Franz Kafka.(Random House)
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New Kafka Papers To Be Revealed

Disputed Swiss boxes opened today

by
Marc Tracy
July 20, 2010
Franz Kafka.(Random House)

The dispute over Franz Kafka’s extant papers seems primed to take a further turn with four sealed boxes in Switzerland being opened. Readers with good memories will recall that there is a conflict over the contents of these boxes involving the literary executor of Kafka’s estate, Max Brod; Brod’s heirs (who in fact may or may not be his rightful heirs, since his will is disputed); the state of Israel; and a German museum. I wish there were a single adjective that could fully capture this byzantinely complex legal dispute, but it’s not coming to me.

It’s always fun to remember that there should not even be a dispute over Kafka’s papers: The great writer instructed Brod to burn everything. (Rodger Kamenetz explores this in detail in Nextbook Press’s forthcoming Burnt Books.) What does it mean to be quarreling over words that should no longer even exist? Again, I am reaching for the appropriate adjective, but it’s not coming to me.

No one knows exactly what documents will be found. Or perhaps inside the box there is another box, which can only be unlocked by a key, which is inside that very box …

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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