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Franz Kafka claimed he wasn’t interested in fame, which was good because during his life, he found none of it. When he died in 1924 at the age of forty in the worst way imagine (his throat got so swollen that he couldn’t swallow, forcing him to starve to death), neither he nor his stories were very well known at all. As often happens with writers, however, his works slowly started gaining in popularity over the subsequent years, and today, well, today he’s so beloved he got his own Google Doodle.
From really fun anniversaries like that of the drive-in movie theater to incredibly popular musicians like Freddie Mercury to influential movie title designers like Saul Bass, the artists over at Google have shown a remarkable ability to balance obvious crowd pleasers with more obscure but still worthy choices. That mish-mash might be chaotic and unpredictable, but it’s really the reason why the program has been so successful. If every person or event Google picked was something random people needed to read into, the idea probably would have felt too much like work to people. If everyone chosen was Michael Jordan-level famous, there wouldn’t be enough surprise. No, the better play is most definitely to hang out in the middle, and that’s precisely why Kafka is such a brilliant choice.
Kafka was born in Prague in 1883. He was raised in a middle class Jewish household and later went to school to become a lawyer. He spent years working for an insurance company and even owned a factory, but all of his extra time was spent writing and reading. Throughout his life, he published quite a few short stories and even a book, but not a whole lot ever came of it. After he died, his will gave specific instructions to burn all of his notebooks and stories, but his friend Max Brod ignored that request and published quite a bit. Almost immediately, the literary world took notice, and it wasn’t long before the eccentric and philosophical man was being read in schools throughout the world.
The Google Doodle in question is a take on Kafka’s story The Metamorphosis, which is about a man who wakes from troubled dreams to find he’s been turned into a cockroach. It touches on the writer’s favorite themes of isolation and absurdity, and most critics consider it his definitive work. I’m not sure what he would say if he suddenly awoke to discover his ideas were on the front page of the most visited webpage in the world, but something tells me he’d at least get a kick out of it.
Here’s to hoping the fine people over at Google continue exposing the world to powerful ideas and brilliant minds. People need to be aware of different thought patterns and different takes on life, even if they ultimately don’t agree with them.