Jewish World Review December 28, 2012/ 15 Teves, 5773
The secret bureaucrat
By Paul Greenberg
Kafka-esque -- adj., referring to the nightmarish, surreal, illogical quality
Who knew? The myth is that Kafka the artist was drained of time and energy by the demands of his day job in
A combination attorney, actuary and all-around bureaucrat, he seems to have carried out his duties with a combination of mitteleuropaisch flair and German efficiency. And even a sense of humor, no small feat in anyone with a thoroughly German education.
You might even call Herr Kafka a hard-working, realistic reformer. His workaday world would seem the opposite of the nightmarish, surreal, illogical atmosphere he summoned up in his allegories about the individual trapped in a world beyond his comprehension, namely the modern bureaucratic state. Yet even this able administrator seemed to think his job was but drudgery, a drag on his calling as a writer. An artiste.
A daydreamer, self-doubting and given to complaining, the sort of smart but uncollected type who's the despair of family and teachers, young Kafka finally managed to land a government job -- thanks to the connections of a friend's father.
Kafka started working at the
By 1911, Herr Kafka was a rising bureaucrat who, still complaining about the time his work at the office took from his after-hours writing career, could nevertheless write about his department's progress with pride, especially in light of the mess he'd found when he arrived there:
"We gladly admit that until 1909 the annual reports of the Institute, with their figures documenting a deficit that seemed to spread almost like a living organism, offered little encouragement to feel excitement. Instead, these reports succeeded in damping all the Institute's hopes for the future; the Institute seemed simply to be a corpse, whose only living element was its growing deficit."
Goodness. Sound familiar?
But things had changed with the arrival of a new director,
Not even the editors of this latest collection of his writings may fully recognize just how talented a bureaucrat he was. They still tend to dismiss
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
if (strpos(, "printer_friendly") === 0)
=<< © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
© 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.