Kafka never wrote me a love letter


The last time I had news of Franz Kafka was in Alice Herz-Sommer’s biography. Among her cherished childhood memories, she recalls with great fondness the man who would visit them, a bouquet of flowers in hand. The “eternal child” the book refers to was a sweet and happy young man who enjoyed playing with the smallest children. Knowing that the hand that wrote such harrowing books belonged to a man who was suffering, I want to shelter my own image of the Czech writer under the warm cloak of the pianist’s memories.

Thanks to the strong sense of curiosity I’ve always had, I have read with great passion not only the books deliberately chosen but also the many books that have fallen into my hand by chance. Among those are ones that are about admired and beloved writers: the recollections of Virginia Woolf’s domestic servant (Una habitación ajena); those of Céleste Albaret, the woman who so lovingly cared for Marcel Proust (Monsieur Proust); and some diaries (Susan Sontag’s falls in this category). Still, despite the interest they’ve aroused, they will in no way surpass the admiration I have for those writers’ works; I often wonder which of the writers I admire I’d like to have coffee with, and the truth is, I don’t know…

Kafka’s love letters were published a few months ago. Knowing myself as I do, I don’t dare proclaim that there are books I will never dip into, but I do try to abide by two criteria: one is that I try to avoid posthumous works not authorized by the author; the other is that what goes on under other people’s sheets is none of my concern.

But note the “I try”. One of my contraventions is that I’ve read the works by Kafka that were made available to us, against Kafka’s wishes, by his friend and executor, Max Brod. And the latest news about Goya’s romantic relationships and the publication of Kafka’s love letters have given me pause. That age-old human dilemma…

Being aware of my own weaknesses and in view of what I consider to be a violation of privacy, I choose to savor and suffer in Goya’s Black Paintings. And as far as the love letters go, there is one thing I am certain of: Kafka never wrote me a love letter.

This article was published in Hitzen Uberan on February 18th, 2019.