Judith Butler on Kafka’s legacy

This is a fascinating article from Judith Butler on Kafka’s remaining unpublished, unarchived papers, currently in possession of his friend’s secretary’s daughters (long story; Butler glosses it pretty well). Essentially the daughter want to sell the remaining papers (by weight, no less); the National Library of Israel and the German Literary Archive both want them, and both are marshaling some interesting arguments to explain why they are the rightful owners of the work.

Butler’s discussion of the legal battle is the most interesting part; I’m a little less taken with her effort to suss out what Kafka really wanted to happen with the papers by looking at his literary work and letters. Nevertheless, worth a gander.


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4 Responses to Judith Butler on Kafka’s legacy

  1. Andrew says:

    I was badly traumatized by an exhaustively close reading of some Judith Butler critical theory in a college class. Should I still proceed with this one?

    • absitnomen says:

      Yes, it’s worth it, though she does at points revert to fine academic form:

      “Alongside this impressive immersion in Jewish things – perhaps we could call it a mode of being enveloped…”

      “So the writing effectively opens up the disjunction between clarity – we might even say a certain lucidity and purity of prose – and the horror that is normalised precisely as a consequence of that lucidity.”

      “After all, the lucid works as style only insofar as it betrays its own claim to self-sufficiency.”

      She also uses a word (chattel) and then defines it, as though she were dogged by accusations of poor diction and not luxated structure.

  2. davide conti says:

    Having read Butler’s essay regarding the Kafka manuscripts in Israel, I am appalled that a brilliant mind like hers “accidentally” forgot to mention the actual fact that Ma Brod gave his secretary-lover this treasure with the clear indication that she should handle them over to a public institute in Israel. Obviously this comfortably overlooked fact serves this hating lady to explain in her usual twisted manner how Israel wants to posses these manuscripts in order to gain some positive public opinion worldwide. This childish conspiracy attitude leads her to draw huge philosophy around the matter, but Brod’s will was crystal clear, and every other state would not have permitted that secretary’s daughters to sell or posses anything for a second. What would the Italian government do if a new Dante manuscript is found INSIDE Italy? or a Shakespeare 37th play in England? her fanatic obsession against Israel is so ridiculous, the true facts regarding Brod’s will and indications outcast all her made up claims of Israel seizing this treasure same way it “occupies”, in her vision, “palestinian” lands. Davide Conti, Italy

    • absitnomen says:

      Interesting to say, but why should we listen to Brod’s will any more than we listened to Kafka’s? It seems that the question of wills and testaments should either be upheld completely (in which case we should destroy the manuscripts according to Kafka’s explicit instructions to Brod) or ignored completely (in which case the daughters can do what they damn well want to with the papers).

      It is the least bit self-serving for the National Library of Israel, or any other political entity, to posit that Brod’s wishes should be respected and that Kafka’s shouldn’t.

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