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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Kafka and pornography?



Thus run the sub-headers in a story written by Kate Connolly which was published in The Guardian on Friday, August 15, this year. Old news, but new to me. Apparently, it is hotly debated in the blogosphere (to which I return after being stranded for days with very limited internet connection. Don't, whatever you do, download a program called "iTunes," as it monsters your internet usage without you knowing it, and you can end up with an enormous bill.)

Well, it seems that a collection of pornography owned by Franz Kafka was recently discovered at the Bodleian Library (Oxford University) and the British Library, by Kafka authority James Hawes. Hawes revealed some of this erotic material in his recently published book Excavating Kafka. According to the story, this stash was concealed by scholars in an attempt to preserve the writer's image, and the content is definitely sensational, in an upmarket sort of way. "These are not naughty postcards from the beach," Mr. Hawes is quoted as saying. "Some of it is quite dark. It's quite unpleasant."

Understandably, German academia is outraged.

"Hawes has given us a look through the keyhole of a Kafka with his trousers down," wrote Kafka researcher Anjana Shrivastava, going on to colorfully scoff that to call those "illustrated magazines ... hardcore porn is like comparing a poem by Heinrich Heine with an advertising slogan for McDonald's." Kafka critic Klaus Wagerbach called Hawes an ignorant idiot. Kafka biographer Rainer Stach said the furore was an "unbelievable marketing ploy."

So, does the pornographic collection exist? Oh yes. No one has ever claimed that Kafka was pure and chaste (though I am surprised that anyone so subject to utter gloom, who so tragically starved to death while those who cared for him stood helplessly by, should be so interested in sex, the source of life). However, says Stach, the "pornographic" pictures are quite innocent, really, being "playful representations, some styled like caricatures."

Hawes, an Oxford graduate who teaches creative writing, has hit back at his critics, accusing them of "a conspiracy of censorship." Why, he demanded, have Kafka scholars deliberatedly ignored this aspect of their idol?

Who knows? The debate continues.

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