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Before World Fame: Commemorating Franz Kafka in Interwar Central Europe

Picture source: The New Jewish Cemetery, Prague, © Ines Koeltzsch, 2023
Tuesday, February 20, 2024, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

ABSTRACT | When Franz Kafka died in Kierling near Vienna in June 1924, he was neither prominent nor unknown. Despite the paucity of publications during his lifetime, Kafka’s death attracted tremendous attention, and the burst of articles and lectures about him surpassed anything he experienced while still alive. Where and how were Kafka and his work remembered in postimperial Central Europe, and what role did Jewish difference play in the public and private forms of mourning? And who contributed to the various ways of commemoration that constituted the foundation of his world fame since the 1940s?

The lecture offers a new perspective on the early afterlife of Kafka and examines both the significance of the media (text, image, voice) and intellectual networks across nation-state borders in creating the author’s legend. Although the question of belonging was raised in several texts, the attributions of Kafka as a German, Jewish, Zionist, Austrian or simply a Prague writer were as controversial as they were fragile in Central Europe after 1918.

BIO | Ines Koeltzsch is a historian and current visiting professor at the Jewish Studies Program at CEU Vienna. She is the author of the books Vor dem Weltruhm. Nachrufe auf Franz Kafka und die Begründung literarischer Unsterblichkeit (Böhlau, forthcoming) and Geteilte Kulturen. Eine Geschichte der tschechisch-jüdisch-deutschen Beziehungen in Prag 1918–1938 (Oldenbourg 2012), and a co-author of Prague and Beyond. Jews in the Bohemian Lands (ed. by Čapková/Kieval, University of Pennsylvania Press 2021). Her research interests include the modern history of Jewish/non-Jewish relations, migration, and flight, as well as intellectual culture and translation in Central and East Central Europe.

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