Monday, June 13, 2011

In Memory of June 13: The Bread Job

On Monday June 13, 1988 I was hired by the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld as a temporary legal assistant.  My job at Akin Gump was my brotberuf.

June 13 is also the anniversary of the Bar Mitzvah of Franz Kafka, the German-language writer.

Franz Kafka wrote to his father about his experience of the Torah service at their synagogue. Franz was bored,and amused only by his own thought that the opening of the Ark in the synagogue reminded him of the penny arcade’s shooting gallery with a moving progression of targets one shot at in hopes of hitting the bulls eye and claiming one's prize. The only prizes in the Ark opening were the Torah scrolls within which reminded the young Franz of headless dolls.

Kafka expresses for the first time what becomes the experience of many moderns in the synagogue. The Torah service becomes “a joke--not even a joke” and concluded that "the only devout action was never to return to services.” This is reinforced by Kafka’s Bar Mitzvah on June 13, 1896, which he describes as a “ridiculous memorizing.”

Franz Kafka was born Prague in 1883 the son of a wealthy Jewish-Czech family. His father was described as a "huge, selfish, overbearing businessman." The eldest of six children, his two brothers died before the age of six, while his sisters outlived him only to die in the Nazi concentration camps.

Bilingual in German and Czech, Kafka studied Law at the University of Prague, graduating with a degree of Doctor of Law in 1906. He subsequently performed a year’s mandatory unpaid service as law clerk for the civil and criminal courts, but then took a job in insurance, which he referred to as a "brotberuf", literally "bread job", a job done only to pay the bills.

These dual experiences of alienating, meaningless work and the vagaries of legal, bureaucratic power were to become core themes in his writings. Kafka was an insecure man, believed to have suffered from clinical depression and social anxiety throughout his life, and subsequently little of his work was published during his lifetime. The posthumous notoriety he now enjoys owes much to his closest friend Max Brod, who disregarded his instructions to destroy his unpublished manuscripts upon his death.

In the story The Hunger Artist Kafka expresses his quest for fame. See footnote 13 of Psychoanalysis and Discourse by Patrick Mahony.


Gary Freedman said...

Akin Gump paralegal Jesse Raben also started work at Akin Gump on June 13, 1988. Thus, we were "born on the same date" -- making us twin brothers of a sort.

The following blog post is a dream analysis, published, oddly enough, on June 12, 2010: the day before I was "born."

Gary Freedman said...

As they say in the insurance business:

"Get Met -- It pays!"