Alan Bennett once wrote of Franz Kafka: ‘One is nervous about presuming even to write his name, wanting to beg pardon for doing so, if only because Kafka was so reluctant to write his name himself.’ Even so, Bennett gave us Kafka’s Dick (1986), which – alongside a sputtering stream of demythologising critical interventions into Kafka studies – partially undermined the sainted version of Kafka that had held sway for decades. In Bennett’s comedy, the existential anguish registered in Kafka’s fiction, letters, and diaries is as much the product of his diminutive penis as of artistic sensitivity or probing intelligence.
One of the more entertaining elements of Kafka’s Dick is Bennett’s dramatisation of the relationship between Kafka and Max Brod, his literary advocate and – according to some – betrayer. Bennett’s Brod resents the shadow that Kafka casts over his own work, and he is jealous of the amorous female attentions that his friend enjoys: ‘It’s always the same,’ says Brod. ‘As soon as they meet him it’s good-night Max.’ Brod is also (rightly) frustrated by the widely held belief that Kafka asked him to burn his work from his deathbed. ‘It was not his deathbed,’ says Brod. ‘It was prior to his deathbed. He was around for years after that.’ The comic tension of Kafka’s Dick hinges on Brod’s attempts to conceal his failure to honour Kafka’s wishes, and Kafka’s attempts to hide the source of his metaphysical anxieties.