Although it is somehow not dominating the news cycle, there is a battle of epic proportions raging! The contested treasures are the manuscripts of Franz Kafka–yes, the very ones that he asked his buddy Max Brod to burn after his death. Dude clearly knew what was coming.

These manuscripts are hot shit. Among the clambering parties is the National Library of Israel, claiming that Kafka’s work is among “cultural assets belonging to the Jewish people.” On the other side are the daughters of Esther Hoffe, Brod’s secretary-lover-heir (the classic triple-threat), who want to sell the papers by weight, probably to the German Literary Archive. The Independent has a good summary of the hijinks.

The dispute has been going on for a while, and will probably go on for quite a lot longer. It made news again recently when Judith Butler subjected it to her monstrous powers of analysis in a great (in quality and magnitude) speech called “Who Owns Kafka?”, kicking off the London Review of Books Winter Lectures. Butler’s talk explores Israel’s claim to the manuscripts—and to representation of Jewish culture—and the conflicting interests born of Kafka’s multifarious cultural heritage:

…those forms of profit-making that exploit even the most anti-instrumental forms of art, and those forms of nationalism that seek to appropriate even the modes of writing that most rigorously resist them.

Read it if you have a few hours to spend meditating on the fate and uses of art in an embattled global free market. And make sure you leave your oeuvre to a buddy who you can trust to burn it.


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