Kafka and Dr. K.

© Herbert Kuhner

On the day of the PEN Congress in Vienna we were taken on an excursion to Kierling, the venue of Kafka's death in 1924. What had been an exclusive clinic was now a museum containing, photos, manuscripts, letters and some of the great man's personal effects. It was befitting that the expert in blocking writers in Austria led the visiting writers through the museum. In his hand he held Max Brod's biography and opened it to read Kafka's death scene, He was moved and he moved all of those who understood German by reading that moving scene. He was on the verge of tears when he read how Kafka pleaded for morphine to ease his pain, exclaiming that only a murderer could deny it to him.

To read that with crocodile tears in one's eyes would have been an act of blasphemy. I could not help thinking that had the reader and Kafka been contemporaries, he would have done his best to block him since Kafka had not been prominent in his lifetime. He had been the opposite of a bag of wind. Kafka was a modest man and master of the concise phrase.

Why must you always think the worst? I asked myself. Only a decent man could be moved by the scene he was reading. He hadn't been decent to me and many others, but that didn't mean that he wasn't capable of being decent. In my case, he'd undermined me in the most vicious manner, and when I caught him red-handed, he'd lied publicly right out of the blue. It was as if he didn't need to cover himself. His prestige would suffice to dash any accusations. For he was only one of a kind, and in a tight situation his minions and allies would rally to his aid. Just he and his minions would rush to aid any bird of a feather favorable to him.

But even if he had been a perpetrator, was I denying him the right to be decent? Give him the benefit of a doubt, I thought as he continued to read. Perhaps he's turned over a new leaf.

The next day I found out that the woman who'd dug up Kafka's medical records and done most for the museum had been slated to lead the tour and that he'd cut her out.

Addendum: She's a sweet little schoolteacher, but you can't let the likes of her loose on an international congress.
- Dr. Wolfgang