Kafka is a great surprise, but one we have gotten used to. The surprise is that an obscure writer from Central Europe who published little during his lifetime and never finished his most ambitious works, the three novels; a difficult avant-garde writer who thought the publisher Kurt Wolff had no business sense because he wanted to publish him; a Prague Jew educated in German culture, not interested in Judaism but intensely interested in his own Jewishness, which he didn’t like, which embarrassed him because like most Western Jews (or anyhow Western European Jews) he felt its gypsylike, pariah ignominiousness (not to speak of worse) in the world’s (i.e., gentile) eyes; a writer in German who felt that the language that he wrote so well belonged to Germans, not to him—the surprise is that such a one should have become the world writer of the twentieth century. What is a world writer? I wouldn’t try to define...

 

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