MANN, Thomas (1875-1955). Autograph manuscript, 'Dem Dichter zu Ehren' (In honour of the poet), an essay on Franz Kafka's Das Schloß, Princeton, [16 - 21] June 1940, a number of emendations and additions in autograph, ten pages, 4to (numbered), in a portfolio.
MANN'S HOMAGE TO KAFKA. The greater part of the essay consists of a general consideration of the life and works, in which Mann explores Kafka's literary personality in terms which have come to dominate discussion of this most enigmatic of writers: 'er war ein Träumer', one whom one might consider under the name of 'eines religiösen Humoristen'. Mann considers Kafka's debts to Flaubert (his electrified response to Flaubert's exclamation, on passing an afternoon with a thoroughly 'normal' family, 'Ils sont dans le vrai!'), to Novalis, the German literary figure Mann considers most closely comparable, and, indeed, to Mann himself. Mann places particular emphasis on the religious impulses and the sense of alienation that drive Kafka's work: 'Kunst, als Erfüllung gottgegebener Anlagen' (art as the fulfilment of godgiven talents), 'seine Produktivität auf Zerrissenheit beruhte und auf dem Gefühl der Gottesferne, der Ungeborgenheit' (his productivity was based on conflict and on the feeling of distance from God, of insecurity); Mann inserts into this context his own sense that Art links us not only with the world, but also with the moral and spiritual. In the consideration of Das Schloß which follows, Mann produces a heavily symbolic and autobioraphical analysis of a novel ('ein durch und durch autogbiographischer Roman'), which, he considers, 'concerns itself with divine grace' in a spirit of divine satire ('mit einem Geist heiliger Satire'), and expresses above all 'das groteske Unverhältnis zwischen Mensch und Transzendenz, die Unkommensurabilität des Göttlichen' (the grotesque lack of relation between man and transcendence, the incommensurability of the Divine).
Although many of its concepts were taken from the work of Kafka's friend and literary executor Max Brod, Mann's essay was influential in establishing the image of Kafka as a prophetic figure, a writer to be understood above all in a religious context. Mann had first had Kafka brought to his attention in 1920, at a time when the writer was almost unknown, and the present essay is the culmination of a period of study of his works throughout the late 1930s. In late 1938 and early 1939 Mann was behind a strenuous but vain attempt to offer Kafka's literary Nachlass to American universities and libraries, the purpose of which was to enable Brod to escape from Nazi-threatened Czechsolovakia to Israel.
The present essay was first published in English translation as a foreword, entitled 'Homage', to the American edition of The Castle (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1941). The first publication in German was in the periodical Der Monat in 1949, as a celebration of the 25th anniversary of Kafka's death.