“KAFKA?!” At University of Virginia?
Yes, a conference on the universally renowned writer Franz Kafka occurs Feb. 25-27 at UVA in Charlottesville, the Czech Embassy has announced.
Kafka (1883-1924), born in Prague to a Jewish middle-class, German-speaking family, wrote only in his free time while working as lawyer, and lived only to age 40, but became one of the most influential literary figures of the 20th century.
The three-day conference begins with a screening of famed director Orson Welles’ “The Trial”, based on one of Kafka’s best-known works. Welles wrote the screenplay, and also appeared in the 1962 movie.
Panel discussions include one on Feb. 27 with Czech Embassy Cultural Attaché Robert Řehák and Elizabeth Rajec, President of the Kafka Society of America, also co-sponsor.
The Embassy of the Czech Republic paid tribute to native son and literary giant Franz Kafka in its annual “Mutual Inspirations Festival” last year.
Austria’s Ambassador to the U.S., Hans-Peter Manz, will deliver a lecture on Feb. 26 at the UVA conference that is co-sponsored also by the Austrian Embassy.
“KAFKA?!” honors Vienna-born Walter Sokel (1917-2014), who was UVA’s Commonwealth Professor of German Literature for 21 years until he retired in 1994, and one of the world’s leading scholars on Kafka.
Two of Professor Sokel’s books published in 1964 and 1966 were “the first to put Kafka into his proper place as a giant of European literature,” wrote “The New York Times” in its obituary of Sokel.
At age 21, Sokel escaped from Austria in 1938 soon after it was annexed by Nazi Germany. He made his way to the United States. On the basis of a recommendation from Nobel Prize-winning author Thomas Mann, Sokel received a scholarship to Rutgers University in New Jersey. Eventually, Sokel became “a leading member of that generation of immigrant Jewish intellectuals whose impact on the American university system can be felt even today,” the University of Virginia’s Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures said in a memorial tribute. “(H)e was widely acknowledged to be one of the University’s best teachers.”
And Kafka was widely acknowledged to be one of the 20th century’s best writers, and also a prophet of the Holocaust.
Kafka’s works would never have been known if his best friend, writer-philosopher Max Brod, had obeyed the writer’s instructions: “Everything I leave behind me…be burned unread.”
But Brod betrayed Kafka, who died of TB at age 40. Within a year, Brod got “The Trial” published, followed by “The Castle” (1926), and “Amerika” (1927).
And in 1939, minutes before Nazis shut the borders of Czechoslovakia, Brod stuffed one suitcase with thousands of Kafka’s manuscript pages, and fled to Palestine.
Much of those works were embroiled in a legal battle, evocative of “The Trial”, for more than half a century. It was finally resolved by an Israeli court in 2012. Click here for an excerpt of the film “Kafka’s Last Story”.)
The University of Virginia conference is a vital tribute to both Kafka and Sokel.
For more info: KAFKA?! An Interdisciplinary Conference in Honor of Walter Sokel (1917-2014). Feb. 25-27. University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Vir. Contact Asher Biemann, director, UVA’s Center for German Studies, email@example.com. Sponsored by the Austrian Embassy; the Embassy of the Czech Republic; and UVA’s Center for German Studies, Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures, Jewish Studies Program, and Center for Politics; and the Kafka Society of America.