The Swiss professor of literature Andreas Kilcher had ‘palpitations’ when he first opened a folder with unknown drawings and scripts by Franz Kafka (1883-1924). That moment happened two years ago at the National Library of Israel. “It was sensational to see something that hardly anyone had seen before,” he says over the phone from Zurich.
The drawings are in the archive of Max Brod, who managed Kafka’s literary legacy. Under the title Franz Kafka. The drawings (Franz Kafka. Die Zeichnungen) includes 160 drawings, provided by Kilcher himself, with essays on Kafka as a visual artist.
The drawings were made between 1901 and 1907, often on envelopes, in the margins of letters and also in sketchbooks with pencil and ink. Kilcher calls Kafka’s drawing talent a “mystery” and the writer as a dual talent a “mystery”. To solve some of this, he gives a wonderful insight into Kafka’s interest in drawing. He attended art history classes and joined artists’ circles in Prague.
The beautifully published book is an exciting voyage of discovery through Kafka’s oeuvre. It is interesting to read that Kafka was impressed by the Japanese art of drawing, and this is reflected in the drawings: they are suggestive and grand, precisely because of their fast, expressive character. In a few lines, Kafka expresses a world of expression, equivalent to his prose. Viewing Kafka’s drawings is like rereading his work, but expressed in unparalleled visual language.
Andreas Kilcher: Franz Kafka. The drawings. (Franz Kafka. Die Zeichnungen). transl. William of Toorn. ed. Athenaeum, 368 pp. €49.50
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on 6 November 2021
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of November 6, 2021
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