Birthday of Franz Kafka, 1883
Updated: Dec 4, 2020
On This Day in Jewish History: July 3rd, 1883
Franz Kafka is born in Prague #onthisday. Kafka is a towering figure of 20th Century literature and cultural Jewish history.
First published in 1908, he would live and work in relative obscurity while composing masterpieces over the next twenty years. Before dying, at the age of 40, Kafka asked his friend Max Brod to destroy his writing but in one of the greatest gifts to global readers, Brod disobeyed the request and worked to see his friend’s work published.
Few writers have had their name turned into an adjective but in the case of this complex, self-doubting artist, "Kafkaesque" has come to define the modern predicament, humanity caught in the gears of an alienating bureaucracy, where personal agency is circumscribed by anonymous forces and where guilt is assumed rather than procedurally determined. This is best illustrated in his novel "The Trial", although more readers probably know Kafka through his novella "The Metamorphosis" in which the central character Gregor Samsa awakens one morning to discover he has been transformed into a hideous vermin.
Kafka’s ouvre comprises a wide range of literary forms—novels, short stories, essays, sketches, diaries and letters to lovers. Although widely quoted as writing, “What have I in common with Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself…,” Kafka had a strong relationship with Jewish literary life, Yiddish literature in particular being cited as an influence. Kafka’s influence on 20th Century literature and philosophy is profound and he remains of great interest to scholars of literature and the general reader. He is the subject of several biographies, including one by his friend Brod, and most recently a magisterial three volume study by Reiner Stach. Anyone interested in learning more about Franz Kafka, visit The Kafka Project.