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​Professor of comparative literature at the Doha Institute,

The ACRPS welcomed professor of comparative literature at the Doha Institute, Atef Botros Al Attar to present the weekly seminar on Wednesday 14 November 2018. He gave a lecture entitled “Kafka and Other Palestinian Stories”.

This work stems from the professor’s project “Kafka in Arabic Thought”, soon to be published in a book. This lecture portrayed some manifestations of the muddled relationship between Kafka and Palestine. He posed the following questions: What is Kafka's relationship with Palestine? Is the Palestinian story Kafkaesque? Or are Kafka's stories Palestinian as suggested by Wadi Soudah in his story collection: Kafka and Other Palestinian Stories? Is Kafka buried under the skin every Arab and Palestinian intellectual? Mahmoud Darwish wrote in his poem "Beirut" the year after the Israeli invasion of the Lebanese capital:

     I found Kafka sleeping just beneath my skin

    in accord with our garb of nightmare and the police in us 

It is a Palestinian Kafka who Samih Qasim portrays in his letter to Mahmoud Darwish as a saint or a messenger who suddenly appears to take up the UN platform, giving a brief speech against the backdrop of the Palestinian catastrophe. “Did I not tell you?” Kafka says in his terrifying speech. Did Kafka warn us before his death in 1924 about what was to happen to Palestine? Was Kafka the “Foreteller of the Holocaust” as some critics wanted to believe? Or was he the foreteller of the Nakba, or the saint of the sixties, who was revealed to the Arab intellectuals at the time of defeat? Atef Botros answers the final question using the example of Naguib Mahfouz who perhaps expressed this “Kafkaesque” moment when he wrote: “I  have known Kafka for more than forty years,  but I first encountered (faced/met) him particularly after the Arab defeat of 1967”

Al Attar pointed out that from the Arab perspective, Kafka not only manifests as a messenger or revered saint, but also in the image of Satan; especially in the eyes of the Arab writers who portrayed him as a Zionist. That was in the backdrop of the Zionist circles he was surrounded by in Prague and his friends, most of whom later migrated to Palestine. He noted that Kafka indeed thought about traveling to Palestine, which he never did, but his papers and manuscripts were carried by the bag of a displaced Jew who left Prague before it was invaded by the Nazi army in 1939, and most of the Bohemian Jewish writers’ work remained in Palestine. These papers are considered cultural heritage in Israel, and were deposited in the national library. As for that displaced Jew, he was Kafka’s friend Max Brod, who went on to present Kafka as a Zionist. 

Concluding his lecture, Al Attar posed the questions: How can we think now about Kafka as an Arab after around eight decades of Arab preoccupation with him — one that swings between fascination, iconization, and holiness on the one hand and accusation, skepticism and denunciation on the other? What does it mean to us today, in moments that may outweigh the catastrophe of the 1960s defeat — in moments of counter-revolution, civil wars, killing, destruction, dispossession and displacement?