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Kafka turns 125

What’s next, no fireworks for Walt Whitman?

“Write to Franz Kafka and request a free autographed photo!” This message, from the top hit when I typed Kafka 125 birthday into a search engine this morning (try it now), gave me a moment’s hope. As it turned out, there was an abundance of hope, but none for Kafka and I. The rubricated fine print sobered me up: “If this celebrity is deceased, this age represents the age they would be today if still alive.”

Kafka Time
More red ink: in Germany, the hours are counting down on a contest in which you can win not a signature (although it would seem otherwise), but a…book, and not even one published during Kafka’s lifetime…although, upon closer inspection, it is signed by…H.W. Eppelsheimer! Come on, Fischer Verlage, is that the best you can do?

(To be fair, I’ll take this up with myself in the comments section, and, if there’s interest, I might even translate the contest, which is essentially a promotion for Fischer’s release of the second installment of Reiner Stach’s vertically challenging biography, Kafka: Die Jahre der Erkenntnis, which a publisher with a punning sense of irony might translate as Kafka: The Years of Recognition.)

Meanwhile in Amerika, we have the Missing Birthday (as Kafka translator Mark Harman might put it). Although I assumed Zadie Smith’s review of Louis Begley’s The Tremendous World I Have Inside My Head: Franz Kafka–A Biographical Essay in the current NYRB had been timed to mark the occasion, she makes no mention of it. Neither does Begley’s own site, where “Learn more about this title” links to “Amazon” (alas) rather than to Atlas & Co., the fine publisher of (apropos) A Universal History of the Destruction of Books. At least here, I thought, I’ll find some anniversal acknowledgement, and sure enough, following a link from their home page to the New York Observer, at last:

This year marks the bicentenary of Faust, Ian Fleming’s 100th birthday and, somewhat less tidily, 86 years since Franz Kafka abandoned his final novel. As anniversaries go, it isn’t especially momentous…

Unsure of anything at this point, I read to the end. No letting on, but no signs of sloppiness either; it was rather, a sage, sensible assessment. Then I read the fine print. There it was in black and white: Daniel Malllory researches modernist literature at New College, Oxford. Well put (over), Mr. Mallory.

Amerika, home of the man who dissappeared! Is an academic conference a year late the best we can do over here?

Kafka, July 3, 1912

Kafka, with Margarethe Kirchner, on his 29th birthday