One morning, when Internet users awoke from troubled dreams, they found that the Google logo’s “O”s had transformed into a monstrous vermin.
The reason: Today is Franz Kafka’s 130th birthday – or at least, it would have been, if he hadn’t died of starvation brought on by tuberculosis in 1924. All of us will die, someday.
The man who would inherit Goethe’s emo throne was born in Prague in 1883. His paternal grandfather was an Orthodox Jewish ritual slaughterer; his father sold “fancy goods,” which Franz probably thought was horrifically embarrassing. Once he reached university, Kafka started as a chemistry student before switching to law. He never supported himself by writing – after graduation, Kafka would serve as an insurance officer and a factory co-owner, eventually leaving the working world entirely due to his chronic tuberculosis.
His written work – including “The Metamorphosis” (1915) and “In the Penal Colony” (1919) – generally achieved recognition only after he died, though that wasn’t Kafka’s intention: in his last request, the writer explicitly instructed his literary executor Max Brod to burn all of his diaries, manuscripts, and letters unread. To the delight of disaffected young existentialists everywhere, Brod ignored Kafka’s plea – though before he passed, Kafka did manage to burn about 90 percent of his own work.
How can you recognize this occasion in an appropriately Kafkaesque manner? Try fasting, creating an exquisite torture machine, being prosecuted unexpectedly for an unspecified crime, or visiting a brothel. (Evidently, Kafka had itches that could only be scratched professionally; now that’s something your 10th grade English teacher never told you.) Or take the easy way out by simply watching Steven Soderbergh’s harrowing, Kafkaesque Kafka: