Much is made – again and again – about Kafka’s famous request to his friend, Max Brod, that all his manuscripts be burned unread. That included all his fiction, all his letters, and all his diaries. Consigned to the flames and removed from the earth.
Had this been done, most of the work for which Kafka is famous would never be known, for little was published during his life. His skewed yet realistic outlook on life, now famously known as Kafkaesque, would not be classed in every dictionary. A touchstone, known the world over, would have been lost. Kafka might, at best, been remembered as the man who wrote about the bug.
Brod gets a bum rap about defying Kafka’s direction to burn all his manuscripts. Yes, Kafka did indeed make this request of Brod. He apparently made it a few times, both verbally and in writing. Each time, Bord told him outright he would not follow Kafka’s request. “It ain’t” – if I might slip into a vernacular the erudite Brod would ever use – “going to be me, chum.”
Another prominent time Kafka refused to do something that he could have easily done himself, concerned his famous Letter To His Father. Instead of handing (or sending) the letter to his father, he gave it to his mother to pass on, knowing full well his mother would not be part of causing such discord. And – in fact – his father never read the letter.
If Kafka really wanted all his manuscripts burned, he could have just as easily (indeed – more easily) done it himself. He certainly did burn much of what he wrote. Brod once found him doing it. It is estimated he burned 70-80% of his own work.
Kafka might have renewed his written request near the end of his life, but he made it to the one man whom he knew would not do it.
That was Kafka