Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Writers Born Today - Franz Kafka

It's the birthday of Franz Kafka, born on July 3rd 1883 in Prague, now part of the Czech Republic. He produced disturbing fiction centered on alienation and psychological torture, and his protagonist often faced a bizarre bureaucracy which worked against him without explanation or guidance. One of his stories, The Metamorphisis, tells the tale of a man who awakes to find he has changed into an enormous insect. It's theme of isolation and eventual death was described by W.H Auden as "the predicament of modern man". Gabriel Garcia Marquez credited this story as inspiration for his decision to pursue a writing career. In an interview he stated "When I read the line I thought to myself that I didn't know anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago. So I immediately started writing short stories."

During his lifetime Kafka published little, but after his death he became one of the most influential novelists of the 20th century. Kafka burned much of his writing while still alive but fortunately his friend, Max Brod, ignored Kafka's request that the rest of his writings be destroyed.

His best known novel, The Trial, tells of the arrest of a man who is never informed what charges have been placed against him. Without this knowledge he is unable to defend himself against a faceless organization that leaves him in a state of ignorance and limbo. Its opening line is one of the most
famous and frightening in all of literature. "Someone must have been spreading lies about Josef K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one morning." It eerily foresaw the rise of the 1930s show trials in Stalin's Russia and Nazi Germany which destroyed countless innocent lives, many of whom were convicted on rumors and false confessions that were extracted by torture. His novels were banned in his native land until 1989. The Trial was made into a movie by Orson Welles in 1962 starring Anthony Perkins.

So well known is his style that his name has entered the lexicon as a description of inescapable obstacles created by an unknown entity. The word Kafkaesque is thus defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary:  having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality <Kafkaesque bureaucratic delays>