Kafka by Robert Crumb and David Zane Mairowitz

Categories:  Reviews

Kafka
By Robert Crumb and David Zane Mairowitz
Fantagraphics

R. CrumbKafka lives at the crossroads between a biography, historical sketch, and literary summary of one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers. David Zane Mairowitz’s text offers a concise, yet three-dimensional portrait of Franz Kafka, effortless manuvering between the large-scale historical picture, its reflection in the events of the author’s life, and the subsequent psychosis hashed out in his work. Much, for example, is made of the portrait of the artist as a young, self-loathing Jew, in a part of the word that would give rise to Nazism, toward the end of his life.

Kafka’s own, seemingly bottomless reservoir of self-disgust—from his self-imposed isolationism to his complex relationship with an overbearing father—is clearly manifested in his own writing, and Mairowitz does an admirable job blurring lines between the artist and his work, while going lengths to examine their historical context, through well-timed asides, exploring factors from the era’s treatment of mental health, to the birth of Hasidism.

The sketches of Kafka’s stories are concise, but entertaining—sort of a Classics Illustrated for New Yorker readers, which will surely someday score a few folks some extra bonus points at a cocktail party or two.

The real star here, not surprisingly, is Crumb’s ink-heavy artwork, adopting a suitably macabre style, something akin to a heavily cross hatched collection of woodcuttings. The artist obviously feels a degree of kinship with the Czech author, who, at least at face value, can be taken to be something of a walking superego to Crumb’s own seemingly perpetual id. The artist even goes so far as to place what might very easily be taken for a self-portait in the role of the protagonist for Kafka’s characteristically tragic, The Trial.

Crumb also manages to find occasion to embrace other aspects of his portfolio, from the quasi-psychedelic to the sexual, with more than a few women in the book happily sporting those famous R. Crumb dimensions. The afterward also fully embraces Crumb’s well-documented disdain for both commercialization (complete with Kafka t-shirts) and intellectual pretension (it’s like totally Kafkaesque).

Kafka is a terrific little book, and deserves to be embraced by those Crumb and Kafka fans, and all those who just don’t know it yet.

–Brian Heater

No Comments to “Kafka by Robert Crumb and David Zane Mairowitz”

  1. jahfurry | October 9th, 2007 at 9:59 am

    This is my alltime most given away book.

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