Saturday, December 4

Kafka’s latest unpublished comes with ‘The drawings’ | Culture

One of Kafka's unpublished drawings, on a loose leaf, dated between 1901 and 1907.
One of Kafka’s unpublished drawings, on a loose leaf, dated between 1901 and 1907.Ardon Bar-Hama

He is a writer, but it is difficult for him to find the words. How to describe the way we were going in the dream! (…) Wait, I’ll draw it for you. Go arm in arm is like this [dibujo]. We, on the other hand, went like this [dibujo]”. It’s Franz Kafka in a 1913 letter to his girlfriend, Felice Bauer. “You must know that long ago I was a great draftsman (…) At that time, many years have passed, those drawings satisfied me more than anything else,” he confesses a few lines later. The author of The transformation He was already drawing before writing, in 1901, and he did it a lot, until almost the last day of his life, in 1924; in any space (loose leaves, ornate manuscripts, a notebook, postcards, margins of legal books …) and with a peculiar style, but according to his literary work. Almost two-thirds of those drawings were the last remaining great unpublished by Kafka, 63 years resting in a safe in a Zurich bank that now, together with the 41 that were already known, come to light to add the 163 that make up The drawings, an international co-edition of seven countries that publishes in Spain Galaxia Gutenberg.

It is surprising how the author cultivated this facet because he argued that Jews were not painters: “We do not know how to represent things in a static way. We always see them flowing, in movement, as change ”. But the truth is that Kafka began to draw at the same time as to write: between 1901 and 1907 he did so intensely and with artistic ambition, especially during his time at the German University of Prague, where he took drawing classes and was a regular at the Art History courses.

But if he was harsh with his writing, he was even more inflexible with his illustrations. The artistic side of this other Kafka has, of course, Kafkaesque overtones. Different, in his drawings mostly human figures seem fragile, enigmatic, disturbing, daughters of few lines, where sometimes some animal trait appears. They are in “an unusual suspension and movement, freed from the force of gravity; they challenge the kinesthetic coordination of the parts of the body ”: they seem disoriented and lack coordination, or intentional movement, argues the philosopher Judith Butler in one of the texts included in the book. It is not unusual for heads (or the circles that represent them) to be separated from a body, often with extremely long limbs.

Kafka's drawing, between 1901 and 1907, in which he noted:
Kafka’s drawing, between 1901 and 1907, in which he wrote: “Arrogance of wealth.” Ardon Bar-Hama

“Like his writing, his drawing is closely linked to his time, it is expressionist and thus addresses the body: the bodily situation, posture is already very important in his novels; This can be seen, in the unpublished sketchbook, in the variations he makes on a fighter, perhaps inspired by The Borghese Warrior”, Quotes Joan Tarrida, director of Galaxia Gutenberg. Following in the wake of the study by the Swiss Andreas Kilcher, who also incorporates the volume, which reaches 356 pages, the influence of Japanese art and his calligraphy can be traced in Kafka’s illustrations: very black and wide lines, made as if it were with brush.

As in his written production, humor also appears, but “the grotesque comes from the bodily difference … Everything seems to indicate that he drew in fits”, indicates Tarrida, pointing to a drawing upside down, reproduced as it was in the notebook: “I don’t know I checked whether it was on the right or the wrong side or on the side… ”, he points out when faced with some illustrations that have been reproduced, getting as close as possible to the real size and without cropping.

Pick up from the bins

The survival of the drawings also deserves the adjectival of the author’s surname. Kafka specified in his famous 1921 will in which he asks his executor and friend Max Brod to destroy both his texts … and his drawings. He ignored her on that either. What’s more, Brod had dedicated himself to collecting those Kafka was throwing away from the bins, while he asked him to give him the pages smeared with his drawings. And he even started clipping from the author’s law books. The castle the margins that the writer sowed with his drawings, “in a kind of carnival contrast to legal content,” says Kilcher.

Brod, on a very hard journey fleeing from the Nazis from Prague in 1939, brought the entire legacy of his friend, who died in 1924, to Palestine. There he left the part of the writer’s two nieces who had survived the Holocaust and who over the years they would end, in 1961, depositing in the Bodleian library of Oxford. This is where a good part of the 41 Kafka drawings known to date come from. The executor kept his share in a Tel Aviv bank. But when the Suez Canal crisis broke out in 1956, fearing the disappearance of the State of Israel, he moved everything to four safes in a Zurich bank, today UBS. Brod later ended up bequeathing his share to his secretary, Ilse Ester Hoffe.

Both Hoffe and Brod always put obstacles to its exhibition and publication. “Brod had cut and manipulated them and, in part, by giving them to his secretary while he was alive, they were no longer his,” Tarrida hypothesizes to justify the elusive attitude of the executor in this area. Hoffe even asked a German publisher in the 1980s for 100,000 marks just to see them. Upon Hoffe’s death in 2007, a legal dispute began between his heirs and the National Library of Israel because the 11th clause of Brod’s will said that what was kept in the Zurich bank had to be deposited in the Israeli center. The library’s victory, which culminated in 2019, ended the 63-year ostracism of the hundred unpublished drawings that Kafka’s friend had.

“There are only a few notes left from when I was a Hebrew student,” says the publisher Tarrida, who publishes the complete work of the Czech author in Spain, as the only unpublished that remains of Kafka, who publishes the second volume of the writer’s correspondence, the between 1914 and 1918, the First World War, following the pattern of the German Fischer seal. “When editing them chronologically, a more real Kafka comes out, less obsessive than what the correspondences grouped by correspondents draw as has been done up to now,” he points out. There are, at most, a couple more volumes, but the process is slow because “it is believed that there may be a more unpublished letter and that slows it down and removes everything,” admits Tarrida. Pure Kafkaesque labor.

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