Kafka and his ‘secret porn stash’

Some of you may remember the recent silly season brouhaha over a decidedly unscholarly work by a Kafka scholar, James Hawes, best known as author of the deliciously caustic A White Merc with Fins.

Excavating Kafka took issue with the widespread assertion that Kafka was virtually unknown in his own life time, and little is known of his daily habits. We’re not really interested in the kafkakesque (ha!) debate that ensued, but you can check out a sample at ReadySteadyBook, which has recently been rejoined by the author himself. We are, however, always interested in the facts at hand: what were the actual works that comprised this ‘secret porn stash’?

Exhibit A were the exclusive journals published by Kafka’s collaborator, and later publisher, Franz Blei, under the titles The Amethyst and The Opals. These journals contained acknowledged work by Aubrey Beardsley (whose more salacious illustrations can be found here), and Félicien Rops (example follows), as well as erotic works in translation by Jules Laforgue and Paul Verlaine.


Pornocrates, by Félicien Rops. Source: Wikipedia

Hawes asserts that there was much more to these journals:

There’s no doubt at all that it’s porn, by the way. In 1958 Klaus Wagenbach called these publications “a collection of the finest – and often, the coarsest – erotica”. Even today, as the FT’s reviewer put it, they are “to say the least, an acquired taste”.

We only wish we could get our mitts on them. The British Library certainly contains at least one edition of The Amethyst, from 1906, and we’ll be sure to check it out next time we’re visiting.

In an extract from the book accompanying and interview with Harper’s, Hawes writes:

Kafka also certainly had in his possession… another of Franz Blei’s luxury subscribers-only productions—an edition of Lucian’s Conversations of the Courtesans. Like The Amethyst/Opals, this would have been impossible to sell openly, for the real attraction was not the notorious classical text but the fifteen pictures by Gustav Klimt in his most definitely-not-for-public-display manner, showing girl-on-girl legs-open action.

We can’t find a copy of the Klimts (but we’ll keep looking), but a wider search of the British Library did throw up this intriguing edition of Bathseba by André Gide, which we’ll certainly be looking into. As to the Lucian, you can find an online edition here, with such pleasing chapter titles as The Pleasure of Being Beaten and The Lesbians.

Posted October 22, 2008 by James Bridle. Comments Off on Kafka and his ‘secret porn stash’
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