Anthony DiRenzo

Anthony DiRenzo

Professor, Department of Writing
Faculty, School of Humanities and Sciences

Golems, Scribes, and Tzaddiks

This image of Kafka the organization man and public relations agent clashes with the more traditional picture of Kafka the alienated artist and secular mystic. Typically, Kafka is depicted as a dysfunctional schlemiel, a Yeshiva boy at the mercy of wolves, whose position at the Institute was the bitterest twist of fate. Kafka himself, with his talent for self-hatred, perpetuated this myth. The fact remains, however, that Kafka was a zealous and efficient bureaucrat, a master of office politics and a shrewd negotiator. During his fourteen years with the Institute, he distinguished himself as a superb technical writer and an innovator in industrial reform, factory safety, and corporate communications. Proud of his office work, Kafka circulated his company reports and proposals among Max Brod and the other literati of the Klub Mladıch, and even submitted them to Hyperion, a leading Czech journal.

Far from being degrading or pointless, Kafka’s professional writing provided him with financial and emotional stability, developed the subjects, themes, and style of his fiction, and, most important, improved the working conditions and saved the lives of thousands of Czech factory workers. Taken as a whole, Kafka’s Amtliche Shriften, his working papers—in their own quiet way—are perhaps as valuable as his great novels.

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