‘Is that Kafka?’ by Reiner Stach

Is-that-kafkaEvan James at The Quarterly Conversation:

The first volume of Reiner Stach’s monumental, three-volume biography of Kafka was published in Germany about fourteen years ago. The second came six years later, in 2008.Is that Kafka?, which isn’t one of the three volumes,appeared in 2012, the same year that a decades-long legal battle finally made a trove of papers belonging to Max Brod, Kafka’s friend and literary executor, available to the public. Presumably this fortuitous ruling allowed Stach to write, at last, the final volume of his big, widely praised biography—funnily enough, the volume that addresses the first part of Kafka’s life. That book, Kafka—The Early Years, was published in 2014. (An English translation is forthcoming.)Even if Is that Kafka? was a kind of stopgap that kept Stach contemplating Franz while he awaited the release of key documents, it’s also an unconventional work of biography-by-collage in its own right. Its subtitle, 99 Finds, points to the raw material of the project: surprising discoveries made in the course of an epic research process.

Underlying all of this biographical work is a desire to complicate received ideas about the author. In his introduction, Stach describes the enduring image of Kafka in characteristically clear-eyed terms: even though “decades of international, interdisciplinary research” have given scholars a more nuanced picture of Kafka and his times, he has persisted in the popular imagination as ” “the quintessential archetype of the writer as a sort of alien: unworldly, neurotic, introverted, sick—an uncanny man bringing forth uncanny things.” Stach’s aim is to “destabilize” these images by introducing “counter-images” in which he emphasizes the unexpected and the overlooked to help “quietly divorce us from clichés.” Implied here is the conviction that clichés about an author’s life obstruct appreciation of their work. Why else bother to challenge them?

more here.