Leading article: Literary legacy

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The Independent Online

The public battle over ownership of the manuscripts of Franz Kafka might prove to be the late author's most brilliant work. The squabble for control between private individuals and nation states, between courts and cultural institutions, has been going on for decades. And the beauty of it is that no one really knows what they are actually fighting over. The contents of the safety deposit boxes that hold the documents (which Kafka wanted to be burned on his death) have never been properly examined.

Now a Tel Aviv judge has ordered that the vaults in Zurich, which hold the manuscripts, be opened, although only to the eyes of one Kafka specialist who will itemise the contents and report back to the judge. We hope, in common with the rest of the world, that there will be new literary treasures in there; works to rank alongside The Trial and The Castle.

But how wonderful it would be, too, if those deposit boxes turned out to be empty, or to contain nothing more valuable than a shopping list.

What better comment on the futility of bureaucratic procedure and the dehumanising effect of interminable legal wrangling? What, in short, could be more Kafkaesque?