Zipp – German-Czech Cultural Projects /


Life-worlds /

Utopia of Modernity: Zlín /

Kafka /

1968|1989 /

An initiative of the
Kulturstiftung des Bundes


Kafka and Czechoslovakia – that is a story about the brisance of literature. The writer would never have dreamt of the political repercussions his work would have. Circumspect and shy as he was, Kafka had studiously avoided direct polemics. His literature was mysterious, its enigmatic character defying facile interpretation. Moreover, he wrote in German, a language hardly apt for intervening decisively in the Czech political agenda. It is thus a paradox: precisely because Kafka seemed innocuous, the party comrades watched on as perspectives were fashioned which would genuinely threaten their hold on power.

In 1963 international scholars discussed Kafka in Liblice and set off what would become an avalanche in the next five years. The Prague Spring was not least the consequence of thinking about a literature that did not fit into the rigid schema of socialist realism. Kafka readers had peered into abysses and exposed themselves to psychological conundrums which made the utopia of the “new man” and the ossified language of the power apparatus appear as techniques of repression. In this climate, the sense of contingency inherent to literature sharpened the awareness of an entire society, and it was thus no coincidence that, even after the interim failure of the reforms, writers would go on to be instrumental in shaping the future political fortunes of the country.

How the political dimension of the German-Czech writer Kafka is to be assessed today was the subject of a conference initiated by Zipp that was held in October 2008: “Kafka and Power”. As in 1963, international scholars and experts gathered in Liblice Castle and discussed the historical importance of the Czech reception of Kafka as well as spoke more generally about current perspectives on the potency of literary texts.

Given how significant Kafka’s role was for political developments in Czechoslovakia and his indisputable importance in world literature, it is all the most astonishing that an edition of his works genuinely true to the original manuscripts has yet to be compiled. For this reason, the Historical-critical edition, supported by Zipp, being prepared by the German literature specialists Roland Reuß and Peter Staengle is all the more meritorious. Begun over a decade ago, here the manuscripts are documented and conserved with the greatest possible accuracy, a stark contrast to the hitherto expurgated text versions available. This opens up completely new interpretative possibilities for the reader. And this is not to be underestimated: where reading Kafka can lead to was demonstrated by the Prague Spring.

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