Kafka’s Drawing Isn’t Kafkaesque!

Drawing of a whip-wielding jockey on a horse vaulting over an obstacle. Kafka was deeply interested in art while studying law at university in Prague. Photograph: Ardon Bar-Hama.

A trove of drawings by Franz Kafka was brought to light in 2019. They share, says Philip Oltermann, features with paintings Kafka describes in his fiction: “… men riding flying buckets, singing mice and creatures made of household detritus… dream-like tales [which] often seem to defy the visual imagination of his readers.”

Drawing of a male figure, entitled “The Dancer” by Kafka’s executor Max Brod. The drawings reveal humour and lightness in the author. Photograph: Ardon Bar-Hama.

Oltermann quotes philosopher Judith Butler’s comment “that Kafka’s creations often become harder to visualise the more detail he describes them in,” such as a creature that looks “like a flat star-shaped spool for thread.” Another creature called Odradek, writes Butler, “is described in detail but that description yields no fixed image… Readers have sought in vain to draw Odradek, its bits of multicoloured thread, its spool, crossbar, star, and rod.”

Drawing of a horse and rider. Kafka had instructed his friend, Max Brod, to burn the drawings and his manuscripts after his death. Photograph: Ardon Bar-Hama.

If Kafka’s drawings were not “Kafkaesque,” his antipathy to illustrating his writing does seem so. He begged his editor “never to visualise his most famous creation. ‘The insect is not to be drawn,’ he stipulated in a 1915 letter about the cover of Metamorphosis. ‘It is not even to be seen from a distance.’”

(Philip Oltermann, “Franz Kafka drawings reveal ‘sunny’ side to bleak Bohemian novelist,” theguardian.com, 10-29-21)

(c) 2021 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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