Distant star of an extinct world, that of Mitteleuropa, early snatched into existence, just a hundred years ago, by tuberculosis, Franz Kafka (1883-1924) astonishes with his incredible power to remain our contemporary. One might have believed that with the return of democracy to Europe, particularly in the places where he lived (Prague) and in the language he spoke and wrote (German), this unfinished work, admittedly even by its author, although already noticed and partly published during his lifetime, would end up fading as it focused so much on the description of the meticulous cruelties of a totalitarian and sadistic bureaucracy which then invaded a certain idea of ​​modernity.

This is not the case, as shown by the unequaled reception given to him by the greatest writers (Jorge Luis Borges, Milan Kundera, Imre Kertész) or the greatest thinkers (Elias Canetti, Walter Benjamin, etc.) until to the most recent. A multifaceted reception, which also concerned philosophers and even sociologists, commensurate with the insatiable reader that Kafka was, a man whose knowledge and experience extended to areas not usually explored by novelists, such as the insurance, of which he was a competent and appreciated official, or labor law.

If the illness caused the sudden interruption of a writing in full maturity, the sketch state of a corpus remained in the archives, that the writer Max Brod (1884-1968), early admirer of the genius of his friend , refused to surrender to the fire as Kafka ordered him, this state of incompleteness undoubtedly fueled the proliferation of interpretations that Kafka had time neither to establish nor even to direct.

Taste for modernity

But the secret of his continuing relevance also lies in aspects that the dark tone of his writings often obscure: humor, the taste for the grotesque and the comical, which allowed Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) to place Kafka in the category of “Jew as Pariah”, where she included Charlie Chaplin, her contemporary. Kafka is close to us because he was never an “anti-modern”, which is illustrated by his attraction to technology, cinema, air shows…

This modernity should not, however, obscure more classical sources from which this insatiable reader drew, from the French Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) to the Swabian Johann Peter Hebel (1760-1826), via the Austrian expressionist Gustav Meyrink (1868). -1932) or his youth companion Franz Werfel (1890-1945), etc. Kafka maintained a distance mixed with proximity with certain key areas of his being, whether Judaism and Zionism, or a problematic sexuality nourished by multiple and often painful encounters which populated the universe of this thin, tall and tall man. attractive as a Hindu prince, it was said. It is through this elusiveness that Kafka still fascinates us.

The work, like Kafka’s life, composes a mosaic of which it would be in vain to search for the ultimate piece. We offer a reading with this new special issue of our collection “A life, a work”.