Kafka’s literary work includes short stories and many fragments thereof, three unfinished novels, diaries and correspondence. Kafka was only satisfied with a few works of his to the extent that he would agree to having them published. He only published at the insistence of his friends and even this was not very frequent. He burned many manuscripts before his death and demanded that all that he could not destroy himself would be destroyed on his behalf. It was Max Brod, Kafka’s friend, who facilitated the posthumous publication of his works, first by the Schocken Publishers in Berlin, then by the Mercy Publishers in Prague, and even later, expanded by new findings and deciphered fragments by the Schocken Publishers in New York and concurrently also by the S. Fischer Publishing House in Frankfurt, Germany.
The majority of Franz Kafka’s manuscripts were preserved within his family who handed it over over to Max Brod, who also received manuscripts form Milena Jesenská and possessed some from earlier times. The family only had Kafka’s letters addressed to the family members. Brod did not have access to letters written to Felice Bauer, who had entrusted them to the Schockner Publishers in New York five years before her death in the United States. Similarly, Brod did not have access to manuscripts from Kafka’s early years, which had remained in the possession of Dora Diamant. In 1933 they were seized by the Gestapo and have been unaccounted for since. When in 1939 Brod was fleeing Prague to escape from the Nazis, he took most of Kafka’s manuscripts to Palestine. What remained in the possession of his family in Prague included letters to family members and the manuscript of the Letter to His Father and The Metamorphosis, Willy Haase’s relatives kept Letters to Milena that Milena Jesenská deposited at Haase’s in 1939. After World War II, Brod deposited most of the Kafka’s estate he had in his holding to the Schockner Library Archive in Tel Aviv. Later, during the Suez Crisis, it was transferred to the safety of a Swiss bank and in 1961 handed over to Kafka’s niece, Marianna Steiner in London, who entrusted it to the care of the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Some of Kafka’s manuscripts remained at Brod’s collaborator, Esther Hoffe. Brod had given several minor manuscripts to his friends and collaborators.
For the maximalist that Kafka was, writing represented his struggle for achieving the highest possible goals, a struggle against the impossible. This is the source of Kafka’s incessant dissatisfaction with almost everything he had written, why there are so many short and longer opening passages that he never followed up, and why his work is so fragmentary. This is the reason for weeks and months of vain struggle without any results and so much waiting for the right moment. And then euphoric periods of incredible exertion and productivity. This is the origin of strict criteria applied to works of others’. Writing was his salvation and damnation at the same time, once a sweet reward, at another time serving the devil, a source of strength and torment, happiness and despair, an obstacle on his life’s journey as well as a refuge at the times of hopelessness and defeats.
Throughout his life, Kafka’s writing consisted of a succession of fertile and futile periods, times of ability and disability to write, short periods of relative satisfaction and long periods of despair over what he had and hadn’t written, marked by crossing out and destroying texts that he rejected. Scholars interpreting Kafka’s works often find it difficult to find reasons that may have led Kafka to reject certain passages or even whole works. Later editors often printed crossed-out passages as addenda to texts he had not rejected. Writing was for Kafka not only an existential need, but also a subject of incessant reflection.
Franz Kafka did not consider himself a writer. He referred to writers as literary professionals who write regularly or even make a living by writing. He admired such writers, at least outwardly. He would always refer to his literary output as “writing.” Writing without practical goals, the act of writing rather than the result, soon became a primal, deeply rooted urge. Gradually, it replaced or suppressed other goals that he had striven for in his life as well: success at work, marriage, starting a family, having a child. As his nature, his sense of duty and inability to take risks alongside his regard for his family with whom he lived in close contact for his entire life did not allow him to leave his job, he was forced to lead a double life, split between the office and writing, which was a source of permanent torment.
In the office, Kafka stood out for his anxious dutifulness and the diligent fulfilment of his duties. The preserved documents he had written attest to his work as a model clerk. Although his diaries and letters reveal that the office was a burden and an obstacle for him, this was not due to the work in the office, but rather due to the fact that his office work prevented him from engaging in the activity that he soon determined to be his main, and later when his hopes fell through, his life’s only task: writing.
Only a few works were published during Kafka’s lifetime. In many cases Brod had to fight Kafka to convince him to publish his works. Only very rarely did Kafka indicate his satisfaction with his work. This was the case of The Judgment. He even had reservations for works, including The Metamorphosis, that critics had spoken highly of from its first publication.
Franz Kafka died more than ninety years ago. Despite this, and as a rare phenomenon in world literature, his work remains in the centre of vivid interest of readership in different parts of the world. Particularly, young generations keep discovering Kafka again and again. What do they find in him? There are many answers to this question. Briefly speaking, it introduces them to the world in which they live, a world in which they cannot rely on old certainties, in which the belief in constant progress has disappointed them; to the world, which corrodes traditional human societies, drives individuals into solitude, causes them to feel guilty as well as a desire to break through their isolation and become part of a new society that reflects the times, to find in it a spiritual home and the order of living and dying. Kafka’s work consists of incessant expeditions seeking a renewal of the lost strengths or finding new ones, which cemented and maintained meaningful human communities. Although in Kafka’s works these expeditions have a tragic ending, they encourage unyieldingness and shed perhaps even brighter light into the spiritual worries of the time that is still ours.