Sunday, September 14, 2008


Sometimes, when an unfinished novel is published posthumously, it is alleged that the editor's role in selecting and arranging the materials left by the author is so great that the published work is as much the product of the editor as it is of the ostensible author. Some examples are Thomas Wolfe's last two novels, Hemingway's The Garden of Eden, and Ellison's Juneteenth. It appears that we may have to add Kafka's The Trial, and perhaps others of Kafka's works, to this list.

In a 2002 essay*, Clayton Koelb wrote: "An examination of the materials Kafka actually wrote [for The Trial] shows that the projected novel had never reached a form even remotely ready for publication; that Kafka had not yet formed a clearly discernible conception of the narrative as a whole; and that much of what he had been working on had been produced as disjointed fragments, each having only the sketchiest relation to the others. The only clear elements were the beginning and the end, which Kafka had evidently produced in the first hot enthusiasm of his inspiration." Later he says, referring to a published facsimile with transcription of the manuscripts for what became The Trial: "it is extremely difficult to read the Stroemfeld edition as a novel. One can only read it as a bundle of loosely related fragments that might, with a good deal of work, be made into a novel." He argues that The Trial as we know it should be seen as a collaboration between Kafka and Max Brod, who originally edited Kafka's posthumous works. (More recent editions, and translations, vary a bit from Brod's version, but preserve his overall structure.) Nevertheless, he argues that the novel we're familiar with should not be discarded, even if it isn't "what Kafka intended."

I've only seen the first volume of the edition Koelb refers to, not enough to judge the truth of Koelb's assertions. But in the introduction to the project as a whole, Roland Reuss, one of the editors, makes the arresting claim that "Kafka left no novels behind." ("Kafka hat keine Romane hinterlassen.")

*"Critical Editions II: Will the Real Franz Kafka Please Stand Up?" in A Companion to the Works of Franz Kafka, edited by James Rolleston.

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