Report on a Play Allegedly by Franz Kafka,
Prepared for the RSC, 1968
EIN FLUG UM DIE LAMPE HERUM
(A Flight Around the Lamp)
By "Franz Kafka"
Seen from today's perspective, it would not appear that there was ever much danger of supposing that this was a genuine Kafka play. But that is not at all how matters looked at the time, and perhaps this small anecdote may shed some light on how plays still tend to be chosen for production. Virtual warfare surrounded this play in those days: agents, producers, directors were poised to seize this script and run with it as a part of our golden cultural heritage, if only some genuine connection with Kafka, however slight, could be demonstrated. Into this brink I was summoned as sole adjudicator for the English-speaking world. I would later receive a note from my German counterpart, perhaps also still a bit groggy from the challenge, applauding my efforts and thanking me for reaching the same conclusion he had come up with.
This play would not be worth considering if Franz Kafka's name were not attached to it. A vague concoction, vaguely written, it deals, to the extent that it deals with anything, with some school girls, a potsherd collector, and an old Rabbi. In the first scene a railway train is supposed to come onstage, and similar demands are made on the scenography throughout. The best that can be said of the piece is that it does contain a vague whiff in its overall mood of Franz Kafka, or at least a Kafkaesque whiff of vagueness.
But the central problem is that of authenticity, concerning which it is difficult to see how there can be any doubt. To begin with, an all-important legend on the title page reads as follows:
"nach Skizzen und Ideen ven Franz Kafka für die Bühne bearbeitet und eingerichtet von Ludek Mandaus"
which may be Englished as follows:
"Adapted and arranged for the stage after sketches and ideas of Franz Kafka by Ludek Mandaus"
Thus it is clear that the author of this work, by his own admission, is one Ludek Mandaus, evidently a musician and a citizen of Prague. The best this work could hope to be called is an adaptation, like Gide's adaptation of Kafka's novel The Trial, though it is not immediately clear to me how one would "adapt" sketches and ideas. I have spent an afternoon at the British Museum looking through Kafka's notebooks and letters, but I was not able to find anything more than remotely related to the play during this time. But whether or not the play is arranged from the ideas of Kafka, I am even more troubled by yet another legend on the title page, which reads:
"Dieses Manuskript ist eine vorläufige Abschrift der ersten Textfassung und dient ausschließlich Informazionsszwecken."
"This manuscript is a provisional copy of the text and serves exclusively for the purposes of information."
A provisional copy? The first version? If so, then the firs version of what text, and will there be others?
I have heard that the original manuscript turned up in a
1) Polish, and/or
version, which was then retranslated back into German. This, however, may be merely the normal latitude of variance for a literary tale.
The recognized authority on Kafka is of course Max Brod, and it is not reassuring to learn that he has written to Kafka's New York publishers to deny all knowledge of the existence of this play.
Finally, I am informed by Kafka's niece that the Ludek Mandaus in question has also claimed on one occasion that Kafka himself helped him with the manuscript. The snag, according to Kafka's niece, is that in order for this to have happened, Mr. Mandaus would have had to be a maximum of twelve years old at the time.
Strange are the ways of literature, and it might yet turn out, although it seems unlikely, that the play is in fact by Kafka. But even so, would that really provide justification for performing it? There are many writers of equal stature whose play or plays are extant--Joyce, Hardy, Hemingway--but they are not performed for the very best of reasons--they are not terribly stageworthy.
P.S. Fischer Verlag, Kafka's German publishers, have just decided that the play is not by Kafka.
This piece is Copyright © 1968
by Alexander Gross. It may be
reproduced for individuals and for
educational purposes only. It may
not be used for any commercial (i.e.,
money-making) purpose without
written permission from the author.
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