafka. This would make it possible to return Kafka to the literature, after one half-century an animated turning of 1933 to 1983. It would be after all a pretty gift for one centenary. Happy birthday Mr Kafka.
Discussion with Edouard Goldstücker, the saver of Kafka
Kafka knew in Prague a small decade of respite, continuations of the 20E Congrès of the PCUS at summer 68. Edouard Goldstücker was the principal craftsman of this literary thaw which enabled him to organize in Czechoslovakia, in Liblice in 1963, the first international conference Kafka. He was then a director of the Institute of the Germanic studies at the University Charles. He lives today in exile in England and sign at the University of Brighton. Met in Vienna, it testifies fifteen years afterwards on the ostracism whose Kafka is victim in Prague since 1948.
– Between 1948 and 1957, no book of Kafka was published nor any criticism on its work. One regarded Kafka as a prototype of the destroying decline, especially near youth. By là-même, it was an author who did not have a place in a company building socialism. This is why it was removed. You should not forget that during the years of cold war Kafka was used against the Soviet Union and the people’s democracies while being presented as the prophet who had predicted and described the bureaucracy of the Stalinist world. Myself I was communist since 1933. From 1951 at the end of 1955 I was held in prison. Released, I am turned over to the University at the time of the 20E Congrès. It is only after that that one could mention in public the name of Kafka without having to use a pejorative epithet.
– In 1962-1963 it ya have in the USSR the era khrouchtchévienne of cultural release with the publication ofOne Day of Ivan Denissovitch. Did Kafka profit from it in Prague?
– In 1962 I was invited to make a conference at the University of Moscow on the writers pragois of the Xxe century. I spoke about Kafka. The first question that one posed to me was: “do you Regard Kafka as realistic-critical?” If I had answered yes, that wanted to say that from my point of view it was acceptable for the official line. I understood that in the University one tried to save Kafka. It is at this time that I organized a committee of the Germanists of all the Universities of Czechoslovakia and I proposed to them to join together a symposium on Kafka with the specialists Marxists. We put under discussion at this conference of Liblice in 1963 the cogency of the charge carried against Kafka: was it, yes or not, a pessimist susceptitble to have a harmful influence on the company building socialism? The result was that after Liblice one authorized the publication of the work of Kafka in Czech translation. Thus were published in Prague in five years: The Lawsuit, the Castle, Description of a combat and a collection of accounts just as the biography written by max Brod.
– the Castle has for topic impossibility of being made adopt and by the authorities and the population in a country where one is felt like foreigner. That was often the case of the Jews in Europe. Is this the Jew which was proscribed of Prague, where since 1968 one cannot find any book of Kafka, even not in the libraries?
– Certainly after the occupation of Prague in August 1968, there was in the attitude of the authorities with regard to Kafka a specific element of anti-semitism.
– When one carries out a survey in Prague, one ends up knowing the semi-official charge retained against Kafka. It is proscribed like “Zionist”. Is this there a confusion between the convictions of Kafka and those of max Brod?
– You must include/understand the official language. When one tells you “Zionist”, it is necessary to hear “Jewish”. It is only one euphemism of the anti-semitism.
In literary magazine n° 198 – September 1983