Legal action over Franz Kafka's works


I read a really interesting, if short, article in the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday that I thought other people might interesting. I discovered that when Kafka passed away, he entrusted all his manuscripts to his friend Max Brod to destroy upon his death.

Mr Brod did not, however, destroy them as requested. Instead he kept them and published them. Mr Brod then bequeathed them to his secretary Esther Hoffe. The original documents were left in the vaults of Swiss Bank UBS for safekeeping.

Now there is a legal action over who holds ownership rights to the documents. Brod fled the Nazi regime in 1939, and emigrated to Israel. As a result, Israel are claiming they the documents are the property of the state of Israel. On the other hand, Esther Hoffe's sisters are now saying that they hold ownership rights of the documents since their sister Esther passed away.

Two things strike me about this scenario:

The first, is just how 'Bold and the Beautiful-esque' this seems. It seems so surreal to think that there is crazy battle over ownership between a country and two women who are so far removed from Kafka himself.

The second thing is this; I can't help but wonder what Kafka himself would make of it. He is often thought of as one of the most talented writers there has ever been. Metamorphosis is often described as one of the most brilliant pieces of literature ever written. And yet here we are in 2010, having a soap opera worthy legal battle over ownership of original manuscripts that Kafka wanted destroyed.

What do you think Kafka would make of this?

Do you think that we should still read the works that were posthumously published, knowing that he didn't want this?

12 comments

  1. I think he would be mortified. He didn't want his works published- although I'm heartily glad Max Brod did so- I don't think Kafka would approve at all.

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  2. I agree he would be mortified.

    He gave express directions that were ignored as to what he wanted to have happen.

    I don't quite get why the fact that Max Brod moved to Israel gives that country rights to the documents.

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  3. I agree with the other two comments. How angry would you be that someone you trusted ignored your dying wish and then profited from it? and now other people are trying to claim what was yours, as their own? Disgusting.

    This, to me, is the same as when someone contests a persons will and the judge grants this. It makes me SO MAD to think that your will is basically worthless and that any long lost family members can come in and take something you didn't want them to have. The legal system doesn't makes sense to me.

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  4. If I was Kafka, I would start haunting people. First the lawyers of Israel, because the country just looks greedy trying to get their hands on the manuscript, then those sisters, then the security people at the Swiss bank...

    Yep.

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  5. I can't help it, how Kafkaesque! Usually, I think that every person involved in a suit like this, but this one takes the cake. How in the heck does Israel justify their ownership? A country?

    I do feel bad that his wishes were not followed. On the other hand, if you don't want your writings getting out, maybe you should just do the job yourself? Burning them comes to mind.

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  6. Good question. I wonder what Kalfa would have made of this? Great bugs and soap operas somehow don’t mix - lol.

    Love your blog. I’m adding it to my Google Reader right now.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog.
    Melissa

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  7. I can't get past the thought that he wanted all his manuscripts destroyed and now there's a legal battle over ownership.

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  8. I feel sad about this in much the same way that I feel sad about how Theodore Geisel's wife commercialized all his stuff after his death -- though I'm not positive, I've gotten the impression that he was against this.

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  9. I think there's an argument to be made that, as a public figure, his genius was quasi-public property--a treasure belonging to the whole of humanity. The real tragedy here is that, whatever the value of the works themselves, I assure you that at least half of that value (and probably much more) will wind up in the pockets of the lawyers involved. A case like this is a shark feeding frenzy straight out of The Old Man and the Sea. And that, I'm fairly certain, would not be looked upon favorably by Kafka.

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  10. He'd be mortified, I reckon. If he didn't want his works published, one should respect that.

    Similar thing with JD Salinger and Catcher in the Rye. Ever since he's passed away, I've been reading journalists speculating on two things:
    1. Would any of his unpublished works now be published
    2. When will the movie for Catcher in the Rye be released

    Both questions depress me greatly, for Salinger didn't want any of that. He'd been rejecting movie offers for Catcher in the Rye for ages!

    Sorry to hijack your post, but it seemed to be in the same vein....

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  11. I think that Kafka's final wishes should have been honored. These manuscripts should not be published!

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  12. i strongly believe that Kaafka's wish should have been honored. first by his frient to whom he entrasted the manuscript and also but now also by those who are fighting over it. but do have to say i wonder what the manuscript is about, why did he want it distroyed?

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