During his lifetime, Franz Kafka burned an estimated 90 percent of his work. After his death at age 41, a letter was discovered in his desk in Prague, addressed to his friend Max Brod. “Dearest Max,” it began. “My last request: Everything I leave behind me . . . in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others’), sketches and so on, to be burned unread.” Of course he left that for Brod to do, knowing full well that it would never happen. Or else, why not burn it himself? Clever tricks over trucks that only masters are capable of.
Less than two months later, Brod, disregarding Kafka’s request, signed an agreement to prepare a posthumous edition of Kafka’s unpublished novels. “The Trial” came out in 1925, followed by “The Castle” (1926) and “Amerika” (1927). In 1939, carrying a suitcase stuffed with Kafka’s papers, Brod set out for Palestine on the last train to leave Prague, five minutes before the Nazis closed the Czech border. Thanks largely to Brod’s efforts, Kafka’s slim, enigmatic corpus was gradually recognized as one of the great monuments of 20th-century literature. Nobody like him. No literature like his.
In fact, Metamorphosis was the very first book to have transcended from the human form into the least desirable living creature: A BUG, Gregor Samsa, and all that on PAGE ONE. Others kept on trying but never quite reached a term that would become known as ‘kafkaesque”. Brecht and Beckett did. Something is “brechtian” or “beckettian”. But the way we all relate to Kafka is through his majestic way of describing our lost battle against the bestial machine of government and bureaucracy and the STATE in general.